The Fabric of Society

Timed Online Auction, 18 May - 1 June 2022

Textile Auction
  • Keiskamma Art Project; Portrait of Susan Koloso Paliso
  • Keiskamma Art Project; Portrait of Susan Koloso Paliso
  • Keiskamma Art Project; Portrait of Susan Koloso Paliso

Lot Estimate
ZAR 18 000 - 24 000
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About this Item

Keiskamma Art Project
South African 21st Century
Portrait of Susan Koloso Paliso
appliqué and embroidery on textile
248 by 96cm


Susan Koloso Paliso was born in the Eastern Cape on a farm in Alexandria and celebrated her 99th birthday this year. She spent her childhood working on a white-owned farm, tending livestock and helping in the kitchen, and, unlike the farmer’s children, was never able to attend school. Although illiterate, Susan is extremely intelligent and loves telling funny stories about her life on the farm, especially in Afrikaans, her second language. She harbours no anger about her experience. Susan moved to Hamburg as a young woman when she married into a local family, and she has been there ever since.

Susan’s youngest son Dumile died of HIV/AIDS before the Keiskamma Health Project’s ARV programme began in 2004. Dumile had been living in the informal settlement at Humansdorp and working on the chokka (squid) boats but was brought home when he became severely ill. His story is recorded on the predella of the Keiskamma Altarpiece.

Susan is one of the saints of Hamburg, a grandmother who has shown great resilience in the face of tragedy. In addition to this portrait, she also appears in the third opening of the Keiskamma Altarpiece with her grandson, Lihle, Dumile’s son, whom she raised after his parents died.

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 Marriage of Nolulama and Luthando Altarpiece tells a compelling story. Nolulama and Luthando were two of the earliest AIDS patients in the local community to receive antiretroviral (ARV) treatment. They met in the AIDS patients treatment centre and subsequently married. The work was made to celebrate young people going back to a normal life after regaining their health. Made by members of the Keiskamma Art Project in classes with visual artist Marialda Marais, the central panel depicts Nolulama and Luthando in appliqué, embroidery and beadwork on cloth, while the acrylic paintings in the side panels were inspired by the stories told by elderly people in the community who had lost their children.

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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