Billie Zangewa: Thread for a Web Begun

Museum of the African Diaspora, San Fransisco, United States
20 Oct 2021 - 27 Feb 2022

Billie Zangewa, Heart of the Home. Raw Silk

Billie Zangewa, Heart of the Home. Raw Silk

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.

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.