Billie Zangewa

Date Night

2017

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In Tate Modern

Artist
Billie Zangewa born 1973
Medium
Silk
Dimensions
Support: 1010 × 1105 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by Harry and Lana David 2018
Reference
T14923

Summary

Date Night 2017 is an irregularly shaped textile wall-hanging made up of small pieces of silk, meticulously cut, assembled and hand-stitched into an intricate composition. At first glance the work appears abstract, with areas of vibrant yellow punctuated by white and brown and touches of blue, pink, red and orange, and a dramatic cut dividing the composition into two sections. Closer inspection reveals a more intimate and mundane scene: a pair of brown legs in a half-full bathtub, a lithe arm resting on the edge, a series of toy animal figurines carefully arranged around the side of the bath next to a fan that balances precariously, a pile of discarded clothes, a glass of red wine and an ipad showing a still from the television series ‘Game of Thrones’ propped up on the toilet seat. As the title suggests, this is recognisably a ‘date night’ – with oneself.

Zangewa was born in Malawi and raised in Botswana. After graduating in Fine Art Rhodes University (South Africa) in 1995, she returned to Botswana where she began to experiment with textiles. In 1997 she relocated permanently to Johannesburg, working in the fashion and advertising industries, while developing her artistic practice alongside. Her silk hangings are typically displayed unframed and pinned to the wall, although they can also be exhibited flat in a vitrine.

Zangewa’s creative process begins with a sketch, which then becomes a pattern for her appliqué pieces, so that the drawing is destroyed in the fabrication process. The compositions emerge as the silk shapes are layered and hand-stitched together. The resulting works are intimate and fragile, deliberately left with frayed edges and, increasingly, incomplete areas that invite the viewer to fill in areas of the narrative that Zangewa has only partially constructed. The fact that the work is pinned directly to the wall without glazing reinforces this close engagement.

Although Zangewa’s works are strongly autobiographical, there is an element of the universal in each of them. The vignettes are deliberately decontextualised and, when shown in a group, their fragmentary nature is further emphasised, suggesting they are excerpted from a larger narrative. In her work Zangewa does not make grand gestures or even overt political statements, but rather, like a kind of ‘daily feminism’, focuses on mundane domestic preoccupations; themes connecting us all.

Further reading
Koyo Kouoh (ed), Feminism, Sexuality and the Body in the Work of Six African Artists, Brussels 2015.
Mateo Kries and Amelie Klein, Making Africa: A Continent of Contemporary Art, Weil am Rhein
2015.

Kerryn Greenberg
September 2017

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Display caption

Zangewa’s hand-stitched wall hangings show mundane and intimate moments of daily life. She uses her drawings as patterns to create these pieces, destroying them in the process. Though autobiographical, they show common, shared experiences with which viewers can easily identify. Here the artist is seen in her bathtub, with a glass of red wine and a tablet showing a scene from the TV series Game of Thrones propped up on the toilet seat. She is having a ‘date night’ with herself: a private moment of feminist self-affirmation.

Gallery label, July 2019

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