The Earth Project: Skirt #2

“ I am lying like a lizard on a sunbaked rock, surveying the scene before me. I have never seen a landscape like this before and find myself wondering if this might be how the earth first looked when it was originally formed? It is rocky and rugged and I imagine hot lava forcing its way from the centre of the earth to form the gargantuan boulders that now hunker down around me. I am quite certain that my geology is incorrect, but an artist is allowed to imagine.” An extract from my diary, Kokerboom Kloof, Richtersveld, 2011

In March 2018, when I began looking for imagery to inspire the second skirt of my Earth series, I came upon this picture and remembered that day that I sat on that rock, dreaming about Creation. Only looking at it again, that landscape looked pretty barren, devoid of life and water, which triggered some thoughts about what’s required for new life to begin, which led me to the next stage in the Life Cycle.

Kokerboom Kloof, Richtersveld, South Africa

So, if the first of my dance skirts N/om: The Power, represented the life force, the second, The Creator, represents the Life-giver. She is the explosive spark of creativity; of new life and new ideas; inspired by fertility and the ingredients that make new life possible.

As a season the skirt represents that important time between Winter and Spring, when compost is formed from the debris of the past, providing the rich foundation for life to form and the promise of things to come.

The structure of this skirt was inspired by the Flow; of lava, bringing soil to the earth;

Lava flow

blood, from which fertility and new life arises, air, that enables us to breathe and water that nourishes and sustains us all.

The waterfall

This skirt was also inspired, in both content and appearance, by San aprons and loincloths.

Loincloths and aprons worn by dancers at a wedding I attended in Botswana

One of the most interesting things that I learned during my research of the subject, is that the San believe that the female apron in saturated with supernatural potency (n/om) and is often worn in combination with the male loincloth during the Trance Dance, to boost the power of the shaman when trying to access the spiritual realm. This power is linked to a woman’s fertility, her monthly cycle, which in turn is linked to that of the moon. From their extensive research, Edward and Cathelijne Eastwood have identified several rock art sites in the Limpopo region of South Africa, that contain San paintings of both loincloths and aprons, decorated with spots and spirals, thought to represent the moon. That these images exist on the walls of these intensely sacred sites, suggests that they are of symbolic importance.

So in this skirt, I drew upon this African understanding of male/female potency, and allowed the central leather motif, similar in shape to a male loincloth, to flow over the deep red cloth beneath it, symbolic of the female apron. I appliquéd small shapes that represent male loincloths to the ‘rock face’ on the left of the skirt and female aprons on the right. The intention being that when the skirt is tied at the back, the two will come together, symbolizing the merging of energies that ensure the continuation of life.

The shells, beads and found objects that hang from either end of the skirt, are to make music during the dance.


‘The Creator’. The second skirt in my Earth series

I wanted this skirt to be warm, rich, deep and fertile, a positive force for good, so I intuitively reached for the red ochre dye in order to get the colour I felt would capture it. Interestingly, I subsequently learned that red ochre (Hematite, or Iron Oxide, that has accumulated over millennia from decomposing life forms), is the most ancient of ritual substances, symbolically seen as the blood of Mother Earth.  During a trip to Namibia in 2002, I met Himba women, whose bodies were coated in a mixture of red ochre and animal fat and whilst preparing for this project I learned that the same is applied to young San women as they leave their seclusion during their transition rites into womanhood. The mentor scrapes the red mixture off the young woman’s skin and “she may be required to place this mixture in each fireplace in the camp and to touch young men and their weapons to bring luck in hunting”. Edward and Cathelijne Eastwood. In the Eastern Cape, red ochre is used extensively in traditional Xhosa rituals and as far back as 1822, Xhosa speaking people were trading ivory for red ochre powder.

A Himba woman, coated in a mixture of red ochre and animal fat.

The intertwined snakes in the waistband of the skirt, are symbolic of healing, new life and regeneration. My friend, Nozipho, tells me that the appearance of snakes in a traditional African home, is a sign that conception has taken place and that the snakes will reappear when the child is born. “Don’t kill or shout at at them,” she says, “the voice must be soft, so that the respect grounds and calms you. The snakes will connect the two families (clans) together”.

As I look back over what I have written, shifting between inspiration and layers of meaning, I am reminded that the art making process cannot be pinned down, for it is as fluid as the river. This artwork, like compost itself, was born out of layers of life experience.

After finishing the skirt, I read these words of Clarissa Pinkola Estes:

“The river symbolizes a form of feminine largess that arouses, excites, makes passionate… It is the feminine life energy that animates the male principle and the male principle in turn animates action in the world… When a man gives his whole heart, he becomes an amazing force…he becomes fertile, he is invested with feminine powers in a masculine milieu. He carries the seeds for new life…”

…which  lead us to the next skirt in the series…



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The Earth Project: Skirt #1

“ And you are the artist; you hold it all there at arm’s length and fashion it at will. You have direct access to an unlimited source of power. It is a wonderful and terrible feeling”. Lyall Watson

As I sat at my empty desk early in January 2018, all bright and ready to begin work on the first of five African dance skirts, (see my previous post), I felt a little intimidated by the task I had so ambitiously set for myself. The subject of the Nature/Humanity/ Life Cycle is complex and I had no real idea of how I was going to interpret it.

