Thread for a Web Begun, Malawi-born, Johannesburg-based artist, Billie Zangewa’s first solo U.S. museum exhibition will include examples of the artist’s work from the past 15 years, as well as new pieces made specifically for the show. The exhibition comes at an important time for Zangewa, whose career has developed primarily in Europe and South Africa. This exhibition will bring her work to entirely new audiences across the United States.
Although many of the scenes depicted in Zangewa’s layered silk tapestries are autobiographical, there is a relatability that goes beyond her personal journey as an artist. Zangewa’s labor-intensive processes recall the historic implications of “women’s work” but remain a steadfastly contemporary interpretation of lived experiences. Zangewa is dealing firstly with identity, as well as socio-politics around gender and skin tone, in a gentle everyday manner. She is also exploring the different roles that women play in society, including motherhood and the impact that it has individually and collectively. The images in her work are deliberately decontextualized. However, when shown in a group, their fragmentary nature is further emphasized, suggesting they are excerpted from a larger narrative.
Zangewa does not make grand gestures or even overt political statements, but rather, like a kind of ‘daily feminism’, focuses on mundane domestic preoccupations; themes connecting us all. Zangewa states “I use fabric and sewing, which traditionally is a female pastime, to empower myself. I tell my personal story, how it’s happening on the home front, and show the intimate life of a woman, which usually we’re not encouraged to do.” Zangewa views telling her own story in her own voice as a kind of personal empowerment. Historically, this has been very difficult for women in general, but for women of color in particular, with many social obstacles to overcome.
Billie Zangewa: Thread for a Web Begun is curated by Dexter Wimberly, independent curator and Founder & CEO of Art World Conference.
Billie Zangewa (b. 1973, Blantyre, Malawi; lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa) creates intricate collages composed of hand-stitched fragments of raw silk. These figurative compositions explore contemporary intersectional identity in an attempt to challenge the historical stereotype, objectification, and exploitation of the black female form. Beginning her career in the fashion and advertising industries, Zangewa employs her understanding of textiles to portray personal and universal experiences through domestic interiors, urban landscapes, and portraiture. Her earliest works were embroideries on found fabrics depicting remembered botanical scenes and animals from Botswana, where the artist was raised, but she soon transitioned to creating cityscapes, focusing on her experience as a woman in the city of Johannesburg and her personal relationships. These works explored her experience of the male gaze, leading her to begin to think more critically about how women view themselves and what the visualization of the female gaze, through self-portraiture, could look like.
After the birth of her son, Zangewa began making her well-known domestic interiors to explore the shift in focus from self-examination and femininity to motherhood and the home. Often referencing scenes or experiences from everyday life, Zangewa has stated that she is interested in depicting the work done by women that keeps society running smoothly, but which is often overlooked, undervalued, or ignored. Zangewa refers to this as “daily feminism,” which can be considered a contemporary version of “the personal is political.” Through the method of their making and their narrative content, Zangewa’s silk paintings illustrate gendered labor in a socio-political context, where the domestic sphere becomes a pretext for a deeper understanding of the construction of identity, questions around gender stereotypes, and racial prejudice.
Zangewa received her BFA from Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa in 1995. Solo exhibitions of her work have been organized by Galerie Templon, Paris, France (2020); Afronova Gallery, Grand Palais, Paris, France (2017); Johann Levy Gallery, Paris, France (2008); and Gerard Sekoto Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa (2005). Recent group exhibitions featuring her work include Alpha Crucis, Astrup Fearnley Museet, Oslo, Norway (2020);I Am… Contemporary Women Artists of Africa, Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington, D.C. (2019); Second Life, Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden (MACAAL), Marrakech, Morocco (2018); Pulling at Threads, Norval Foundation, Cape Town, South Africa (2018); Making Africa, Albuquerque Museum, Albuquerque, NM (2018) and the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA (2017); The Half-Life of Love, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, North Adams, MA (2017); A Constellation, Studio Museum Harlem, New York, NY (2016); Making Africa, Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona, Barcelona Spain, and Kunsthal Rotterdam, Netherlands (2016); Women’s Work, Iziko National Gallery of South Africa, Cape Town, South Africa (2016); Body Talk, Wiels, Brussels, Belgium; Lunds Konsthall, Lund, Sweden and Frac Lorraine, Metz, France (2015); Making Africa, Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain and Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, Germany (2015); How Far How Near, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands (2014); and The Progress of Love, Menil Collection, Houston, TX (2012).
Zangewa’s work is in several public and private collections including the Centre Pompidou, Paris, France; Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH; Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington, D.C.; Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Atlanta, GA; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands; and Tate Modern, London, United Kingdom. In 2018, Zangewa was selected as the Featured Artist for the FNB Art Joburg Fair.
Dexter Wimberly is an American curator, based in Japan, who has organized exhibitions in galleries and institutions around the world including A Fast, Moving Sky at The Third Line in Dubai, UAE; Derrick Adams: Sanctuary at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City; Kenneth Victor Young: Continuum at American University Museum in Washington, DC; Coffee, Rhum, Sugar & Gold: A Postcolonial Paradox at The Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, CA; and Vision & Spirit: African American Art | Works From The Bank Of America Collection at The Harvey B. Gantt Center in Charlotte, NC. Wimberly’s exhibitions have been reviewed and featured in publications including The New York Times and Artforum, and have received support from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and The Kinkade Family Foundation. He is the co-founder of the financial literacy platforms Art World Conference and Art World Learning. Wimberly is also a Senior Critic at New York Academy of Art, and the founder and director of the Hayama Artist Residency in Japan.