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Billie Zangewa: Thread for a Web Begun
About This Exhibition
Thread for a Web Begun brings together silk tapestries spanning 15 years of the Malawi-born, Johannesburg-based artist, Billie Zangewa's career. Zangewa's works explore themes of society, identity, and feminism through an intricate creative practice.
Zangewa does not make grand gestures or even overt political statements, but rather, like a kind of "daily feminism," focuses on mundane domestic preoccupations; themes connecting us all. Zangewa states "I use fabric and sewing, which traditionally is a female pastime, to empower myself. I tell my personal story, how it’s happening on the home front, and show the intimate life of a woman, which usually we’re not encouraged to do." Zangewa views telling her own story in her own voice as a kind of personal empowerment. Historically, this has been very difficult for women in general, but particularly for women of color with many social obstacles to overcome.
Although many of the scenes depicted in Zangewa's layered silk tapestries are autobiographical, there is a relatability that goes beyond her personal journey as an artist. Zangewa's labor-intensive processes recall the historic implications of "women's work," but remain a steadfastly contemporary interpretation of lived experiences. Zangewa is dealing firstly with identity, as well as socio-politics around gender and skin tone, in a gentle everyday manner. She is also exploring the different roles that women play in society, including motherhood and the impact that it has individually and collectively. The images in her work are deliberately decontextualized. However, when shown in a group, their fragmentary nature is further emphasized, suggesting they are excerpted from a larger narrative.
Billie Zangewa, Solider of Love, 2020. Embroidered silk, 43 ¼ x 53 1/8 inches. Courtesy of Galerie Templon, Paris and Brussels.
About The Artist
Billie Zangewa (b. 1973, Blantyre, Malawi; lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa) creates intricate collages composed of hand-stitched fragments of raw silk. These figurative compositions explore contemporary intersectional identity in an attempt to challenge the historical stereotype, objectification, and exploitation of the black female form. Beginning her career in the fashion and advertising industries, Zangewa employs her understanding of textiles to portray personal and universal experiences through domestic interiors, urban landscapes, and portraiture. Often referencing scenes or experiences from everyday life, Zangewa has stated that she is interested in depicting the work done by women that keeps society running smoothly, but which is often overlooked, undervalued, or ignored. Through the method of their making and their narrative content, Zangewa's silk paintings illustrate gendered labor in a socio-political context, where the domestic sphere becomes a pretext for a deeper understanding of the construction of identity, questions around gender stereotypes, and racial prejudice.
Zangewa received her BFA from Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa in 1995. Solo exhibitions of her work have been organized by Galerie Templon, Paris, France (2020); Afronova Gallery, Grand Palais, Paris, France (2017); Johann Levy Gallery, Paris, France (2008); and Gerard Sekoto Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa (2005).
Zangewa's work is in several public and private collections including the Centre Pompidou, Paris, France; Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH; Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington, D.C.; Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Atlanta, GA; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands; and Tate Modern, London, United Kingdom. In 2018, Zangewa was selected as the Featured Artist for the FNB Art Joburg Fair.
Image credits: Billie Zangewa in her studio, photo by Andrew Berry. Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, and London.
About the Curator
Dexter Wimberly is an American curator, based in Japan, who has organized exhibitions in galleries and institutions around the world. Wimberly's exhibitions have been featured in leading publications including The New York Times and Artforum, and have received support from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Wimberly is the co-founder and CEO of Art World Learning, and a Senior Critic at New York Academy of Art.