SA Keiskamma Art Project now on display - 130 women impacted by HIV weave stories of pain and loss

  • The Keiskamma Art Project is now on display in Johannesburg more than 15 years after its completion.
  • The unique project involved more than 130 women affected by HIV in the early 2000s.
  • While their work is a story of pain and loss, it is also one of hope for the future.

A South African art project from the small town of Hamburg in the Eastern Cape is finally being exhibited in Johannesburg – more than 15 years after its completion.

The Keiskamma Art Project gathered more than 130 women affected by HIV to weave a story of their pain and loss, according to Africa News. More importantly, however, the art also offers hope for the future after being affected by HIV/Aids. 

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Nozeti Makhubalo, one of the artists involved in the giant tapestry, chatted about some of the hardships she faced after her husband was no longer able to provide for their family. Working on the artwork was a healing experience for her.

"It heals you inside. It heals you through the needle and the threads because you are expressing yourself and you will come from your house sometimes too stressed saying: 'I wonder what I am going to cook tonight,'” Makhubalo says, adding:

But when you reach the studio, we've got tables where we are sitting together then we share that. So, we support each other; we share whatever burden you have. Then when you go home, you're just happy as ever.

HIV has claimed just over 40 million lives so far, and more than 38 million people are currently living with the infection, notes the World Health Organization (WHO). South Africa carries the largest share of the global HIV burden.

The unique art project produces major textile artworks and has won numerous awards, including the Business and Arts South Africa (BASA) Award and the Chairman’s Premier Award (2011), which recognises sustained and extraordinary commitment to the arts in South Africa, explains its website.

'Making embroidery pulls people together'

Founder of the Keiskamma Art Project, Carol Hofmeyr, says: "Many people say Covid brought people together, they wanted to help people around them; they wanted to support their neighbours.

"But HIV was not like that. People didn't want them in their houses, and so the act of making embroidery together is also a thing of pulling people together to support each other."

The retrospective exhibition “is an inquiry, through embroidery and storytelling, into the fabric of society, the meaning of humanity and the stark realities of illness. This retrospective showcases the community’s conversations using art as a medium of expression and healing,” says its website.

The multi-panel tapestry debuted at the Anglican Cathedral in Grahamstown in July 2005 and has since travelled to England, Canada and the US.

According to Africa News, the Keiskamma project also established a musical academy in the village where the youth can learn to sing and play instruments.

The exhibition of the Keiskamma altarpiece and other tapestries will be on display at the heritage museum, Constitution Hill, Johannesburg, until 24 March 2023. You can also buy a tapestry online.

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