KEISKAMMA ART PROJECT
The Keiskamma Art Project in the Eastern Cape town of Hamburg has helped bring hope and confidence to a group of rural women living in an area plagued by high levels of unemployment. They use their embroidery skills to create tapestries that tell stories reflecting their culture and history.
From its humble beginnings in the village of Hamburg in the Eastern Cape, the Keiskamma Art Project has grown into a number of art studios specializing in beading, felt-making, embroideries, ceramics and printmaking.
The project began in early 2000 when artist Carol Hofmeyr began teaching arts and crafts to a handful of local women. They used the plastic bags littering their village as material to crochet hats and bags. As their skills and confidence grew, so did the number of women who wanted to take part.
Today 130 artists, mainly women, work under the leadership of 12 local managers and group leaders. They produce arts and crafts that include cushion covers, wall-hangings, bed linen and bags that are all hand-embroidered with scenes depicting the culture and heritage of the region's Xhosa people.
Over the years, this arts and crafts project has successfully completed a number of ambitious tapestries depicting scenes and themes from their daily lives. These have become highly collectible artworks and have been exhibited all over the world. They have won numerous local and international awards.
Among the best known is the Keiskamma Altarpiece. It was inspired by the Issenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grunewald, which was designed to bring hope to people suffering from ergot poisoning in the 15th century.
The women in Hamburg saw parallels between the story depicted by Grunewald and their friends and family members living with HIV and Aids. They infused their tapestry with local details, telling their story of suffering, compassion and hope that has touched people all over the world.
Another well-known piece is the Keiskamma Tapestry, which depicts Xhosa history over the last 150 years. Inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry, it makes use of beads, wire, thread, Nguni cowhide and even wood to create an extraordinary depiction of Eastern Cape culture and heritage.