The Fabric of Society

Timed Online Auction, 18 May - 1 June 2022

Textile Auction
  • Keiskamma Art Project; Portrait of Gaba Vuyisile Funda
  • Keiskamma Art Project; Portrait of Gaba Vuyisile Funda
  • Keiskamma Art Project; Portrait of Gaba Vuyisile Funda

Lot Estimate
ZAR 18 000 - 24 000
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About this Item

Keiskamma Art Project
South African 21st Century
Portrait of Gaba Vuyisile Funda
appliqué and embroidery on textile
223 by 96cm


Gaba Vuyisile Funda came to Hamburg during the apartheid era when the region was part of the Ciskei `homeland’. He had been working as a security guard at a bar in the Eastern Cape city of East London but was badly beaten up by burglars during a robbery. He was fired for being asleep when the burglars broke in. No one was ever prosecuted for the violent crime and Gaba was left badly scarred with lacerations on his back.

In Hamburg, Gaba began to create patterns on the beach, which he said were his prayers for the village and the country. His footprints and the patterns he made in the sand are embroidered around him in the present lot. He never had the opportunity of going to school and died in 2020 after a long, hard illness. In addition to this portrait, Gaba also appears in the Keiskamma Altarpiece as part of the resurrection of life in Hamburg.

Founded in 2000, the Keiskamma Art Project in Hamburg, Eastern Cape, produces exquisite textile works, beadwork and wireworks which provide income and other forms of essential support for many families in the area through its cohesive network of women and youth. In particular, in the twenty years since its launch, the project has created a rich oeuvre of tapestries that allow viewers to enter into the conversations of a community of Xhosa women using art as a medium of expression and healing. Their works aid in the archiving of Eastern Cape rural collective memory and the preservation of oral history.

The first of their monumental works, the Keiskamma Tapestry, is a large-scale work that was inspired by the famous Bayeux tapestry. It records aspects of the history of South Africa, with a focus on the Eastern Cape, over its 120 metres of length. It now forms part of the Parliament Collection in Cape Town. Other significant works are the Keiskamma Guernica, a South African reinterpretation of Pablo Picasso’s 1937 Guernica, and the Keiskamma Altarpiece, which takes Matthias Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece (dating from between 1512 and 1516) as its starting point.

The embroideries are a form of storytelling, symbolic micro-histories through which we are given privileged insight into the life of a community at once fragile and resilient. Making art through decades of extreme poverty, and the ravages of HIV/AIDS and Covid-19, the Keiskamma artists weave narratives of hope, at once documenting and transcending the harsh conditions in which their intricate tapestries are created.

The Keiskamma Art Project will be presenting a retrospective exhibition at Constitution Hill, Johannesburg, in 2022, which will give the Keiskamma artists’ work the prominent place it deserves, not only in the public imagination, but in the art-historical canon. The work on the current auction, The Marriage of Nolulama and Luthando Altarpiece, will also form part of that exhibition.

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