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In Search Of The Birds Of The Sea – A collaboration between Spier Arts Trust and Keiskamma Art Project

Henk Serfontein. Handskrif handwriting.

The Keiskamma Art Project from Hamburg in the Eastern Cape is not just about art. Of course, that’s a big part of it. But it’s also about building community, sharing knowledge, empowering women, educating youth, and celebrating the local culture and stories through textiles, beadwork and wirework.

“The values connecting art and people are precisely what Spier holds dear,” says Tamlin Blake, Chief Curator at Spier Arts Trust. “Spier Arts Trust is proud to present the upcoming exhibition at the farm, titled In Search of the Birds of the Sea. It’s a genuine collaboration between fine artists and embroiderers to co-create unique embroidered tapestries.”

Henk Serfontein. Handskrif handwriting.

Henk Serfontein. Handskrif handwriting.

For more than 20 years, the Keiskamma Art Project has been the mouthpiece of the communities living alongside the Keiskamma River, providing dignity, inspiration and income. The embroidered artworks have toured the country and beyond, winning praise and awards across the world.

The new collaboration between Spier Arts and Keiskamma Art Project began when Blake, who is also a mixed media artist, visited Keiskamma to work with embroiderers to produce an embroidered tapestry. Laying the foundations of what has become a valuable artistic partnership, Spier Arts Trust has since arranged for other artists to visit Hamburg to participate in similar artistic immersions.

“We get to introduce artists to the embroidery studio, to explore a new medium and see unique artworks emerge from this collaboration, and then share these works beyond the Eastern Cape,” Blake explains. “And what’s exciting about this partnership is that all of the artists and embroiderers work differently. They all have different ideas and needs. But by sharing the process, beautiful art is created.”

Nkosinathi Quwe. Imvomvo

Nkosinathi Quwe. Imvomvo

The embroiderers, artists and the community at Keiskamma bring their own stories and backgrounds to evolve initial ideas into something that is truly a collaboration, not just an illustration of the artist’s concept.

In deciding on a title for the exhibition, Blake chose to adapt an isiXhosa proverb, ‘He goes in search of the birds of the sea’ to ‘In Search of the Birds of the Sea’ as it captures what it means to create art as a collective. To explore and seek adventure, to share and search, to aspire to something that is an ideal and, while potentially unattainable, a journey worth walking together.

And so, In Search of the Birds of the Sea, which runs from 9 November 2023 to 31 January 2024 at Spier’s Old Wine Cellar, reminds us of the power of collaboration, community and, most importantly, of art’s power to unite us. This exhibition is about broadening concepts of art, pushing artists out of their individual comfort zones to find new pleasure and purpose in a shared objective.

To those visiting the exhibition, arrive with open hearts and minds, and an appreciation for the intricate skill behind this artistic craft.

“There’s a beautiful sense of hope in these tapestries, bordering on fantasy. They all ‘speak’ differently, but always with joy, purpose and wonder,” Blake says.

Robyn Pretorius. Emtonjeni The Well of Hamburg's Soul

Robyn Pretorius. Emtonjeni The Well of Hamburg’s Soul

Featured artists include:

Asanda Kupa who favours oil paint and found objects as his primary media; award-winning artist and author Henk Serfontein; visual messenger Nkosinathi Quwe who works primarily on canvas but also on fabric; photographer and multi-media artist Pippa Hetherington; Robyn Pretorius whose portraiture explores likeness, visual interpretation and storytelling; and mixed media artist Tamlin Blake.

The exhibition will run from 9 November 2023 to 31 January 2024 at Spier’s Old Wine Cellar and entrance is free.

Art, like food and wine, is best shared, which is why Spier is such an enthusiastic supporter of African artists and their creations. Housing one of the largest contemporary art collections in the country, Spier believes in the power of the visual arts to teach and inspire, encouraging us all to engage openly with our world and each other. With such a thriving local artistic community and rich cultural heritage, Spier is excited about the future of South African art.