So I did what I always do when trying to make sense of my thoughts, I reached across to a big black sketch book and started to write and draw…which led to cutting and sticking and much digging in my archives, as the ideas started to flow. I found it helped to have a visual document of what was going on in my head, so that I could isolate images, shapes and symbols that would translate well into fabric.

That process took some time, but whilst I was fleshing out my ideas, I began gathering materials and dyeing random bits of cloth that I found in a stash of offcuts.

Bringing drawings to life

As with all my fibre artworks, nothing is ever straight forward and as the piles of materials began to grow, so did the confusion as to what was going to work. I spent much of my time sitting and looking and thinking, trying one thing, abandoning it and trying another. I got fit, jumping up and down on my table as I reached up to the pin board with scraps of cloth, only to take them all down again a few minutes later. And then I would sit and think again.

Such is the process when one doesn’t have a handbook to show you the way. One has to work on instinct and gut reactions, making errors and selecting what works by a process of elimination. And then, just when I thought I had the answers, things would change, new ideas would come and I had no idea where they came from. This is the art of letting go and succumbing to the process. It is the dance of trust between inspiration and artist.


So today I bring you the first of the dance skirts, the one that led the way. She is both the beginning and end of the Life Cycle and represents the power aspect of the Goddess of Nature. She is the Life-force, (otherwise known as chi, n/om, prana), the powerful energy that flows through all living things, that has the ability to both create and destroy.  In Nature we see this power everywhere; in the eyes of an animal,

A page from my sketchbook, showing the power in the eyes of animals

the force of a storm

Electrical storm over Grahamstown.
Photo credit: Roddy Fox

or in the stillness of a sacred space.

The stillness of a sacred space.
Photo credit: Craig Scott

In an extract from my diary, written at this time, I read:

“A thunderstorm has just crashed overhead with thick, black clouds and booming sound and cracks of lightning that have taken out the electricity. I am reminded that this is exactly the power I am speaking of in this skirt. Awe inspiring, powerful, frightening, destructive, yet life giving and restorative. The rain returns and sounds heavy on the roof. My garden is happy. My dog is scared. And as another bolt of lightning cracks across the city, I am hugely respectful.”

As a season, this skirt represents the Winter, a time when growing things die back and bleakness reigns,

The cold of Winter

but just as the destruction seems forever, the life which simmers on beneath the surface bursts forth again with renewed energy in the creation of Spring.

For centuries, through ritual, prayer and dance, people have attempted to access this power, usually for rain-making, health or fertility. In researching this subject, I was fascinated by the San, who liken this power to electricity, for when harnessed, it can be useful, but uncontrolled, it can be dangerous. The shaman’s task is to harness and control it for the good of the community. In their Trance dances, women sit in a circle around a fire, clapping rhythmically, whilst the men dance around the women, clapping and singing to activate the supernatural potency that resides in the songs and in the shamans themselves. It is said that when the potency ‘boils’ and rises up the shaman’s spines, they enter trance and move into an altered state of consciousness that allow access to the spirit world, and once there, they plead for help on a variety of issues on behalf of the community. On return to the earthly body, the shaman sleeps and on awakening shares this powerful emotional experience with the people, both verbally and visually, through the cave paintings that are thought to have been done during this quiet time of recall.

The San believe that certain animals (eg. eland) are filled with potency, so when they kill such an animal, “… the potency flowed via its blood to the paintings, where it was stored, and then from the paintings to the trancing shamans. Painted sites were thus storehouses of the potency that made contact with the spirit world possible; that guaranteed humankind’s existence by facilitating healing, rainmaking and animal control and that by flowing between nature and people, gathered up all aspects of life in a single spiritual unity.” David Lewis-Williams

For the San, the physical and spiritual realms are completely intertwined, and nowhere do we find more evidence of this than on the rock face within their shelters, where we see these stories unfold.

San paintings in a rock shelter in the Drakensberg

The imagery that I have used in this and subsequent skirts, speaks of the potent sacredness of this humanity/Nature intersection. The symbols I have used reference the San’s connection to the natural world, but in effect, relate to all humanity.

The colours, black, white and red are used in many traditional African cultures and symbolize: Death and destruction (Black), Life, purity and goodness (White), and blood, energy, fertility and the pulse of life (Red).

I have used broken ostrich eggshell in the waistband, another reference to the San, who value the ostrich for its eggs, that provide nourishment and containers for carrying water, and when broken, are made into beads for adornment.

