Made in Africa: Tapestry and the Topography of Swedish Philanthropy in Southern Africa

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Abstract

During the 1960s, tapestries from Swedish art and craft centres in southern Africa were acclaimed in the Nordic country as an outcome of its own expertise and largesse. Yet when these works by marginalised women artists in Africa were exhibited at the National Museum in Stockholm in 1970, they were dismissed as the fruits of Swedish cultural imperialism and naive artistic minds. Despite the ensuing public debate, the exhibition and its discourses, like the works themselves, are little known in southern Africa and now largely forgotten in Sweden. In considering the visual vocabularies of some of these tapestries, many of which were woven at the renowned centre at Rorke’s Drift in KwaZulu-Natal, this article addresses the implications of these Swedish ‘culture-rescue’ projects, showing how women’s artistic ‘voices’ on the subcontinent were silenced, not merely by apartheid suppression but also in Swedish representations. By interrogating the attitudes that the audiences of the exhibitions held towards black women artists, the article reveals how the tapestries’ woven iconographies were a complex response to circumstance, covertly interrogating white hegemony while invested with self-definition.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSouth African Historical Journal
DOIs
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2024

Keywords

  • apartheid
  • National Museum
  • Rorke’s Drift
  • Sweden
  • tapestry
  • Thabana li Mele

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History

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