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.
Artist portrait: Photo by Andrew Berry