The ostrich and its egg

The central motif may be interpreted as a ‘spine’ through which the supernatural power boils during the trance experience. It can also be seen as the axis mundi, the Tree of Life, as above, so below, the scaffolding that holds us upright. It also references the central pole (Ixhanti) of the Xhosa kraal, onto which the horns of sacrificed cattle are placed and at the base of which, the community lay their offerings to the ancestors.

N/om:The Power
The first in the series of dance skirts that depict the Cycle of Life

So now that my skirt is complete, I sit here absorbing what she has become, and I am amazed at the process that brought her here. She is strong, self assured and calm and it is in the calmness that I feel her power. She has laid the way for the others that are to follow, and I will be bringing you the next one shortly.

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The Making of an Artwork

I’ve been thinking recently about life experience, and what we choose to do with it. Some write books and others start businesses, but most of us use it without thinking about it. As an artist, I realise that all of my work has a direct link to my past. Either I am drawing landscapes that remind me of where I have been, or I’m sewing textile artworks, (a skill taught to me by my mother many years ago), that speak of the earth and the textures of Africa. The content of the artwork is inevitably inspired by my view of the world, which in turn has been moulded by the life I have lived and the environment that has surrounded me.

To rewind a bit, I was born into a large, pioneering family, and raised on a remote cattle ranch in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe. I was fortunate to have a mother, a gentle, artistic spirit, who opened my eyes to the beauty of the natural world, and a father, a larger- than- life adventurer, who encouraged me to explore it. This idyllic childhood, free of technology and distraction, developed my connection to the wilderness of our continent and taught me not only to appreciate its mystery, but to find the wilderness within me.

Growing up on our farm ‘Nyangui’, in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe

When, in my teens, we moved to Botswana, my passion for the land was sealed, for my father, an airline pilot by profession, regularly took us with him on trips into the Okavango Delta, a lush, marshy expanse of inland water that supports some of Africa’s most stunning wildlife.

A view of the Okavango Delta from the air

Beyond the edges of this delta lay the hot, dry Kalahari Desert, home to the few remaining San, a hardy, nomadic people, whose respect for the land inspired me. My brief encounter with these people was to have a lasting effect upon my work, for they convinced me at a tender age, that it is wise and possible to live harmoniously within our environment.

Bushmen (San) in the Tsodilo Hills 1970. Photo credit: Anthony Stidolph

Since then, I have lived in the ferociously hot veld of Limpopo, the humid, grassy hills of Kwazulu Natal, and more recently the arid, but beautiful Eastern Cape of South Africa. Each has brought with it its own unique brand of mystery and left its mark on my soul.

For those who follow this blog, you may be aware that I was fairly quiet last year and did not reveal much of what I was up to. This is because for the first nine months of 2018, I was incubating and giving birth to a major artwork that demanded every moment of my time and head space. But now, as I sit in this liminal space between what’s gone and what’s to come, I reflect upon my recent work and see that it too gives visual form to an accumulation of my life experiences.

The Challenge

 At the end of 2017, I received a commission to make some original artwork for the chalets of Lentaba Lodge, a luxury establishment that nestles in thick valley bush veld within the Lalibela Game Reserve, 40kms outside Grahamstown. Part of this commission included a brief to make 5 framed dance skirts, that were to be earthy and African in feel and have a story to tell.  Being a lover of Nature, textiles and all things African, this was a dream come true and turned out to be an exhilarating, but challenging project that pushed me to my limits.

The Concept for the Skirts

I was given free reign to make the skirts in whatever way I wished, but I realised that the theme for the skirts needed to be suitable for a game lodge and fulfil my needs as an artist. I reflected on my life and my relationship with the natural environment and settled on the idea of the skirts representing something that we can all relate to: the Cycle of Life, with special reference to the connection between Nature and Humanity. I decided that each skirt would represent an aspect of the cycle, with the one flowing fluidly into the next as the circle rotates.

The Inspiration

With my concept loosely in tact, I then began the exciting phase of researching the subject,  drawing largely from my experience of living in Africa, and shifting between images of nature, places I have been and stories of the indigenous people who have lived here.

Much of my inspiration came from the San, who, as I mentioned above, have fascinated me since childhood. I have always been greatly inspired by their minimal material culture, particularly their bead work, pouches, loincloths and aprons, and still own a beaded necklace and pouch made by the San that I bought in Botswana in the late 1960’s.

San pouch and clay beads

The San are recognised as being the earliest inhabitants on this continent, and were possibly the forbears of modern homo sapiens. The earliest signs of artistic expression, symbolic behavior and human culture have been found in caves and rock overhangs along the Eastern seaboard of South Africa. Much of what we know of San culture has been learned through their paintings and artefacts found at such sites and whilst there may still be some debate as to the exact meaning of the paintings, it is clear that these rock shelters were powerful, sacred spaces that represented the interface between the physical and spiritual worlds. It is for this reason, that for this series of skirts, I dug into my archives to find images of rock paintings that would inform and inspire my decision to make the rock face the backdrop to the story.

