Embroidery has existed throughout time, dating as far back as 5th Century BC. Despite it’s millenia-old origins, modern-day embroidery artists have continuously contemporised the ancient craft, pushing the boundaries of what can be done with just a needle and thread.
To celebrate hand stitched creations, we round up five embroidery artists across Africa who blur the lines between craft and art. Here, Priscilla Kennedy, Lauren Dixon-Paver, Judy Brandão, Lawrence Lemoana and Danielle Clough chat about their methods, inspirations and the relevance of traditional techniques in contemporary art.
Location: Accra, Ghana
Priscilla is a 23-year-old fine artist who uses embroidery to sew powerful statements about herself and the world. “I have adopted embroidery not only as a tool but as a part of my concept,” says Priscilla, who recently took first merit at the Absa L’atelier Awards. Her art tackles everything from feminine identity to gender equality. “My inspiration evolves around my sensitivity towards sexual aspects of humanity. I explore a trope of patriarchy from the angle a particular gender stereotype that depicts women as tools of seduction,” she explains. Follow Priscilla on Instagram
When not making DIY tutorial videos for her popular YouTube channel, Lauren Dixon-Paver also doubles up as a graphic designer. “It’s ironic, because I do a lot of digital-based design and I know that it can be just as painstaking and time-consuming as anything done by hand but there’s a serenity in the creation of embroidered art and that comes through in the work itself,” she explains. That said, lately her pieces reflect a fusion between hand-made traditions and digital aesthetics. “The combination of the tactile and digital is something unique to our time. I’m enjoying creating things like animated embroidered gifs, which I feel is a wonderful combination of these two worlds.” Lauren likes to work with appliqué and layering different fabrics. Follow Lauren on Youtube and Instagram
Location: Cape Town
Simple in execution, Judy has a penchant for black line work and approaches her pieces as “silly thoughts” or thread sketches that she “scribbles down to embroider”. She finds inspiration in the evocative potential of words. “I am prompted by random sentences. I like to think about them out of context and then make something I think is funny.” She continues, “A love song by Talking Heads, called This Must Be the Place, first ever inspired me. I loved that song so much at one stage that writing the versus down wasn’t enough, so I had to embroider them.” Her pieces serve as a palpable bearer of her ideas. “It’s wonderful to have something so personal to me be tangible,” she shares. Follow Judy on Instagram
Location: Johannesburg and Pretoria
Lawrence’s creative process is strongly linked to its conceptual centre. The artist challenges the notion of embroidery as a marker of feminine, stitching works, which explore cultural ideas of manhood. “In my first body of work, an exhibition titled Players of Colour, I was describing an emasculated black male figure within the sport of rugby. Fixing, mending, and all of the colloquial of embroidery seemed appropriate in speaking about stereotypical black males who are a deviation from the norm.” In his opinion embroidery is not an enemy of the digital age. They can work interdependently. “I make things with fabrics and threads and follow on with the process of digitising and printing,” he explains. Follow Lawrence on Instagram
Location: Cape Town
Using different coloured threads, Danielle embroiders scenes as rich and detailed as oil paintings. Through her work the artist aspires to innovate the ancient crafting medium. “I like the challenge of trying to find fresh ways of exploring traditional and even out dated artistry,” she explains. Which is why it is important for her to maintain a tactile practice. “For that time while your hands are busy you can be focused just on the task in front of you. Problem solving or slowly methodically creating something, you can’t be anywhere else. With no space for screens, it’s gentle and rewarding.” Danielle finds herself inspired by “colour combinations, looking at tools or walking around hardware stores and fabric shops.” Follow Danielle on Instagram