Billie Zangewa, fashioning portraits in silk

Billie Zangewa started drawing fashion illustrations at 10 years old and was already a fashion fanatic, reading Vogue magazine and watching Video Fashion Monthly religiously. She studied Graphics/ printmaking at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa and during this time her work explored cinematic narratives. After her studies, she returned to Gaborone where she first worked with oil pastels on a miniature scale. These pastels usually depicted women in glamourous situations.

As a natural progression, she then started to experiment with textiles, silk in particular, making handbags embellished with embroidery of flora and fauna indigenous to Botswana.

In 1997 she moved to Johannesburg where she spent a few years working in Fashion and Advertising, as she strove to find her artistic voice. The landscape of the Johannesburg CBD then became a source of inspiration and she began to do deconstructed interpretations onto her handbags.

In 2004 she won the Absa L’atelier Gerard Sekoto Award with a triptych of handbags depicting Jo’burg cityscapes called Faith, Love and Hope, a tribute to the city. This award propelled her back into the art world. Whilst working on the solo exhibition that was part of the award, she decided to transplant her silk works onto a two-dimensional surface which she then called silk tapestries although the technique is more appliqué.

She has also engaged in singing performance working under the name Billie Starr, and has had her songs published. In 2004 she was awarded the Most Stylish Person in South Africa at the annual Style Awards, as a result of this performance work.

Billie Zangewa has since exhibited her silk tapestries all over the world and continues to do so. She is currently living and working in Johannesburg.

She spoke to BBC News about why she likes making self portraits out of silk.

Billie Zangewa
Jul 29, 2017

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