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Meet Visual Artist Billie Zangewa

 Meet Visual Artist Billie Zangewa

Every Woman 2017.


Zangewa’s work is honest, humorous and stunning with her pieces often depicting and centered on herself.

Malawian artist Billie Zangewa uses rich, luxurious materials to chronicle her everyday life in Johannesburg.  

She combines vibrant silks, gems and occasional haberdashery trimmings in meticulous textile pieces that celebrate relative mundanity as well as her own identity as a woman of colour. 

Christmas at the Ritz.

Her art explores the theme of identity and what that means for her. It is concerned with the female experience both personal and universal. 

Zangewa’s work is honest, humorous and stunning with her pieces often depicting and centered on herself.

Her work has been exhibited across Europe, Africa and America. She currently lives and works in Johannesburg with her young son.  

City of Light 2005.

Understanding the process 

Zangewa told Elephant: “I start off with an experience that elicits an emotion. The emotion then inspires an image that examines and narrates the experience. From here I do my visual research and then the template drawing. This is followed by cutting and pinning and then finally, the sewing.

“It’s a very lengthy process and it all has to come together in the drawing phase otherwise I experience problems later in the process. I have also learnt to allow my intuition to tell me what order things must be cut and pinned in. Previously, I would go from left to right or vice versa but the intuitive approach is more exciting and rewarding.

Exquisite Fantasy 2017.

She uses raw silk in her work, and this what she said about first come to it as a material. 

Zangewa said: “It’s an incredibly seductive, sumptuous and generous material. I came upon it purely by accident while accompanying an interior designer friend who was sourcing fabrics. I was attracted to the Dupion silk and collected swatches of it everywhere we went. At this point in time I could not afford to buy any—the swatches were free. 

When I got home, I had a look at all the samples together and they called to mind the glass panels of the buildings in Johannesburg’s Central Business District. So, I assembled them to make my first cityscapes. At a certain moment, my work began to interrogate experiences I’d had in the urban setting and through them I found healing and understanding. The silk that I was seeking was also seeking me.

Mother & Child 2015.

Zangewa studied fine art but found herself in the fashion industry, before transitioning back into the art world. 

She said: “Financial independence was a very important factor. It is the reason I found myself in the fashion industry. As time went on, I made some connections and could find work as a part-time model, fashion assistant and I also got singing gigs. This allowed me to pursue my dream without financial restraints. 

“For me the two worlds overlap as I take my visual inspiration from fashion photography and garment design. I also see fashion as addressing and reflecting socio-politics and there is great creativity involved, as with fine art.”

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Ray Maota