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 B.F.A. from Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa in 1995. Solo exhibitions of her work have been organized by Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture, Charlotte, NC (2022); Museum of the African Diaspora, San Francisco, CA (2021); Lehmann Maupin, London, United Kingdom (2021); Lehmann Maupin, Seoul, South Korea (2021); Galerie Templon, Paris, France (2020); Afronova Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa (2010, 2008, 2007); and Gerard Sekoto Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa (2005). Group exhibitions featuring her work include Put It This Way: (Re)Visions of the Hirshhorn Collection, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. (2022); Reflections on Perception, Akron Art Museum, Akron, OH (2022); Elles de A à Z, Musée des Beaux-Arts, La Locle, Switzerland (2021); Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams, Brooklyn Museum, New York, NY (2021); The Power of My Hands, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris, France (2021); This Is Not Africa, ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum, Aarhus, Denmark (2021); Portals, NEON Foundation, Athens, Greece (2021); and I will wear you in my heart of heart, FLAG Art Foundation, New York, NY (2021); Rituals of Resilience, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis, MN (2021); Global(e) Resistance, Centre Pompidou, Paris, France (2020); 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), the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA (2017), Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona, Barcelona Spain (2016), Kunsthal Rotterdam, Rotterdam, Netherlands (2016), Guggenheim Bilbao, Bilbao, Spain (2015), and Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, Germany (2015); The Half-Life of Love, MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA (2017); A Constellation, Studio Museum Harlem, New York, NY (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); How Far How Near, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, 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 Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY; Centre Pompidou, Paris, France; Harris Museum, Art Gallery & Library, Preston, United Kingdom; Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH; Institute of Contemporary Art / Boston, Boston, MA; Johannesburg Art Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa; JP Morgan Chase Art Collection, New York, NY; Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis, MN; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; Norval Foundation, Cape Town, South Africa; RISD Museum, Providence, RI; Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Atlanta, GA; Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands; and Tate Modern, London, United Kingdom.
Artist portrait: Photo by Andrew Berry