|Billie Zangewa works on a collage of silk fabrics laid out on a wooden table in her kitchen. Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul and London|
By Park Han-sol
South Africa-based visual artist Billie Zangewa embodies the message, "The personal is political," through her artistic snapshot of domesticity.
As an artist and a single mother, she turns the seemingly humdrum tasks and encounters at home ― things women do that often go unacknowledged, like cooking, sewing and inviting close family members for her 8-year-old son's birthday ― into hand-stitched silk tapestries.
By putting her utmost personal life on display, she practices what she calls "daily feminism."
A series of Zangewa's silk collages are currently on display both at Lehmann Maupin Seoul and London ― in the exhibitions, "Flesh and Blood" and "Running Water," respectively ― until early next year.
As the title suggests, the gallery's Seoul show focuses on the artist's relationship with the close community of her family and friends, whose presence has been appreciated even more amid the isolation induced by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among them, her young son, Mika, is the most prominent feature in her works as her muse and the love of her life.
"Ah Mika! Mika is the love of my life! That can never change. Other people can come and go but this is like, I made him. He's the fruit of my womb. What can I say?" she exclaimed happily in an interview with the Tate Modern last year.
While the topics of her earlier tapestries ranged widely, from wildlife recalled from her childhood spent in Botswana, cityscapes in Johannesburg, South Africa, to her musings on failed relationships and her reclamation of identity as a Black woman, it was after the birth of Mika that the artist turned her eyes to domesticity and its charms.
|"My Whole Heart" (2021), left, and "Sweetest Devotion" (2021) / Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul and London|
In the exhibition, Mika's presence has been endearingly captured in several of the artist's pieces. In "The Pleasure of a Child," the boy, with a huge grin on his face, is opening his birthday gift, surrounded by his father and godmother. In "Sweetest Devotion," his eyes are glued to the smartphone screen, with his back facing his uncle ― a moment that feels incredibly familiar to any homes with children.
Her subject matter is not the only element that is domestic.
Her studio is her kitchen, occupied by the wooden table where she lays down her fabric. The width and length of its surface often determines the size of her own work ― which usually doesn't go over 137cm in width, according to Kim Jung-yeon, the director of Lehmann Maupin Seoul.
For Zangewa, the kitchen is the place where she, while working, can look over at her son playing his heart out. And she finds it fascinating to witness how the silk reacts to the beams of sunlight entering through the windows.
Her method of producing the tapestries also speaks to what it means to be a woman in her private sphere.
She first draws a sketch on a piece of paper, based on a photograph. From the drawing, she cuts out human figures and objects that she wants to depict and places them on the silk fabric; the fabric is then cut according to the drawn silhouettes. After bringing these individual elements together to create a particular scene ― one that is not necessarily an exact reproduction of reality, but is part of her own recollection ― she hand-stitches the smaller silk pieces into colorful layers.
"The artist subtly subverts the notion that sewing simply belongs as a hobby or a passive household chore," Kim said at the gallery. "She looked for ways to utilize her power as a woman navigating patriarchal society and found the answer in sewing ― where she could be herself, utilizing her personal experience and accomplishing it in her own house."
"I think the work that I'm doing is really just to elevate the place of Black women in the world," the 48-year-old artist said in an interview with the Tate. "The ordinary Black woman needs support from society, and by creating images around her intimate personal life, we're actually saying: 'Listen, look, understand that this person is having these experiences. That this person exists. She's a woman with everyday struggles'."
|A view of the installation "Flesh and Blood" at Lehmann Maupin Seoul / Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul and London|