Posts Tagged With: The San

The Earth Project: Skirt #5

It’s early morning and I’m in front of the mirror, looking at the face looking back at me. I barely recognise her now that I have new lenses in my eyes. It’s like I’m seeing her for the first time. I pull back my hair and notice a few silver streaks nestling amongst the blonde. As I gently rub cream on my cheeks, I feel their gratitude for the moisture. For a fleeting moment, I go misty eyed as I recall the bloom of my youth and then smile back at myself, realising it’s a thing of the past. I have resolved to be kind, to embrace this season of life, for those eyes looking back at me, though tired, still have their twinkle and are deep and knowing and wise.

It’s been five months since I started work on my Earth Project skirts and today I am to begin work on the final one. As I cross my garden to the studio, I notice a chill in the air. The leaves from my oak tree are falling and collecting at my door. The time feels right to begin the final skirt, for she is The Gatherer, the one who brings all things together.

This skirt represents the wise old Goddess, who has lived her cycle and knows what is really important. Her once vibrant colour has softened, fading through orange and yellow to brown. She is becoming delicate and frail, with a quiet sense of Self, that comes from having seen it all. She’s weathered the storms, experienced much and has the marks and scars to prove it. She is with us for this final season, pausing to impart her wisdom before returning to her Source. She is Autumn, a time when the leaves transform and loosen their hold on life.

Autumn leaves

This is the season where, in the human context, there is a loosening of ties to the material world and more interest in the spiritual. Time spent with family and friends, becomes more important than what one owns. I have illustrated this by attaching a small beaded pouch to the waistband of the apron, which symbolically holds only the bare essentials, our most precious possessions or memories.

The Gatherer

 

Detail of the beaded pouch, the container of precious memories

This is also the season for remembering, for tracing back over paths taken and a life well lived. It is a time of community and the sharing of wisdom, gathering around the fire with loved ones to tell stories that the next generation can learn from. In San cosmology, it is believed that these stories, told around the campfires remain forever in the landscape.

“John Parkington, in his essay on the perceptions of the /Xam hunter-gatherers in “Sound from the Thinking Strings” recalls that //Kabbo’s reason for wanting to return home was that he missed hearing the stories that floated across the landscape from campfire to campfire.” (An extract from Michael Godby’s essay in the exhibition catalogue of the Wake of the White Wagons, by Pippa Skotnes.)

This idea of our paths through life leaving an energetic imprint upon the landscape, reminds me of the Australian Aboriginal concept of the Dreamtime. They believe that humankind has a special responsibility to maintain the harmonies within the Universe and each season selected members of the group travel along the old tracks (previously traveled by totemic animals eg.snakes and kangaroos,) that lace the desert together. They stop at sacred sites to perform the appropriate rituals and sing a line of songs that hold the stories of the people who have traversed the land before them, telling of local episodes in the history of creation. It is thought that these songs help to stimulate the flow of spirit energy that resides within rocks, bringing nourishing rain to plants and animals. It is believed that these song lines will take the travellers safely to a destination they have never been to before.

A time of gratitude and remembrance. The lines of stitching represent pathways taken

Once again the body of the skirt represents the rock face, the sacred place where for centuries, stories have been recounted and recorded. The overflowing scraps of chamois leather create shadows reminiscent of the rock overhang, adding shelter and protection to the figures gathered in celebration below. The figures in the centre of the skirt were inspired by a rock painting in the Southern Cape.

The stitched leather in the waistband is a technique I used in The Dry Season, a work I made in 1996. The effect is intended to be symbolic of a long life journey, stitched roughly together through memory recall. The image in the centre is symbolic of home, the place of security, intimacy and community. In many indigenous traditions, the fire is central to community life, so the bundles of sticks attached to the waistband reference not only the gathering up of memories, but the women who gather wood for the fire that physically and spiritually brings and holds the community together.

Bundles of wood and a symbol of ‘home’

The inspiration for this skirt came largely from the San, who have lived for centuries in harmony with their environment. It speaks of paths taken, tracks in the sand and footprints all made lightly. It speaks of community, of love, support and ceremony and a respect for the spiritual world which is intimately interwoven into the physical. The skirt reflects a season of peace, imbued with gratitude and a new respect for the Earth, our Mother and Friend, that has given us life and refuge.

As I watch the news on television, reeling from one disaster to the next, I am aware that my generation is in the throes of passing on the baton to the next. Only the baton we are passing comes in the form of Mother Earth, and it is my fervent hope that the handover will be smooth and that the young ones will have learned from our mistakes, for our Earth is in a precarious state and it should be the focus of all their attention. I am reminded of a quote I recently read and hope that the dance will continue.

We and our planet are reaching maturity together. Opening up our collective senses to the Universe; watching and waiting for the chord that signals the start of a new and even more fulfilling dance. We are ready to respond to the music of the spheres.” Lyall Watson

In August 2018, I finally stepped back from my pinboard and surveyed the fruits of my labours… five earth dance skirts, affectionately known as ‘The Girls’. They were complete, and in the warmth of the spotlight that chilly winter afternoon, they glowed with self-assured energy.

The Earth Project skirts on the wall of my studio 2018

My energy, on the other hand, was almost spent, but there was no time to rest, for this was not the end, but the beginning of what was to come. The skirts needed to be framed and my client had requested that I hand carve the frames that were to hold them.

In my next post, I will bring you that process and reveal some of the angels who helped me.

If you have missed any of the previous posts, you can scroll down the page or find them through the following links:

 

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Categories: Fibre Art, Inspiration, Projects | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

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…

 

 

Categories: Fibre Art, Inspiration, Projects | Tags: , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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: , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

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