Private View: Thursday the 7th of October, 6:30-9pm
London (London Bridge)
South African artist Kimathi Mafafo’s bold, new collection of textile works invite audiences into a vibrant, tactile landscape where expressive hand gestures float amidst the verdant foliage and sensual female figures emerge between blooming floral forms. Gestures from the Awakened Mind, the artist’s first solo exhibition with Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery, celebrates the liberated black female body and the power of the collective while also exploring art’s ability to offer space for healing and contemplation.
Mafafo’s practice is centred around black female empowerment both in terms of the compositions she creates and her working processes. While each scene is inspired by her personal experiences, memories and emotion states, the pieces are created collaboratively, reflecting Mafafo’s belief in art as a tool for connection and communication. Originally trained as a painter, she learnt the art of embroidery from a talented Cape Town-based, Ghanian tailor, before going on to train two women whom she works with on an ongoing basis. “One woman is from Zimbabwe and the other is Xhosa [a South African ethnic group], which creates an interesting dynamic within the work,” she says. “I give them the freedom to express themselves and develop their own style.” Crucially, the work also provides these women with financial support and a creative form of self-expression, allowing them to transcend traditional gender stereotypes that continue to be upheld in many African communities. As such, each stitch becomes a mark of defiance as well as an assertion of strength, unity and female liberation.
This is most clearly visualised in Sibambaneni (Let us lend a helping hand), a series of works that depicts various hand gestures hidden within the folds of fabric or intricate woven patterns of colourful threads. These pieces were mainly created during lockdown in South Africa when life became increasingly difficult for both individuals and communities, and the artist found herself reaching out to others, especially women, in search of support and solidarity. The physicality of the fabric itself, which appears scrunched in places as if clinging to a body, and the expressiveness of the hand gestures convey a sense of longing while also highlighting the power of human connection. However, instead of portraying suffering, Mafafo employs vibrant colours and dynamic gestures to create an impression of beauty, vitality and hope, while the irregular shape of the fabric and the loose, hanging threads express her own creative freedom. “Most of the threads are offcuts from the machine embroidery, which are recycled back into the artworks,” explains Mafafo, “but I also see them as a defiance against the neatness of traditional embroidery and image-making.”
A second series, after which the exhibition is titled, focuses around the figure of a woman who appears semi-nude, wrapped in a white or gold cloth, in the midst of tropical flowers and thick foliage. For Mafafo, this dreamlike landscape relates back to her childhood memories of spending time in botanical parks and gardens, and admiring the rich colours and grandeur of Dutch paintings in the William Humphrey museum in Kimberley. However, by detaching both the floral forms and the figure of the woman from a specific context, Mafafo once again asserts a sense of release and joyous abandon. Within this colourful, fluid space, the woman is able to escape her everyday realities, but also find a deeper connection to herself. The cloth in which she is wrapped symbolises this notion of harmony and protection, while also adding a further layer of sensuality and tactility to the work.
While each artwork possesses its own individual beauty and sense of aliveness, viewed together the works take on a kind of talismanic force that honours female experience and offers space for creative refuge.