« Thread for a Web Begun » is the first ever U.S. museum exhibition by Johannesburg-based Malawian artist Billie Zangewa through February 27, 2022. In this exhibition she offers creations from the past 15 years as well as new pieces made explicitly to introduce her work to a whole new audience.

Although many of the scenes depicted in Billie Zangewa‘s silk tapestries are autobiographical, their appeal extends beyond her own excursion as an artist. The escalating processes of her work review the notable ramifications of women’s work while remaining a decidedly contemporary translation of lived encounters.

6178e7e89b3d7fa26d6609b4_BZ-LM31552-Heart-of-the-Home-hr-1024x853 Billie Zangewa presents « Thread for a Web Begun » at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco
Billie Zangewa, Heart of the Home,
2020. Hand-stitched silk collage;
Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin,
New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, and London.

Billie Zangewa deals with identity, as well as socio-political issues around gender and complexion, in a delicate and ordinary way. The artist also examines the different roles women play in the public arena, including parenthood and the effect it has exclusively and collectively. The images in her work are intentionally decontextualized. Nevertheless, when displayed in an assembly, their fragmentary nature is accentuated, suggesting that they are extracted from a larger narrative.

Billie Zangewa does not make extraordinary signals or even clear political proclamations, but instead, as a kind of “everyday women’s liberation,” she focuses on mundane domestic concerns, matters that concern us all. She uses texture and sewing, which is usually a female leisure activity, to tell her own story, how it happens on the domestic front, and shows the close existence of a woman, which we are usually not encouraged to do. Because she considers telling her own story with her own voice as a kind of private reinforcement. All in all, this has undeniably been a challenge for women in general, but for women of color in particular, with many social barriers to overcome.

6178e7e978878c16706f73f5_BZ-LM31561-An-Angel-at-My-Bedside-hr-1024x685 Billie Zangewa presents « Thread for a Web Begun » at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco
Billie Zangewa, An Angel at My Bedside,
2020. Hand-stitched silk collage;
Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin,
New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, and London.

Billie Zangewa

Billie Zangewa, born in 1973 in Malawi, lives and works in South Africa. She creates multifaceted compositions from hand-sewn sections of raw silk.

These metaphorical compositions examine contemporary multifaceted identity by attempting to challenge the generalization, externalization and abuse and exploitation of the black female form.

Beginning her career in the fashion and advertising businesses, Billie Zangewa uses the way she can interpret textiles to depict individual and global encounters through local interiors, metropolitan scenes and portraits.  

Her first works were embroideries on observed textures depicting scenes and plant creatures reminiscent of Botswana, where the artist grew up, but she quickly moved on to creating urban landscapes, focusing on her experience as a woman in the city of Johannesburg and her own relationships.

These works examine her experience of male appearance, which leads her to begin to consider how women perceive themselves, and what the perception of female appearance might look like, through self-representation.

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