Posts Tagged With: South African fibre art

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…

 

 

Categories: Background, Fibre Art, Inspiration, Projects | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

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.

imbizo-gallery-logo2small

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.

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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.

Categories: Exhibitions, Fibre Art, Projects | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

‘Double Vision’

On the evening of Thursday 5th November 2015, the doors of Mogalakwena Gallery, 3 Church St., Cape Town,  opened for the viewing of Double Vision, a fibre art exhibition featuring the work of Odette Tolksdorf and myself . The opening was part of the First Thursdays, Cape Town programme, and because we were blessed with warm, balmy weather, the crowds thronged the streets and we had a really interesting mix of people coming through.

Sally Scott, Gina Niederhumer and Odette Toksdorf at the opening of 'Double Vision'

Sally Scott, Gina Niederhumer and Odette Toksdorf at the opening of ‘Double Vision’

For those who weren’t there to enjoy it, I have included some of Odette’s works and a gallery of all the work that I have on show. We were fortunate to have Gina Niederhumer to open our exhibition and have included her opening words below:

“When Odette phoned me about a month ago, to ask me if I would open her and Sally’s exhibition I was at first shocked that she asked me, after all these artists were already famous and were part of that crowd that I looked up to and admired from afar while I still marveled over log-cabin patterns… I am immensely honored that they asked me to open their exhibition. Both artists have resumes as long as both my arms…prestigious awards to their names…their work is held in public and private collections – locally and internationally…and their art-works appear in many publications …most recently in Elbe’s new book Craft Art in South Africa.

Sally Scott and Odette Tolksdorf are amongst a group of a few local textile artists who have put South African Fiber Arts on the world map.

There are certain parallels to their biography…both have lived elsewhere for much of their formative years…Odette in Australia, Sally in Zimbabwe…both are internationally exhibited artists and both are teachers of creative workshops for over thirty years… both work with needle and thread amongst other things… and they are friends.

While each one developed their own style and working methodology…here in this exhibition they joined forces to give us a glimpse into their practice.

I will first speak about Odette, as her work is exhibited in the first room.

Odette, beside being a prolific textile artist, is also a Quilt Judge and these past 15 years has been the South African representative and co-coordinator of the World Quilt and Textile competition which is held annually in the USA.

She has also for the last 15 years, organized cultural art and craft tours to South Africa, together with American textile artist Nancy Crow and Canadian artist Valerie Hearder.

Odette’s fiber art is known for its vibrant colours, it’s geometric shapes…intricate textures… and has a linear quality about it. Her work starts often with a traditional pattern which she then distorts and adapts to fit her design concepts.

Her surroundings frequently provide the prompts for her work. …a trip to Morocco becomes Lost in Marrakech…which hint at the intricate networks of Medinas and Souks…which invite one to get lost in while absorbing the colours and shapes of the place…next to it is the work Endless Migrations which is based on rumination around friends leaving the country…and the coming and goings of people in general…all over the world… in one direction or another… like the flow of water…the circles representing the endlessness of this pursuit…given the present situation in Europe with thousands of refugees making their way through different countries in search for a safe place and a new start, this work could not be more current.

'Endless Migration' by Odette Tolksdorf

‘Endless Migration’ by Odette Tolksdorf

As a graphic graduate, Design is a strong element in Odette’s art. This is quite evident in many of her works…such as the piece Isihlalo – the Chair, which is based on the woodcarving of a back-rest belonging to a Zulu-King…. Raw Wall based on traditional Yoruba house decorations…Re-mix Africa…a lighthearted play on words referring to the watershed exhibition Africa -re mix…where Odette mixes Kimono shapes with African wax prints with a variety of textures, such as Cuba cloth, and Bark cloth…linking different symbolism and agendas.

'Re-mix Africa' by Odette Tolksdorf

‘Re-mix Africa’ by Odette Tolksdorf

Odette’s latest works, Breath I, II and III is unusual perhaps in its soft watercolor feel…but then on closer look it is again indicative of her way of responding and processing her surrounding…as by her own admission, she was seduced by the material when she found that wonderful organza and thought of a way to use it. An artist will always read any material or subject matter through his or her own lens of seeing the world…in this case, turning layers and layers of translucent textiles into a meditative study on light and breath…offering a though provoking reflection on the repetitiveness of the sewing process.

