Main Image – Keiskamma Guernica, 2010. Grahamstown, South Africa. Courtesy of Robert Hofmeyr. Sourced from Guernicaremakings.com.
The Keiskamma Art Project is part of the greater Keiskamma Trust, a South African not-for-profit organisation dedicated to the overall care of the communities that live in the Hamburg area in the Eastern Cape. Founder of the project, Dr Carol Hofmeyr, a fine artist and medical doctor, saw the importance of using art as a medium for
healing while also creating sustainable livelihoods through dignified work for the women in this historically marginalised community.
Since its establishment in 2000, the Keiskamma Art Project has facilitated the creation of a vast number of treasured artworks. The works, and the process of creating them, play an important role in archiving the Eastern Cape rural collective memory and preserving its oral history. In sharing and creating together, while uncovering and reinterpreting their own stories, the women are able to rewrite their cultural and historical narratives.
Many of the artworks consist of embroidered motifs with powerful messages. Initially, the women were taught how to embroider by two master embroiderers from Oxford, United Kingdom who helped establish the project. Now, they have made this skill their own. “The skill has developed and grown and has become a metaphor of reparation, bringing together threads of stories and experiences, and has been used to subvert history to an extent,” says curator Pippa Hetherington, a South African photographer and visual artist who has known the artists and the Project since its inception. Working alongside Pippa is renowned curator Azu Nwagbogu who was responsible for the monumental William Kentridge exhibition in 2019 in Cape Town, when he was interim Director/Head Curator at ZeitzMOCAA.
Just over 20 years later, the Keiskamma Art Project’s major artworks are found in several national and international collections, including the parliamentary buildings in Cape Town as well as the permanent collections at the University of South Africa, the University of Witwatersrand, and the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Museum. To mark the two decades of the Project’s origin, a landmark retrospective exhibition will showcase many of the artworks created over the years. It will – very aptly – be housed at Constitution Hill, which is a location that upholds South Africa’s constitution and is a living museum that tells the story of our democracy and human rights.
Visitors will have the opportunity to view the famous Keiskamma Tapestry which is housed in the hallway of the Parliament buildings, and which miraculously was not destroyed in the fire last year. It was the first of the current 15 major tapestries of the Keiskamma Trust. 100 women created a vivid visual account of South African history
into life, stitch by stitch. Although called a tapestry it is a 120m long embroidery which depicts the beginning of the San people and ends with the first democratic elections in 1994. It was inspired by the famous Bayeux Tapestry, 70m long and 50cm tall dating back to the 11 th century, which is housed at the Tapestry Museum in Bayeux in Normandy, France. The exhibition is due to open at Constitution Hill on Heritage Day, 24 September 2022.