In 2007 Murray & Roberts was building a new head office in Bedfordview, Johannesburg and thanks to the advice of Akani Creative Consulting they approached the Keiskamma Art Project to head up the establishment of a new art collection to be permanently housed in this impressive building.
Their idea was a series of 26 double-sided tapestries to be hung in the central atrium, following the layout of Boogertman + Parters Architects. The art project’s artists under the creative guidance of Carol Hofmeyr, Jackie Downs and Florence Danais proposed to embroider and appliqué 26 indigenous trees from the nine provinces of South Africa, depicted at various hours of the day from dawn to evening. It was an ambitious project but the Art project committed themselves to complete the work on the 52 tapestries within 12 months. The series South African Trees In Time was born.
The size of the panels varies; the smallest at 4m x 1. 6m while the largest is 4m x 5.5 metres. Production started in May of 2008 and was completed in mid-April 2009 thanks to the strong leadership of Veronica Betani (Production manager), the creativity of 10 local designers, Ayanda Gcezengana, Kwanele Ganto, Lindiswa Gedze, Nokuphiwa Gedze, Nozeti Makhubalo, Nombuyiselo Malumbezo, Msindisi Mva, Cebo Mvubu, Nomfusi Nkani and Thobisa Nkani, and the efforts of 70 women embroiderers and beaders from the villages of Hamburg, Bodium and Ntiliti.
On the front of the tapestries, trees are represented in bright colours with detailed backgrounds and foliage. Each tapestry matches an hour of the day. The backs are shadows of the images on the fronts and are made of muted colours and geometrical patterns and more decorative than descriptive. The various trees – Baobab, Cabbage Tree, Waterberry, for example – were first drawn on hessian materials and then hand-embroidered either with hand-dyed wool or by appliquéing silk, satin and taffeta. To achieve the blending of colours, the artists used hand-dyed, hand-made felt. Thanks to this large-scale project a permanent felt-making team was created within the Keiskamma Art Project. The edge of each tapestry is embellished with beaded loom work, supervised by Caroline Tyibilika.
The series of tapestries was finally installed with help from Nomfusi Nkani, Novuyani Peyi and Carol Hofmeyr at the end of July 2009 and now hangs in the central atrium of the new Murray & Roberts Head offices. For this successful collaboration, the Keiskamma Art Project was finalist at the 12th Business and Arts South Africa (BASA) awards 2009 through the Murray & Roberts Women’s Art Project in two categories: First Time Sponsor and Single Project.
Special thanks to Gay Staurup for teaching the felt-making techniques, Marialda Marais for reviewing the designs with the local artists, Barbara l’Ange for contributing to the artistic finish, Sebastian Jones for helping with the initial coordination of this commission along with Carol Hofmeyr and Florence Danais who both had constant creative supervision and input on all designs, and Jackie Downs for original concept design.