body of work: billie zangewa

Graeme Wyllie

The body is a central aspect of FNB JoburgArtFair 2018 featured artist Billie Zangewa’s incredible textile creations.

ALSO READ: Inside the making of Billie Zangewa’s FNB JoburgArtFair featured artwork


I am on my feet for most of the time when I’m working – from the pencil drawing through to the cutting and even the pinning. The only time I’m off them is when I’m sewing. My feet hold me up and give me balance when I need to be precise. There’s a lot of walking in the creative process and for that reason I make sure I’m in comfortable shoes. My Adidas Steeples are my favourite, and I recently got a pair of black suede Pumas with foam technology.

knees and legs

My knees and legs walk me back and forth between the cutting table and the work in progress. I also like to run off and busy myself with mundane chores to help me focus.


They are the most important tools in putting my work together. I took up sewing in primary school. I loved learning a new skill and enjoyed the satisfaction of a finished product. I made a bag, blouse, cushion cover, doily, and bolero, among other things. My hands execute the whole process from beginning to end: I start off with a pencil drawing on newsprint paper, which I use as a template to cut and pin my silk pieces, and then finally assemble everything together with a basic running stitch. I have long, thin fingers that are nimble and dexterous, and they are very important in executing minute details accurately. My hands were really made for making and I bow down to them.


I sing while I’m working. It helps me to focus and forget about the stresses and expectations that can come with creativity. All that deep breathing involved in singing oxygenates my body, clears my mind and helps me to release emotions. Beyoncé gets me in the right space, with Rihanna also starring as a frequent guest in my repertoire, and lately I’m into Mariah Carey. I’m enjoying belting out emotionally charged songs, and Mariah is perfect for that.


I try to leave my head out of the creative process as much as possible. I am a highly strung, analytical thinker and it’s best to shut it down as it interferes with my intuition and the ability to receive inspiration and guidance. So I use my brain mainly for motor, visual and tactile function. Singing helps me to get out of my head, but I also practise yoga and meditation with Yoga with Adriene on YouTube.


It is all about the eyes for me. I’m looking all the time. Hand-eye coordination is not only crucial in translating my research photos into a pencil drawing, but also in determining scale and angle and gesture. I think I do the most acute looking in the drawing phase. It also helps me to determine the colours to use and how to establish balance. The eye always knows whether there is balance or not.


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.


target="_blank" rel="noopener">This year’s @fnbjoburgartfair Featured Artist of The Year, Billie Zangewa, invited House and Leisure to her beautiful home in Johannesburg. Senior story editor @garrethdavid spent the last few weeks watching her focal artwork come to life. Swipe through to see her painstaking process — and for the full read @garrethdavid

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