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Narrative stitch – one woman’s story

The last weeks we have lamented how men in South Africa abuse, rape and murder women and children. In cities vocal protests were held against Gender Based Violence (GBV). And quietly in her studio in Muizenberg an artist has for many years been stitching the stories of womanhood. During these demonstrations, Willemien de Villiers drew a painting of male genitalia (similar to her stitching technique) and wrote on her Facebook page ~ “Serendipity. On this very difficult day for South African women, I found myself painting a diagram of male genitalia. My brushstrokes were gentle as I imagined feminising them, taking away their power to hurt”.  

She wrote this in her blog ~ “Growing up in this completely segregated and separated community, combined with early childhood sexual abuse (maternal grandfather), left me with the gift of hyper vigilance, and a sensitivity to the presence of abuse in others’ lives. Silence is the perpetrators’ best friend, especially in countries where patriarchal systems still rule, as is the case here, in South Africa. Working with reported details of domestic abuse helps me to cope in our violent society. It helps me to heal. While stitching, I feel close to those who’ve suffered abuse. In return, I hope that the finished work will inspire conversation, or a different way of thinking. Will raise awareness” (2016) and later “Often I return to imagery of the female body, and reproductive processes and organs – images of botanical and mammalian wombs that magnetically pull ideas from my mind. What comes first: meaning or making? Maybe I am hoping to stitch all my selves together.”

I am fascinated by the textures and tactility of her stories on textiles.

The honesty and painfulness of her work. The beauty. In a recent article on her work in “Stitch & Illo – every stich tells a story”, she contemplates ~ “I also love the idea that there are always two sides to the finished story or work: the front, and the reverse side. Both are equally valid and beautiful”. Stitching is a calming activity, but can also be violent ~ “ Needles are very sharp and indeed, blood sometimes flows. Whenever I accidentally prick myself, I always let the blood seep into the cloth I’m busy with, adding one more stain to the landscape. Sewing is a process of emotional repair…It is  a form of meditation: a devotional act even.”

She sometimes ponder if her work appeals to men – why men don’t buy her work… Perhaps stitching is a very unique and a very powerful way in which women can tell their stories. And perhaps some men will look and gently trace the stories of women under their fingertips.


The photo is from the Facebook page of Willemien de Villiers Artist on https://www.facebook.com/willemienstudio

Her blog is: https://willemiendevilliers.wordpress.com and also see http://willemiendevilliers.co.za/

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