The Mapula Embroidery Project in the Winterveld is one of the most important community art projects in South Africa. In addition to generating an income for economically disadvantaged women, Mapula embroideries couple high levels of technical and visual artistry with topics that speak eloquently of public histories as well as women’s personal experiences.
Dazzling in colour and inventive in design, the embroideries also engage compellingly with social and political issues that have shaped the lives of their makers.
In Mapula: Embroidery and Empowerment in the Winterveld, Brenda Schmahmann discusses the complex circumstances that resulted in the founding of Mapula in 1991, when the Winterveld was part of the former ‘homeland’ of Bophuthatswana. She examines the backgrounds of project members, revealing how women’s experiences of disempowerment have been bound up with the politics of race and gender. She explores the ways in which the Mapula Embroidery Project is managed and organised, identifying the challenges that confront those engaged in development work. She also offers a detailed analysis of a range of embroideries, placing particular emphasis on the women’s choice and treatment of subject matter and suggesting that topics chosen by the embroiderers frequently address political and economic disempowerment. As her study indicates, Mapula embroideries are remarkable works of art that not only attest to the creativity of South African women but also provide us with invaluable insights about the anxieties and aspirations of females in a transforming society.
Mapula: Embroidery and Empowerment in the Winterveld is the most comprehensive study of Mapula to be published to date and the first book with an exclusive focus on a community embroidery project in South Africa.