Evolving a Tapestry Practice at Rorke’s Drift: Women’s Alliances, Agencies and Visual Syntaxes in the Loom

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2 Citations (Scopus)


Despite its popular acclaim, scant research has been undertaken on tapestry-weaving at the Evangelical Lutheran Church Art and Craft Centre, Rorke’s Drift, in South Africa, where rural black women helped establish a prolific tapestry practice in 1963. In time, the proceeds from the sale of their works would support both their own and further ventures at the Centre. In narrating the pedagogic encounters between tapestry artists and the Swedish artists who taught them, the author interrogates the limited representations of these marginalized women artists as a homogenous collective lacking individuality and agency. The author’s findings show how weavers asserted their knowledge in the loom, challenging assumptions in the literature that the tapestry practice can be explained as the outcome of foreign expertise. This article illuminates the strategies by which weavers borrowed, then transformed, the emancipatory and other iconographies they encountered, developing new syntaxes through individual initiative and creative alliances at the loom. The Centre’s struggle to balance tensions between western concepts of “originality” and production demands is also uncovered. In identifying and according significance to a number of the women’s tapestries, this account repositions the contribution by rural (black) women to South African art in the apartheid era.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)386-421
Number of pages36
JournalTextile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2020


  • Peder Gowenius
  • Rorke’s Drift
  • Sweden
  • agency
  • apartheid
  • tapestry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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