San paintings on a rock overhang on the Makgabeng Plateau, Limpopo

Having spent many years living in Kwazulu Natal, I also found myself drawn to the Zulu concept of Nomkhubulwane, the heavenly princess, the daughter of God, who as maiden, mother and crone, is believed to be the goddess who maintains the balance between the physical and spiritual realms. In Nature she appears in various forms, but most often as a rainbow that brings the promise of new life after the fury of a tropical thunderstorm. Often associated with sacred pools, she is seen as the creator, the life force and the one who brings fertility. Throughout the making of these skirts, I felt her strong feminine energy permeating the atmosphere.

Rainbow over the sacred pool on the Baviaans River. Photo credit: Roddy Fox

Water, the yin (feminine) energy of our planet, so vital for our survival on Earth, was foremost in my mind as I entered the flow of this project. It is through the pollution of our rivers and oceans that I see just how disconnected humanity has become from Nature. What I see in the world around us today, is a disrespect for the Mother that has born, protected and fed us. My hope is that through this series of artworks, the energy I invest, will go some way to restoring the balance.

I also hold firm to the African concept of Ubuntu, which is a philosophy of ‘Oneness’, that all life is interconnected and that a thread of goodness connects us all, from the smallest creature to the largest. This thread of Ubuntu, that has love and respect as core values, holds societies together and ensures the sustainability of the planet.

With my intention now clear, I turned to my interest in recycling, and eagerly set about gathering materials, dyeing cloth, and sorting through a mass of beads, bones, and rusty metal in preparation for work to begin. I had a story to tell and needed to tell it in a way that felt authentic.

Hand dyeing cloth in preparation for work to begin

A collection of beads, bones, metal and string. The ingredients for the artwork

What was so interesting to me was that in the beginning, I thought that I was in control, but it didn’t take long for me to realise that in fact I was the conduit and that the skirts were directing me.

In the posts that follow, I will be sharing the five artworks with you and including some of the stages of my creative process.

Please stay tuned and enjoy this journey with me…



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New Outlets

I am happy to announce that a selection of my artworks are now available for sale through the Imbizo Gallery in Hoedspruit and Ballito.


It seems appropriate that my work should be shown in these areas, as  much of my inspiration was gathered from here when I lived in both Mpumalanga and Kwazulu Natal after immigrating to South Africa from Zimbabwe in 1980.

So, if any of you are traveling that way, maybe to visit Kruger National Park, pop in to the gallery at the Kamogelo Centre in Hoedspruit, where you will see a range of my fibre artworks and ink drawings.


Yellow-Billed Hornbill #1

If you happen to be in Kwazulu Natal, you will see some of my fibre birds at the Imbizo Gallery in the Lifestyle Centre, Ballito.

'The Sentinel' by Sally Scott. 30cm x 30cm

‘The Sentinel’ by Sally Scott. 30cm x 30cm

For further information on my work, please visit my website.

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Bohemian Bag Workshop

I will be holding a two-day creative sewing workshop in my Grahamstown art studio on Saturday 15th/22nd October 2016.


This workshop brings together my interest in fashion, design, sewing, beading, embroidery, applique and fabric manipulation, and combines it with my interest in people, their life stories and my belief that creativity can heal.

It is guaranteed to be a fun workshop, where you can make a bag or purse that can be as funky and over-the-top as you wish. It may be any size or shape and you can use whatever materials you wish. You can go crazy with embellishments and I will be there to teach you all the skills you need for the process.

With fashion trends currently being inspired by the 1960’s and 70’s hippie era, this is the perfect time to make yourself or someone else a trendy fashion accessory.

Time: 9.00am – 4.00pm

Cost: R680.00

Space will be limited, so sign up today for a workshop you will enjoy! I look forward to seeing you there.

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Images of the Self

When I set out in my career all those years ago, I had no idea that one day I would have the privilege of working with so many creatively talented young people, whose zest for life and willingness to tackle the various challenges I give them, is truly inspirational. I reflect on this as I watch this year’s group of Drama Masters students from Rhodes University exploring issues surrounding their image and identity. They take it seriously, they do what I ask and they do it well, and in the process they learn a lot, both about themselves and each other. What more could a teacher ask for? It is a perfect way for this new group, who will be working together for the next two years, to bond, understand and respect one another. (Click to enlarge the images)

The group are young, enthusiastic and have clearly done their homework, for the discussion that arises from the text I have asked them to read reveals that they have gone far below the surface. This is a good place to start, for this workshop requires that superficiality be left at the door. As the process begins, I watch the anxiety diminishing, as each of the students settles into their space and confronts the tasks before them. As always, the air of fun camaraderie permeates the room, ensuring that the rest will be plain sailing.

