Dubbed ‘the mermaid of Mozambique’, Lizette Chirrime made waves at 1:54 | London with her fabric collages inspired by her relationship with water and the deep feminine, and with a dazzling collaborative work created with Qubeka Bead Studio. We spoke with the artist about Mozambique, art and healing, and her new works. 

You draw a strong analogy between art and healing. Tell us about that.

My art came after a lot of struggle. I left my job as a secretary to become an artist. At first, I stitched cow skin and hessian, and it felt like stitching the pieces of me back together. Stitching is a type of therapy that puts me in my Zen zone. When I first started my first body of work, everything was stitching. When I began making art in Mozambique, I used to stitch hessian on cow skin because those were the only materials I was able to access but the way I stitched then is not how I work now. These days I collage thousands and thousands of small individually cut strips of fabric, and I stitch leather ropes around the shapes and forms I make.

I’ve always dressed in clothes I’ve handmade – wild, unique pieces! Now I dress the canvas with small scraps of fabric and stitching. As the work evolves, it tells me more and reveals its real identity as I go. At first, it’s just a skeleton, and then the body comes.

Blood Type, 2016. Fabric collage, stitched leather rope and gold pen handwriting on canvas
Blood Type, 2016. Fabric collage, stitched leather rope and gold pen handwriting on canvas

The African fabrics you incorporate make your work unmistakably from a region….

If you go to Mozambique, where I come from, you’ll see that women adorn themselves with these beautiful printed African fabrics, as a sign of pride. I moved to Cape Town and found a new beginning to my life and art. My studio is opposite a small shop that sells these African fabrics. These fabrics are my culture. I use the fabric to express the many colours inside me. 

We spoke to you recently about water and women being intrinsic to your work…

Yes, in ‘Dreaming and feeling with Lizette Chirrime’.

I spoke in depth about the old stories of mermaid sightings from Mwuve Island in Mozambique, where I grew up and that there was a time when I used to fantasise that I was a mermaid in a previous life. I always dream about the sea, and I pour out the symbols and shapes of my dreams onto my canvases. If you look at the swirls and currents in my work, maybe you will feel it too.

Sun Goddess, 2016, Lizette Chirrime and Qubeka Bead Studio. Seed beads on board.
Sun Goddess, 2016, Lizette Chirrime and Qubeka Bead Studio. Seed beads on board.

Tell us about Sun Goddess, the artwork you created that was reinterpreted by Qubeka Beads and exhibited at 1:54.

Sun Goddess was an artwork I made and submitted for the Creative Block programme. You featured the original fabric version in the last blog, so you can see it there. When I saw what Qubeka Beads had done with my artwork by reinterpreting it through hand-stitched tiny seed beads I was totally blown away. Their painstaking stitch work interpretation is incredible.

In ‘Sun Goddess’ you can see there is a lady in red who is praying. That’s me. I belong to the sea, and I have such a clear sense that I’ve lived in the sea. The other two characters symbolise daughter and sun. The sea is washing us, cleansing us, embracing us, protecting us and blessing us.

On the Move, 2016. Fabric collage and stitched leather rope.
On the Move, 2016. Fabric collage and stitched leather rope.

Lizette Chirrime exhibited at 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London in October 2016.

She has participated in several artist residencies and her work features in several collections. Lizette recently had her first solo exhibition ‘A Sinfonia da Alma Liberta II’ (Sounds of a Free Soul), at Worldart, Cape Town.  
Her early artworks were included in the Nando’s Collection in 2006. Today the Nando’s Collection includes 224 of her artworks, sourced from artist-development programmes including Creative Block and Nando’s Chicken Run.

Nando’s UK partnered with 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, the leading international art fair that’s dedicated to Contemporary African art, to tell the story of four talented artists who feature in the Nando’s Art Collection.

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