art, Interviews

Inside The Making Of Billie Zangewa's FNB JoburgArtFair Artwork

Garreth van Niekerk



A photograph of the work in progress, taken on the floor of Billie's studio at home in Johannesburg

This year's FNB JoburgArtFair Featured Artist of The Year, Billie Zangewa, invited House and Leisure to her beautiful home in Johannesburg recently, where she is busy putting the final touches to one of the artworks due to premiere at her installation of work at the fair in September.

The piece is part of an 'intervention', Billie explains, a combination of three-dimensional elements and silk works. In it,an image of Billie herself reclines like an odalisque in a sea of blue patchwork silks that wave and weave around her — a continued part of her exploration of the natural landscape.

'As with everything, the inspiration for this work began a long time ago. I am – and have always been – fascinated with nature in all its forms, and I love plants. Over the years, some of my works have featured nature and it seemed like the right time to explore this fascination with, and relationship to, it,' she says.

Scraps of silk from around the world are cut up and slowly pieced together on Billie Zangewa's stitching table

It is one of the largest works that the artist has ever produced, and, surprisingly, is still mostly done by her own hand; cutting each piece of the hundreds of pieces of silk and painstakingly handstitching them all together to form the tapestry she has gained such global acclaim for.

'The cutting I simply could not leave to someone else. It's part of the creative process and I make decisions as to colour choice spontaneously. I love the stitching because its calming, but when I’m very busy, I do get an assistant so that I can meet my deadlines.'

Billie is featured in our annual Art issue for her Body of Work, where she explains the love she has for silks as a medium of their own, saying 'I love to take in the different scents of the silks; dupion silk and I were destined to meet. The silks smell of their origins, and I'm enchanted by the stories they carry, what they have absorbed and transported. It makes me feel as if I am on an adventure on the Silk Road.'

The process of making this particular work, Billie explains, started with a photograph of herself

The figure in the tapestry itself comes together from several photographs that she also pieces together. 'It really depends on the work, but usually I translate the "research photo” into a line drawing, which I then use as a template to cut out my shapes and build the image. Sometimes there are five or six photos that I “collage” into one drawing to suit my narrative.'

Several images then come together in the final drawing for the tapestry, seen here on the wall of Billie's bedroom

The final piece is still a work in progress, revealed to the public at the FNB JoburgArtFair at the Sandton Convention Centre from 7–9 September. For more on Billie's fascinating process, make sure you get our #HLArtIssue2018, currently on shelves countrywide.

Follow House and Leisure Senior Story Editor Garreth van Niekerk on Twitter and Instagram for more about the FNB JoburgArtFair