By the final day, with the work now finished, the students introduce and share their creations. It is a time of wonder as the others in the group get to hear the stories that surround the making of the shoes and have a chance to inspect them. It is clear that the soles that emerge from the workshop, are an accurate portrayal of the souls who conceived and produced them.

Once again, I am awed by the magic of creativity, in its ability to overtake a situation in ways that I could never have predicted. The group arrives, they are a little anxious for they have no idea what will be expected of them. The space, ambient and supportive is ready for them, as am I, although I too have no idea what will come from our meeting. But I have faith in these bright young souls before me and trust that the creative process will take them to the place where they need to be. This workshop never fails to surprise me. It just keeps getting better and stronger and more determined to touch the lives of young people who are on the brink of launching out into the world. It will help them, it will guide them and it will help them to know themselves. I can never predict what course the workshop will take, for each time it is different, depending upon the way the group unknowingly takes it. Like all good creative projects, it is an intangible force that carries us all along for the ride and leaves us in a better place than we were before the journey started.

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The Power of the Poem

Social media is a strange and wondrous thing that has completely transformed my life. Admittedly, it is a distraction that I view as both my enemy and my friend and I spend much of my time caught up in the contradiction, trying to extract myself from its greedy fingers, whilst at the same time being drawn to it as a moth to a flame. However, no matter how much I might hate its brain sucking, time wasting qualities, I do have to concede that there are numerous positives that have come out of my relationship with the Internet. One of the most important of these has been my exposure to the plight of the endangered rhinoceros and my subsequent meeting with poet Harry Owen which resulted in our collaborative effort to raise funds and awareness to help eradicate the scourge of rhino poaching in Africa.

Harry is a rare human being, a man with principles and a conscience, who not only cares deeply about the condition of our environment, but who is not afraid to speak out in its defence. A casual glance through his Facebook page will leave you in no doubt as to where his sentiments lie, and if you listen to his words in the short clip below, they will give you a better idea of the man I speak of.



In 2012 I received an email from Harry inviting me to submit a poem for possible inclusion in a book that he was putting together as a fund and awareness raising project for anti poaching. I sat with it for a while, caught between the feel-good sensation that his invitation brought up in me and the frustration of my poor poetry writing ability. I wanted to be a part of this project, but knew that my poetic skills just wouldn’t make the grade. I do, however, think that there is such a thing as visual poetry, and so when I bumped into Harry one sunny Saturday morning, standing by the artisan bread counter of our local Grahamstown morning market, I heard myself offering to illustrate his book. Until that moment I hadn’t actually articulated this idea, even to myself. It kind of just popped out, like the best ideas usually do, and as I drove home ten minutes later, I realised that I had just made a commitment from which there was no return. But, there was no need to return, for it was one of the most enjoyable projects that I have ever worked on, and it was with great joy that For Rhino in a Shrinking World: An International Anthology was launched to much acclaim in 2013.


As you have heard in the interview above, it was his meeting with the legendary Dr. William Fowlds that sparked Harry’s idea for the project, and since then the anthology has traveled far and wide, spreading its message and adding to the coffers of the Chipembere Rhino Foundation. Countless people have read and listened to the moving words of the contributing poets who come from all parts of the world. One only needs to listen to Harry Owen as he reads his poem Eyona Indala, to get a sense of the depth of passion that this project brought out in the poets:



There have been many favourable reviews, and most recently, poems from the anthology were beautifully read by Dennis Morton on KUSP’s Weekly Poetry Show in the USA. Do yourself a favour and listen in to the show in its entirety, for you cannot fail to be moved.


So, I return to our new technology and say that if, like me, you have been bombarded with horrific Facebook images of bleeding and dying rhino and feel helpless and overwhelmed by the enormity of the rhino poaching problem, take heart, for there is something you can do, whether it be signing petitions, donating funds, writing poems or simply clicking a ‘Share’ button. Or, better still, if you want something more tangible, remember that there are copies of the anthology available from The Poet’s Printery and Christmas is just around the corner! All proceeds from the sale of the book will go into the Chipembere Rhino Foundation fund.

As another dimension to the project, I have limited edition, signed and packaged prints available of each of the drawings that appear in the anthology. The cost of these is R250.00 per print, plus postage, and may be obtained by contacting me. There is also a range of greeting cards of these images, so to see the full collection, please visit my website.

For Rhino in a Shrinking World: An International Anthology of Poetry

A drawing from ‘For Rhino in a Shrinking World: An International Anthology’

In conclusion, I leave you with a quote from the foreword of this book, written by Dr.Ian Player and Andrew Muir, who heads up The Wilderness Foundation:

“What we need in the world today is to hear within us the sounds of the earth crying” (Taken from a Zen poem)

“Rhino have a particularly plaintive cry, which once heard is never forgotten. The screams of agony from rhino that have had their horns chopped off while still alive should reach out into the hearts of all of us. We believe that it is only through a GLOBAL campaign and POLITICAL will that we can save this remnant of the dinosaur age – the rhino.

