Fabric, scales, animal fur and human hair all find their way into the collage and stitching detail of work by Mozambican artist Lizette Chirrime who dreams of being a mermaid.
Tell us about your process…
Every piece of work is different. I work with fabric collage and some stitching on canvas, and include variations of fabric, scales, animal fur and human hair, but each canvas only reveals what it’s going to become when I’m in the process of working with it. Cloth collage is a major feature I integrate, and I’m so lucky that my studio is across the road from an authentic African material shop in Observatory, Cape Town. The woman who owns that shop makes clothes and sells waxed-print African fabric. When she has offcuts, I collect them to use in my artworks. If she doesn’t have what I want, then I go and buy from other places.
When I first begin creating an artwork I draw on the canvas. When my mind is free the shapes just come. Then I dress the artwork with small scraps of fabric and stitching, and it tells me more and reveals its real identity as I go. At first, it’s just a skeleton, and then the body comes. I try to do a few works every month. Some of these get bought on Nando’s Chicken Run’s, when a curator-collector from Yellowwoods Art pops into the studio to look for new work to buy, and I try and make one or two extras every month to create a body of work for my next exhibition.
From a distance your work looks like it’s made up of large pieces of differently patterned fabric, and only up close can we suddenly see that each of those areas is made up of tiny little snippets of fabric. Why do you cut it up?
I cut it up because I like spending time with the process of creating an artwork. I like to feel it and get involved in it. The cutting up is part of giving of myself and my time to the artwork. I make artworks, and somehow they’re my babies. Having said that, I sometimes cut and use bigger fabrics…but mainly small pieces. Also, if I like a pattern that’s only on parts of a larger piece of fabric, then I’ll just cut out that particular design.
Tell us about your choice of fabrics?
The materials I work with are predominantly African because I am African. I just found out that these African waxed-print fabrics are not ‘truly’ African fabrics, but printed in Amsterdam. For a very long time, however, Africans have embraced this kind of printed cloth as our own, and as an important part of our culture. If you go to Mozambique, you’ll see that women adorn themselves with these fabrics, and it’s a sign of pride. These fabrics are my thing. They’re my culture. Also, I like the patterns, the prints and the colours. When I make art, I try to bring out the colours inside me through the fabrics that I use.
There’s something watery about the flow of fabric in your on-canvas patterns…
Yes, water and women are intrinsic to my work. Just today I had this dream…I get my drinking water from the spring in Newlands, and today I had a dream that I was there, next to the spring. The water was running as usual, but there was so much of it that it began flooding. I dream about water a lot. When I’m in a very low place, I will often dream that I end up in the sea for a very long time, sometimes even months. In each dream, I always remember that there is a reason I went to the water. It’s because I go to water when I need to heal. Something with me has to do with water and the sea, and that shows in my work.
The sea is strong in me. There are old stories of mermaid sightings from Mwuve Island in Nampula province and Angoche Archipelago in Mozambique, where my family comes from and where I grew up. There was a time when I used to fantasise that in a previous life I was a mermaid. I embraced that story as my own because I felt I belonged to the sea and had such a clear sense that I’d lived in the sea. The sea washes us, cleanses us, embraces us, protects us, and blesses us. That story shows itself in my work.
Tell us about women being intrinsic to your work?
I feel women aren’t as appreciated as they should be, and in many places, women are still oppressed. I believe women are the womb of nature. As women, we carry developing human beings when we’re pregnant. I’m not ignoring men’s part in all of this, but I feel that women play a huge roll and then, in life, often don’t have enough room to breathe. I let the feminine free in my work to scream, to dance, to shout! Also, as a woman, I predict a lot of things. It’s not always a linear process, sometimes I dream about things that will happen in the future, but other times as something happens I realise I’ve dreamt that moment before. That’s very feminine, and a natural thing that females do. I believe that if the world paid more attention to the natural order of being feminine, then the world would start to move in a very different direction.
You’re currently working on a collaborative exhibition where you’re creating the clothes to dress concrete human sculptures made by another artist. Tell us more?
This project has a story behind it, which goes back to early days when I’d quit my regular job to become a full-time artist. All the work that I do is about transforming, and this feeds into my passion for clothing. I still make clothes in my studio, and when I make art, I think of it as ‘dressing’ the canvas. When I started working as an artist, I didn’t have money to buy materials, and would use hessian bags given to me for free from merchants as my canvas, on which I’d stitch fabrics. Before I started to make money from my art, I had a period where I struggled to afford to eat, to find a comfortable place to sleep, and to buy clothes. Also, I don’t like to wear any old clothes; I like to pick something I like. So I thought to myself, ok if I can’t afford to buy clothes I like then I must make them for myself.
I started to hand-make skirts, tops and dresses. Wild clothes! Every piece unique, and all made from found fabrics. I’d only make one of each piece and when I’d go out, and people saw me wearing them, they’d ask me if they could order pieces I was wearing. I’d tell them I only make one of each. And then people would buy the clothes off my body, and I’d have money to live off and to make more clothes for myself. That’s what kept me going financially, and that passion lives on, so I will always have a close allegiance to the role of clothes in my life and my art.
Also, I had this actual dream of making a huge, huge, huge sculpture of a woman wearing a huge, huge, huge dress. Then I met Ledelle, and we chatted, and she showed me her sculptures. I liked them, and I went to see her studio, and I thought, you know, everything has to start somewhere, so let me minimise my dream and make clothes for her sculptures. I proposed this to her, and now we’re collaborating on an exhibition that doesn’t have a name yet, but will happen in October.
Look out for Lizette’s solo exhibition at Worldart from 1 September 2016.
About the artist:
Lizette Chirrime combines textiles and found objects in her symbolic abstract works, which draw inspiration from her journeys and dreams. Her work has featured in several exhibitions, and she has participated in Nando’s Artist Society, Nando’s Chicken Run, and the Creative Block programme managed by Yellowwoods Art.