Breath, Breathe and Breathing Series by Odette Tolksdorf

‘Breath, Breathe and Breathing’ Series by Odette Tolksdorf

Double Vision …the title of this show….refers to an eye condition, Wikipedia informed me… (I could not resist) whereby the eyes when looking at a single object, see it twice, the effect is like squinting.

I like this title for the Sally and Odette’s exhibition, as it not only points in a humorous way to two artists having different views, but it also reminds us that there is always another way of looking at things. That there is the actual artwork the viewer sees when entering the gallery, and then there is the story behind each work…the story that triggered the work in the artist as well as the ‘threads’ that are spun in the viewers imagination while looking at the work. Nobel Peace Laureate Eric Kandel, speaks of the beholders share which completes the process between artist and viewer.

Which really tells us that something is happening to us while we are viewing an artwork…and the thoughts triggered have less to do with the actual work then with our own inter psychic realities …such is the power of art.

Thus in a way, art lets us look into both directions…the outer world and the world within us. I find this especially the case in Sally’s piece Surrender. While the trigger for the work might have come from Sally’s experiences, it has universal appeal, as we all can identify with the need to let go of things, thoughts, ideas that might be not only be counter productive but actually harmful. This is especially true, when we have been hurt, and have allowed the woundedness within to create an armor that we hope shields us, but it actually separates us from the world, and ultimately from living live fully

When I look at Surrender, I see the threshold that allowed the other works to surface. Art and healing go hand in hand. Nietzsche already said, that when the soul is in distress, art comes as an expert healer and sorceress, turning difficult thoughts and emotions into something that can be looked at, and talked about.

The titles often give further clues to the meaning behind the work…Axis Mundi….the tree of life….Towards Infinity…a continous search for the self…Synergy acknowledging the different elements that strive for wholeness…

The vivid colours in many of the pieces give the works a celebratory look…a triumphant transition of the souls search and healing process after the work Surrender. The repeated almond shape of the Vesica Pisces, which presents itself in much of Sally’s work, speaks of her continued search for unity and balance. Vesica Piscis, the place where two equal circles overlap and create a third shape – a liminal space – is at the root of sacred geometry… I understand Sally’s repeated use of this shape as a search for the essence of oneness

vesica pisces jpg

Sally runs workshops for community projects and university students, teaching embroidery skills, drawing, journal writing and her hugely popular Red Shoes workshops, which are aimed at empowering people through helping them find their own creative voice.

Sally is not only a teacher and lecturer and a leading figure in the textile world, she is also a landscape painter and wildlife activist.

Growing up in what sound like a magical time on a remote farm in Zimbabwe, her love for the bush is evident in her photographs and paintings. Here in this show, in the three framed works showing photographs of barren landscapes over which hang little Travel Bags combine her love for remote places, traveling and needlework. It is again the search for oneness that I see in it.

Click on the images below to see Sally’s works on show:

While both artists focus on their respective tasks and work with the same medium, needle and thread, their artistic output, copious as it is, is quite distinct from each other. While Sally works with her own hand-dyed fabrics and thread onto black cloth and frequently includes text and found objects in her work, Odette’s clear lines and textures as well as her choice of strong colours, on the other hand conjure up a light filled high spirited Lebensfreude.

While ‘double’ refers to the two streams of artistic output, ‘vision’ here speaks less of the actual mechanics of our eyes, but rather it refers to the farsightedness in both artists as they impart their skill and knowledge through their teaching, ensuring the spreading of a wellbeing through creative empowerment.

The departure point for this exhibition might have been one goal, one vision for the artists ….being friends it is also likely that they discussed ideas about it while they worked towards it…the resulting body of work though speaks of separate paths. Needlework techniques acquired over a life time of individual practice… meet here, as Sally and Odette share some of their work with us … thus giving the viewer their gift of double vision….which lets us …while seeing transformations of their experiences – contemplate our own. Thank you.”

Gina Niederhumer

Cape Town, November 5, 2015

The exhibition remains open until 18th December 2015. Please visit and enjoy!

Categories: Exhibitions, Fibre Art | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Categories: Fibre Art, My Studio, Projects, Workshops | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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