The heritage of a species, the rhino, and the environment we share with it, symbolises so much of what the Wilderness Foundation  is driven to take care of. It is our hope that what lies within this anthology will reveal enough to inspire everyone to respond the “the sounds of the earth crying”.


Harry and Sally

Finally, I take this opportunity, through this miraculous platform of social media, to wish you and all the remaining rhino a blessed, safe and peaceful Christmas.

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Red Shoe Workshop

The Red Shoe Workshop aims to empower women by bringing them together in small groups to make shoes or slippers, through which they tell their stories. These fun, creative workshops have been enormously popular and the outcomes have been amazing. The workshop is suitable for women of all ages, from all walks of life and no previous artistic experience is needed. The beauty of the workshop is that it offers flexibility and can be for each participant what it needs to be, meeting each individual at their point of need. It is held in a safe and supportive space, in an atmosphere of respect and understanding, and offers participants an opportunity to express themselves in a truly creative way.

I will be holding another Red Shoe Workshop in my art studio on the 6th/7th and 13th/14th September. This fun, therapeutic, three-day workshop is not to be missed! There are only a couple of spaces left, so if you’re in the Grahamstown area and keen to join us, please book your place now!

red shoe workshop poster small RGB

Comments by Previous Participants:
“Sally’s Red Shoe workshop is incredible, and I would highly recommend it to you. The workshop is inspirational, in that it encourages you to look at your life from a fresh and unique perspective. It lets you explore your womanhood, your life and your belief systems in a warm and supportive environment, where you can laugh and cry with other woman while not feeling judged. I encourage you to take part in the Red Shoe workshop as it will let you grow as an individual and spiritually in ways you never thought possible.” Lindsay Clarke


“The Red Shoe Project is a highly innovative approach to self-expression. It does not come with the self-congratulatory smugness of so many find-your-true-self-and-be-free workshops – which is one of its many virtues. The playfulness and spirit of adventure that permeates this workshop liberated me to explore redness freely, to release the stress of goal-oriented activity, and to watch with considerable curiosity (and entertainment) what emerged from my hands, my machine and my red fabric. Even when personal pain surfaced as I sewed alone, the workshop’s overriding sense of playfulness provided sufficient support for me to feel safe – and to sew some more.” Gill Rennie

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPlease contact me if you would like to know more.

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In Memoriam

A couple of weeks ago, whilst the National Arts Festival was underway in Grahamstown, I was invited to present and speak about my large textile artwork, In Memoriam, at the LAWS (Legacy of the Apartheid Wars) Conference, organized by Theresa Edlmann of the History Department at Rhodes University.

The purpose of this cross-disciplinary conference was to bring people together from all sides of the various conflicts to share their views and perspectives on addressing the legacies of these wars. In my case, I shared my own personal story of being married to an officer in the Rhodesian Light Infantry during the Rhodesian Bush War and the struggles that we and so many others like us, faced in the aftermath. I spoke of the inspiration that led to me making the work and explained some of the symbolism it contains.

2 panels, each 234.5cm x 77cm Medium: Photographs on canvas, cotton fabric. Machine embroidery and applique

2 panels, each 234.5cm x 77cm
Medium: Photographs on canvas, cotton fabric.
Machine embroidery and applique

The History of this Work

In January 2010, after a visit to the now largely disintegrated and overgrown ruins of Fort Wiltshire, in the Eastern Cape, I came upon a small graveyard, containing the remains of British soldiers and their families. On reading the inscriptions on the tombstones, I was struck by the intensity of emotion that was etched so deeply into the rock, and was moved by the poignancy of these weathered, old gravestones standing stoically amongst the encroaching bush, holding their ground in silent testament to the brave men of years gone by. This got me thinking more about the meaning and purpose of monuments and gravestones, which essentially are an acknowledgement of lives spent and pain suffered and mark a time when something or someone ceased to be. They serve an important purpose in that they offer recognition of the contributions made and the value of the life of the person or people to whom they are dedicated. This may help those who are left behind to remember, forgive, release and move on.

War and Memorial

My knowledge and experience of war came initially through being the daughter of an ex World War 2 RAF bomber pilot, and then more directly through being married to an officer in the Rhodesian Light Infantry during the Rhodesian Bush War (1964 – 1979.)

I remember as a child being very aware that my father, as a member of the Allied Forces, had been a hero in what was widely perceived as a just war. I grew up knowing that he had served with valour and that he and his fellow servicemen had been remembered through numerous monuments and annual celebrations of their bravery.

However, when Rhodesia became Zimbabwe, the few memorials dedicated to the Rhodesian forces had to be smuggled out of the country for safe keeping. As a result there is nothing tangible in Southern Africa that memorializes these men, nothing that formally acknowledges how their lives were changed forever by their war experience.

