Object Story: “Keiskamma Guernica”

“Keiskamma Guernica,” Kieskamma Art Project, 2010.

The “Keiskamma Guernica” is an artwork I am particularly partial to, for several reasons. First I must point out that this artwork is not officially in Iziko’s collection, nor have I ever seen it in person. The tapestry will be shown at an exhibition called “The Difference Loom,” which opens on August 21st. As you already know, I have been working on publicity for this exhibition. I adore the curator, Winnie Sze, and have been in close contact with her over the past few weeks. My experience working with Winnie on “The Difference Loom” is probably what initially drew me to this piece, but it also tied into my work on the collections and exhibitions policy because it is featured in several of the new CAPS primary school text books.

However, the reason the “Keiskamma Guernica” is such a meaningful and engaging piece for general audiences lies within its history. The tapestry was made by fifty women from the Eastern Cape out of blankets used by patients who had died of HIV/AIDS, the skirts of traditional Xhosa women, and handmade felt. The tapestry was based on Picasso’s “Guernica,” pictured below.Image

Picasso’s work was made to show the damages a bombing had done to a small village in Spain. Spanish nationalist  government requested Germany drop the bombs, which landed on market day when the town was filled with mothers and small children. Through a change in materiality, the fifty women who made this tapestry show the way that HIV/AIDS has devastated their rural villages. It illustrates the lives of the women and children who suffer as innocent victims of the disease. The tapestry also is said to suggest injustices in the health care system, perhaps blaming said institution for some of the damage made by HIV/AIDS.

The “Keiskamma Guernica” was exhibited at the Venice Biennale and is one of the most highly publicized works made by the Keiskamma Art and Health Project. The organization had been working with those affected by HIV/AIDS in the Eastern Cape for seven years before this tapestry was first shown. The Keiskamma Project’s website can be found here:  http://www.keiskamma.org/art/major-works/keiskamma-guernica