PICTURES OF PANELS: PAUL MILLS
A group of South African embroidery artists recently turned their hearts and hands to the rapidly rising urgency of climate change with an embroidered artwork of 11 panels which is being displayed in Tshwane’s Javett Art Centre at the University of Pretoria until the end of the month. DIANE DE BEER gives the details:
“The world’s women are the key to sustainable development, peace and security,” said UN Sec-General Ban Ki-moon. (2010)
Acknowledging the truth of this statement, the Mapula Embroidery artists – who are rural women completely dependent on available natural resources for food, fuel and shelter for themselves, their families and community and, thus, extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change and environmental threats – conceptualised and created a significant textile work: Women of the Winterveld: Hands Become Voices for our Planet.
The women of the project have demonstrated their resilience over many years and, through this work, aimed to show their agency regarding the global issue of our time.
They depict in their embroidery their local environment and climate change impacts, as well as their vision of what successful activism can achieve in bringing about changed behaviours to promote adaption and mitigation in order to ensure a healthy, sustainable planet for future generations.
This puts them at the centre of climate change awareness-raising, activism and the promotion of an urgent response in their own community and far beyond.
(Left) WATER: The story of drought and floods, wastage, water-borne disease and contamination.
(Centre ) EARTH: The images depict a dry earth which is infertile and polluted, threatening all forms of life.
(Right) AIR: Illustrations of the major contributors to a polluted atmosphere with CO2 emissions – the major cause of global warming – out of control.
Since research shows that gender inequalities, which result in the increased vulnerability of women, will be aggravated by climate change, it is fitting that the first showing of this piece is happening in South Africa’s Women’s Month. Mapula’s hope is that by engaging with this work the public will engage seriously with the issues of climate crisis, climate action, vulnerability of women in gender-unequal societies and their intersectionalities.
The Mapula women’s lives have been transformed through their embroidery work. They have reached a stage where they are ready to become agents of change themselves as they advocate – using their own personal experiences and creative expression – on the climate emergency in the hope of not only changing their immediate environment but also bringing climate justice to the wider world.
(Left) FIRE: The story of death and destruction by spontaneous and uncontrolled fires caused by the extreme heat, dry vegetation easily catching fire and severe electric storms which accompany global warming.
(Centre) CLIMATE WARRIORS: The world’s most recognised climate and environmental activists as well as other prominent activists and active citizens – notably women dominate this space – are seen with placards broadcasting messages which show the urgency for changing targeted human activity.
(Right) WATER: A contrasting story of water where human activity is modified to preserve the health of our planet. Clean water, good water management, efficient water supply systems and humans taking care in using this precious resource without wastage.
As they have a large following, their voices will be heard locally and globally. The artists are already recognised for their story cloths, which they have designed and embroidered over the past 30 years, and their work hangs in museums and private collections worldwide, appears in many publications and is sought-after by textile collectors.
Future exhibition opportunities for this artwork will present chances for awareness-raising amongst an even broader public.
Importantly, such a large project ensures that the artists develop further and have work and income – all of which are central to vulnerable women and their families, as is a possibility with many of these participants.
Income from the sale of this collectable textile piece will contribute towards the future of Mapula Embroideries.
(Left) EARTH: The earth can be healthy, fertile and abundant if human activity is modified to care for the environment and global warming is not left unchecked.
(Centre) AIR: With good quality air plants, animals, humans thrive.
(Right) FIRE: Plants grow, people and animals thrive and are safe when global temperatures are kept at healthy levels and fire is not unpredictable, widespread and out of control.
The artwork Women from the Winterveld: Hands become Voices for our Planet is a piece of 11 panels hanging in sequence and measuring approximately 10 metres across and 2 metres in height.
Nine panels are held together by the first and last panels, which depict global temperatures, reminding the viewer of our collective global responsibility to keep the rise to a maximum of 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels.
The 1m x 2m panels are separated by a central panel paying respect to the climate warriors who are dedicated to climate activism and action urging the global population to modify their behaviours in order to save our planet. The first four 1m x 2m panels depict our planet suffering the impacts of global warming and the next four 1m x 2m panels show our planet recovering and restored with global temperatures being kept below critical levels.
Essentially the sequence shows an extremely endangered planet followed by a healthy, sustainable planet achieved through changed human activity. The four elements of water, earth, air and fire – their symbols headlining each panel – organise the thinking and images in the work.
A previous MAPULA EMBROIDERIES’ 2021 MAJOR WORK: 2020 Through the Eye of a Needle was well received and has been sold into the collection of the University of the Witwatersrand’s Art Museum (WAM).
To see the catalogue of the work go to the Mapula website www.mapulaembroideries.org and find the flipbook under the ABOUT tab.