When the Rhodesian Bush War came to an end, the ground was literally cut out from under those who had served in the Rhodesian Security forces, leaving many of them in a state of limbo, brimming with tension and unresolved conflict. As happens after many such wars, this lack of closure created an ongoing internal, emotional struggle that has in many cases had a profound ripple effect in their lives.

War Memoirs

For years I have planned to write a book about my life and the journey I have taken, but the obstacle that has stood in my way that I have really preferred to avoid, was the period encompassing this war and, like many others who served in the security forces, the difficulties my husband and I faced in the aftermath. However, my visit to the forts and the graveyard kick started the process and for the next few months I tackled the subject head on, launching myself into an intense period of writing, where I was forced to recall the deepest, darkest, and at times happiest period of my life. Whilst very emotionally exhausting, the writing of these memoirs helped me release much of what had effectively been holding me back. In recalling my experience of war, I was able to remember the love and compassion I felt for those men, who on the whole were good, decent guys, born into a country and an era where they were expected to go and fight. In confronting my past, I was reminded of the sacrifices that the Rhodesian forces had made and I emerged from the process feeling very deeply that they need to be acknowledged and remembered.

It was with this in mind that I began to explore the idea of creating my own memorial, not only to these, the men that I knew, but to all soldiers wherever they may be. My recollections had reminded me that soldiers are not faceless numbers, as they are so often portrayed, but are sons, brothers, fathers, husbands and lovers, all doing what they have been called to do. The following is an extract from my journal, written during this time of reflection:

“It is 2010, thirty years since the Rhodesian Bush War was politically brought to an end. A lot has happened in thirty years, much water under the bridge. With time and hindsight one has a clearer view of all that happened back there in the day when brave young men made a decision to stand and fight for a cause that they believed in. So much was lost in that war and very little was won. Lives were lost, as they always are in war, a country was lost, no longer with the same name, ‘home’ was lost, as were families and farms, livelihoods and dreams. With the signing of the peace agreement, came the start of a brand new struggle, a) within the hearts and minds of those who remained and b) within the souls of those who left. Whichever side of the battle they were on, people were damaged and lost, one way or another. So, as I sit remembering the war, I feel the need to document it in some way. Having witnessed firsthand the struggles so many experienced, I feel the need to acknowledge the loss, the pain of those who lived and died, and those who have never really found the peace that they seek. These wall hangings, therefore, are a tribute to the men who lost their lives – in death and in life. These works do not glorify war, nor do they take sides, they are merely an acknowledgement of lives lost and pain suffered for a cause that was deemed worthy at the time.”

In Memoriam

The work is made up of two long panels. The first one is dedicated to the men who die in war and the other is for the soldiers who survive. They hang side by side and are of equal importance. As this work arose directly from my own personal experience, it refers specifically to the men I knew, the men of the Rhodesian Light Infantry. However, I believe that the message it contains is universal and applies to men on both sides of any conflict. The important thing here is not that one must feel obligated to read all the names inscribed, but to know that all lives lost in war are valuable and woven into the cloth of our collective memory.

1.      For Those Who Die

The backdrop to this scene is sunset (or could it be sunrise?) over the Zambezi Valley. Superimposed over it are transparent crosses marking the 86 men from the Rhodesian Light Infantry who lost their lives in action. Their names are embroidered in white onto the black border than surrounds the scene.

Here is another excerpt from my journal, written the day I did the embroidery:

“I feel the need to honour the men of our unit, and as I embroider all their names onto the cloth, I am aware that I must take care with each and every one of them, for they are all loved and remembered by someone, and I will give each one the reverence he deserves.”

A detail of the the panel 'For Those Who Die'

A detail of the the panel ‘For Those Who Die’

2.      For Those Who Live

This piece is dedicated to the men who go through war and make it to the other side. Upon their release from duty, they take with them the physical, mental and emotional scars of their journey, but lose the authority and recognition that they have been accustomed to. They are then expected to carry on business as usual as if the war had never happened. The task is near impossible, for a man who has lived through war will never be quite the same again. The challenge is for him to take what he has learned from his experience and redefine it in such a way that he is able to forgive and truly release himself from the bonds of this turbulent past. In my view, this challenge is equal to the magnitude of his sacrifice.

The imagery used as the central motif in this panel, is an enlarged detail from a previous piece of work, done in 2003. It relates directly to sacrifice, and may be interpreted in whatever way is meaningful to the viewer. The original inspiration for the image came from seeing the grave of a Himba chief in a remote area of bush in the Kaokoveld area of Namibia. Above the grave stood a marble cross and behind this was a pole onto which had been hammered the skulls of all his cattle that had been sacrificed for their master. It was a haunting image that took on a slightly different meaning when seen in the context of this work. The thorns that had originally been used to represent the horns of cattle could now be linked to the sacrifices made by men who go to war, or, amongst other things, be seen as symbolic of Christ and his crucifixion. On reading the poem that inspired this panel, it seemed a fitting association.

