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Billie Zangewa, H24

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Billie Zangewa, Stolen moments 2017, Silk tapestry, 119cm x 138cm, Courtesy of the artists and blank

Billie Zangewa, Stolen moments 2017, Silk tapestry, 119cm x 138cm, Courtesy of the artists and blank

Billie Zangewa presents a new series of hand-stitched textile works titled Love and Happiness. Drawing from personal experience, the artist explores the moment or trajectory of moving from a place of lack and desire to abundance and fulfilment; from the ‘House of Hunger’ (a reference to Zimbabwean author Dambudzo Marechera’s novel of the same name) to the house of ‘Love and Happiness’ (a reference to the Al Green song). 

The works are intricate compositions rendered in silk offcuts, cut up and collaged into irregularly shaped wall-hangings. Working in a flat, colourful style within the trajectory of African and Diasporan art, Zangewa seeks to articulate the female experience, both personal and universal, and her own intersectional identity as a black woman living in South Africa. Almost always the protagonist in her textile-illustrations, Zangewa imbues her own quotidian reality with fantastical elements, so that she becomes a heroine whose daily life is revealed through the scenes she illustrates.

The scenes are isolated and decontextualised however, and the non-linear progression of these works within the presentation echoes their narrative disjointedness. The arrangement of works on the wall emphasises their fragmentary nature, suggesting that they are excerpted from a grander narrative, like extracts from the artist’s own diary. By focusing on mundane experiences of daily domestic life, it aims to demystify womanhood and make the transition from object to subject. Zangewa’s presence in her own work is a direct challenge to the history of representation of black women in art.

Billie Zangewa (b.1973, Blantyre, Malawi) works primarily with raw silk, creating compositions that explore her intersectional identity in the contemporary context, challenging the historical stereotyping, objectification and exploitation of the black female body. She does so through the depiction of narratives concerned with experience, both personal and universal. These narratives do not make grand gestures or even overt political statements, but rather, like a kind of ‘daily feminism’, focus on mundane domestic preoccupations; universal themes connecting us to each other.

Zangewa’s work has been exhibited extensively internationally, including at the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas (2012), Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam (2012), JAG in Johannesburg (2010/2016) and La Maison Rouge in Paris (2013). Most recently she exhibited at Guggenheim Bilbao (2015), Wiels in Brussels (2015) and Studio Museum Harlem (2016). She also exhibited in the 7th Dakar Biennale. Zangewa has upcoming exhibitions at MASSMoCA in the USA and CAAM, Las Palmas, Grand Canaria. Zangewa lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa.