Lehmann Maupin, which has locations in New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul, has added to its roster Billie Zangewa, one of the most closely watched artists working in Africa today. The gallery will offer a work by the artist in its online booth as part of the Frieze New York art fair, which opens today to invited guests, and has a solo exhibition of her work scheduled for September in New York.
Zangewa creates works that combine different types of fabrics—from raw silk to stain—that she sews to create various kinds of scenes that explore her own personal narrative and look to celebrate womanhood. Among her most famous pieces is the 2010 work The Rebirth of Black Venus, which shows a semi-nude Zangewa rising out of the skyline of Johannesburg, where she moved after calling off a wedding engagement.
“The Rebirth of Black Venus was really a pivotal moment for me,” Zangewa told ARTnews. “I was going through a kind of identity crisis. One stage of my womanhood was ending and another one was beginning, and I was coming to the understanding that I needed to prioritize myself. In this rebirth there’s a personal freedom and expression of personal power.”
For Frieze New York, Lehmann Maupin will offer a 2019 piece by Zangewa in the range of $40,000–$70,000. Titled High Hopes, the piece shows Zangewa in a blue cocktail dress leaning on a dresser in her bedroom as she stares out of a circular window. In her practice Zangewa often looks to depict domestic and interior scenes that celebrate what is often a private experience in a public way. Her work “speaks to how society doesn’t make girl children come into their full power,” Zangewa said. “One of the reasons why I make works about my domestic life is to say that society doesn’t see this as being done but yet the raising of children and the keeping of home is so important to the structure of our society. It’s saying let’s celebrate those aspects of what keeps our society moving.”
Rachel Lehmann, one of the gallery’s cofounders, said that she sees Zangewa’s work as putting an “emphasis on what women have been doing for centuries, quietly, at home. So many of Billie’s images connect to the idea of creating something with you own hands, which was underrecognized even as a form of fine art. She talks about what it means to be a woman.” Part of that approach includes her use of sewing together fabrics, which Zangewa said, “is a celebration of a tradition that women have shared for generations. Before psychotherapy this is how women were dealing with being oppressed by patriarchy.”
Zangewa has a mid-career survey slated for the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco. It was originally to open this fall but has been pushed to 2021 because of the museum’s temporary closure amid the coronavirus pandemic. Zangewa said that amid the stay-at-home orders in South Africa she has continued to make work in addition to teaching her seven-year-old son.
For her solo show at Lehmann Maupin, Zangewa said that she is considering shifting her imagery to a new path that moves the focuses to her experiences in urban settings, outside the domestic space. “I’m playing on the psychology of how you relate to situations outside of your comfort zone because my home is my comfort zone,” she said. “It’s about the excitement of having new interactions. The challenges that may come as you develop new relationships, as well as how I feel being away from my son.”