A detail from the panel 'For Those Who Live'

A detail from the panel ‘For Those Who Live’

I chose the following poem to embroider into the work, for it closely echoes how I feel about all the men to whom this work is dedicated, but in particular the men of the RLI. They were my men – the ones I loved and understood. I have seen their vulnerability, their courage and their fear, and I have witnessed their bestiality, their bravado and their pain. They were good men and deserve to be remembered. I hope that this monument to their bravery will in some small way help them to find the release and the peace that they so richly deserve.

Soldiers Bathing (abridged version for artwork)

By F.T. Prince (1954)

 The sea at evening moves across the sand.

  Under a reddening sky I watch the freedom of a band

  Of soldiers who belong to me. Stripped bare

  For bathing in the sea, they shout and run in the warm air;

  Their flesh worn by the trade of war, revives

  And my mind towards the meaning of it strives.

  All’s pathos now. The body that was gross,

  Rank, ravenous, disgusting in the act or in repose,

  All fever, filth and sweat, its bestial strength

  And bestial decay, by pain and labour grows at length

  Fragile and luminous. ‘Poor bare forked animal,’

  Conscious of his desires and needs and flesh that rise and fall,

  Stands in the soft air, tasting after toil

  The sweetness of his nakedness: letting the sea-waves coil

  Their frothy tongues about his feet, forgets

  His hatred of the war, its terrible pressure that begets

  A machinery of death and slavery,

  Each being a slave and making slaves of others: finds that he

  Remembers his old freedom in a game

  Mocking himself, and comically mimics fear and shame.

  He plays with death and animality…


And we too have our bitterness and pity that engage

  Blood, spirit, in this war. But night begins,

  Night of the mind: who nowadays is conscious of our sins?

  Though every human deed concerns our blood,

  And even we must know, what nobody has understood,

  That some great love is over all we do,

  And that is what has driven us to this fury, for so few

  Can suffer all the terror of that love:

  The terror of that love has set us spinning in this groove

  Greased with our blood.

  These dry themselves and dress,

  Combing their hair, forget the fear and shame of nakedness.

  Because to love is frightening we prefer

  The freedom of our crimes. Yet, as I drink the dusky air,

  I feel a strange delight that fills me full,

  Strange gratitude, as if evil itself were beautiful,

  And kiss the wound in thought, while in the west

  I watch a streak of red that might have issued from Christ’s breast.

Categories: Fibre Art, Inspiration, Projects | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Launch of the Rhino Anthology

This post is long overdue, and my only excuse is that I have been working!!! I have been hidden away in the studio for hours on end trying to get all the artwork ready for my forthcoming exhibition Delta & Desert: Journeys Into the Wilderness, which forms part of the National Arts Festival, that is held annually here in Grahamstown. With only a month to go, the pressure is now on!

However, last night, I ventured out to be sociable at the launch of For Rhino In A Shrinking World, and what a wonderful evening it was. The venue was packed to capacity and there was  a sense that everyone there was genuinely concerned about the plight of the endangered rhino, and wanting to be a part of this wonderful project.

Speakers included wildlife veterinarian, Dr. William Fowlds, publisher, Dr. Amitabh Mitra, environmentalist/university lecturer, Prof. Heila Lotz-Sisitka, and poet, Harry Owen, who so eloquently reminded us of why we were there. He showed us a wonderful, touching excerpt from Sir Richard Attenborough’s documentary,Africa, showing rhino socializing at night. The atmosphere was heightened by the poems that were read by several of those who had contributed their work to the book, and was rounded off  by the playing of  David Mallett’s thought provoking song So You Say the Battle is Over?.

Music for the evening was provided by Lawrence Sisitka’s band Nia, which was much enjoyed by all.

The cover of For Rhino in a Shrinking World: An International Anthology

The cover of For Rhino in a Shrinking World: An International Anthology

The book For Rhino in a Shrinking World: An International Anthology features the work of poets from many different countries around the world. It is edited by Harry Owen and illustrated by me. The cost of the book is R195.00 and all funds will be going to help protect the rhino via the Chipembere Rhino Foundation. To order your copy, contact Harry Owen or order online through the Poets Printery.

My contribution to the evening was the launch of a series of greeting cards and signed limited edition prints of all the drawings that feature in the book. They are now available for sale, so if any of you out there might like to purchase and help the rhino cause, 10% of sales will be going to the rhino. Several of the framed original works have already sold, but there are still a few available. Contact me for details.

image 4web

The book, greeting cards,limited edition prints and framed, original artwork now available.

The cards are selling for R30.00 each.

The limited edition prints are R250.00 each

Original works range from R1800.00 – R2300.00

It’s a very worthy cause, so lets all support it!

Categories: Drawing, Projects | Tags: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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