Billie Zangewa’s silk tapestries are inspired by her life experiences, exuding female sensuality and power.
Often set in the urban landscapes of Johannesburg, Zangewa’s work investigates the female gaze – according to the artist, “how a woman sees herself as beautiful through her own eyes.” Her narrative-based silk tapestries or appliqués, as the artist prefers, are composed of craftily-cut patches of silky fabrics, assembled and sewn in a way that leaves threads and stitches revealed, as if to underline the handmade aspect of the work and translate its relative intimacy. Zangewa often uses irregularly-shaped fabric as the basis onto which the image is worked, as if small pieces had been cut out of it. This first developed out of the practical need to use discarded, end-of-roll sections of fabric, but soon became part of the artist’s visual language, lending a sense of deliberate incompleteness to the narratives presented, and inviting the viewer to participate in the completion of the story. With works like the 2006 Christmas at the Ritz or the 2010 Disarming Mars, Zangewa illustrates a triumphant African woman in urban environments. The scenes resemble comic strips, in episodic storytelling that mixes drawing-like embroidery with text excerpts – possibly words spoken by a former lover. The intimate universes of the represented women are laid bare before the audience, displaying “a truth so profound that it resonates beauty.”