Keiskamma Art Project Wallpaper, crochet vase in green is by Moonbasket
Along the edge of the Indian Ocean, on a strip better known as the Sunshine Coast – roughly half way between Port Alfred and East London – sits the idyllic seaside village of Hamburg. Be it the rolling hills blanketed by indigenous vegetation that define the drive to Hamburg, or the birdlife in the area, or the Keiskamma River estuary that welcomes you into the village, the area is arguably one of the most beautiful parts of the Eastern Cape. It is also home to the multi-award-winning Keiskamma Art Project (KAP), which was founded in 2000 by Dr Carol Hofmeyer.
Over the past two decades and four years of its existence, the project has produced major embroidered textile artworks, made by the women and men of Hamburg, sharing their stories and experiences, as well as bringing to visual life the oral history tradition of the Eastern Cape. Now, for the first time since its founding, three artists from the project, namely Anelisa Nyongo, Nozibele Nxadi and project director Cebo Mvubu, have lent their skills and their particular aesthetic to a design collection facilitated by Clout/SA, a purpose-driven creative agency and business-to-business market maker that facilitates opportunities for collaboration between designer-makers and corporate clients.
While their celebrated and often large-scale embroidered artworks typically explore personal narratives, their experiences good and bad, while fiercely confronting South Africa’s history as well as the successes and failures of present-day South Africa, the design collection takes a moment to celebrate the landscape and the fauna and flora of Hamburg.
With curatorial guidance from Clout/SA’s creative director, Tracy Lynch, the artists were challenged to create an embroidered piece that referenced what a scenic and quintessentially South African wallpaper might look like. The intention of this approach was to allow the embroidery style of the KAP artists to be expressed as a printed scenic wallpaper, as well as a collection of compatible printed textiles.
The process started off with initial sketches, followed by completed medium-scale embroidery, and then high-resolution scans to generate the image quality needed to support the commercial applications in a manner associated with quality and luxury.
The striking results will be unveiled at 100% Design South Africa in August 2023, where the designs will be showcased on the aforementioned wallpaper, as well as on a bench, chairs, scatter cushions and bolster cushions.
The wallpaper will be printed by Cara Saven Wall Design, and the collection will be available for retail from their studio. To highlight the incredible fabric prints, Clout/SA have collaborated with designer David Krynauw, who will be launching a collection and showcasing it at Clout/SA’s stand at 100% Design South Africa. The collection will include chairs, a bench and a four-poster bed, sharing the endless possibilities of the inaugural KAP design collection.
Although they have been working on the project since early 2023, the seed was initially planted in Lynch’s mind when she first visited Hamburg some three years ago. ‘I was introduced to a group of mostly women, young and old, who gather daily in a rondavel to stitch together stories that reveal aspects of their geographical, spiritual and communal experience. It’s hard to put into words why this creative community is so significant, but one thing that comes to the surface in conversation with all who are lucky enough to visit, is that this place and the people who gently piece together beautiful imagery help us to learn and grow,’ says Lynch.
The learning and growth that came from the collaboration went both ways, according to KAP directors Cebo Mvubu and Michaela Howse. ‘What really got me excited was that this process forced us out of our comfort zone. It showed us that we could effectively use messaging apps and create work remotely even with international collaborators. Going forward, we can now challenge ourselves to not be limited by our location in the rural Eastern Cape; we can work with anyone anywhere in the world,’ says Mvubu.
‘I don’t think we’ve had a better collaboration with anyone,’ adds Howse. ‘We haven’t been very good at graphic representations of our work, or at being able to work digitally, so it’s been quite exciting to do a bit of work and then see it scanned, and then see what Tracy can do on her side in terms of digitising that image and giving us feedback. It’s something that we would never have imagined.’
Additionally, the collaboration gives the project a commercial opportunity that contributes to the livelihoods of the artists. While Clout/SA in its role as an intermediary between the creative sector and corporate businesses has mainly facilitated opportunities for designer-makers in the past, the lessons the agency has learnt and the infrastructure the team has built can also be very beneficial for artist collectives such as the Keiskamma Art Project, explains Lynch.
‘We’ve learnt so much from previous successful collaborations about the licensing opportunities that exist for creators, and we’ve established ways for projects such as this to be able to support designers and artists by putting them in a position to make additional income,’ says Lynch.
‘I have a connection with the outside world and I work in a commercial space. Being based where they are means that KAP are pretty isolated. However, together we got to make magic. While my background as an interior designer and a stylist means I have a bit of a handle on what works for design, it is their art form and skills that make this collaboration special and very unique,’ she adds.
The wallpaper will be available from Cara Saven Wall Design, while the chairs will be available from furniture designer David Krynauw. Additionally, fabric enquiries can be made through Clout/SA’s website. Beyond the pieces exhibited at 100% Design South Africa, the decorative embroideries present an opportunity for interior designers, architects and homeowners to bring the aesthetic developed by Keiskamma Art Project’s artists into a diverse range of spaces and built environments.
‘Sometimes there’s the fear that if you mass produce or digitally print original textile artwork, there’s going to be a loss of quality, or that you will lose the aura and the spirit of the work, but this hasn’t been the case with this collaboration. It actually supports the original creativity and mystique. Tracy and Clout/SA get Hamburg and they get the Keiskamma Art Project, and there hasn’t been even a glimmer of exploitation or self-interest. It’s been pure passion and excitement for Hamburg and the work of the Keiskamma Art Project,’ says Howse.
Keiskamma Art Project Wallpaper, crochet vase in green is by Moonbasket, beaded baskets stylists own