Allina Ndebele's The Tree of Life: Tapestry, text andlessons from the loom

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By reconstructing the context and symbolic language of artist-weaver Allina Ndebele's little-known allegorical tapestry, The Tree of Life (1986–87), this article investigates the didactic strategies in her tapestries and the texts she writes to accompany them. Based largely on a series of recent interviews with Ndebele about this work, the essay considers the roles that animals, humans and spiritual forces play in an invented tapestry story that is a departure from her narratives based on prototypes inherited through storytelling. The Tree of Life reveals Ndebele's innovation and mastery of weaving, also articulating attitudes to local customs and beliefs at Ekuhlengeni Mission in the Zulu heartland in the early 1980s. Transgressing the strictures of religious authority, this large work and the text she coupled to it challenge the limited possibilities once available to female predecessors who were the custodians of stories dense with codes of behaviour, but who exerted little social control outside ‘fireside’ teachings. Ndebele's descriptive texts and suggestive woven imagery co-exist in a complex relationship, creating tension and meaning that have implications for her didactic work and its audiences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)24-41
Number of pages18
JournalDe Arte
Issue number90
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies


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