When I was in Nova Scotia last week I had the privilege of seeing Valerie Hearder's large collection of African Embroideries. To get a better idea of the wide variety please visit her African Threads site. What I am showing here are the unique portraits of contemporary life done by the group Kaross. Each measures about 14 by 37 inches. Val told me that this group employs nearly 1000 embroiders to work the designs made by a few. Each supports their often large extended families with this work. This is Archbishop Desmond Tutu. I purchased this embroidery of the archbishop. I love it. The embroiders are mostly women and are paid by the weight of their stitching. Most of what they do is decorative and very beautiful. The portraits are unusual within her collection. They are political because they are about contemporary life. They are one of a kind. Above is the current South African president, Jacob Zuma. Nelson Mandela at his birthday party. Another version of Mandela's birthday celebration.
Val has work by other embroidery groups in South Africa as well. The aids epidemic in Africa has hit the Continent very hard and the stories she shared with us were heart wrenching. A portion of everything African Threads sells goes to the Grandmother to Grandmother foundation of Stephen Lewis. She has many smaller, more affordable, less confrontational pieces than what I am showing here. This is a piece from a smaller group of thirteen women. Each designs, stitches and signs her own work. The aids story appears again and again. The Zulu woman who made this artwork tells the same story over and over in large tree of life wall hangings like this one. She compares the aids crises to the plague of locusts and war in how devastating it has been to her people. She uses only beads.