Tapestry, ideology and counter voices in Southern Africa during apartheid

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1 Citation (Scopus)


In 1963 a tapestry-weaving project was established at Rorke’s Drift, South Africa, by left-wing Swedes. This poverty-alleviation initiative targeted rural black women affected by the National Party regime’s oppressive apartheid laws. Further centres evolved from this enterprise, including Khumalo’s Kraal Weaving Workshop in KwaZulu-Natal and Thabana li Mele in neighbouring Lesotho. It is little appreciated that tapestries from these workshops might have interrogated the government’s exclusionary racial policies. In uncovering some of the weavers’ agencies and iconographies, the author shows how perceptions of these tapestries have been shaped by apartheid-era narratives, even in contemporary scholarship. Their works are almost invariably represented as the outcome of foreign initiative, and collectivised as obedient iterations by women reconciled with their marginalised status. In a new reading the author argues that these artists not only exercised their individual agencies, but at times even targeted the enormities of apartheid. It also exposes the potentially catastrophic consequences of nationalist ideology and expediency on the tapestry domain itself. Ironically, while the authorities harassed those at Rorke’s Drift, they publicised the Centre’s achievements as a triumph of apartheid policy. Yet as the needs of the Centre and the regime were to some degree aligned, the relationship between them was complicated.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)255-274
Number of pages20
JournalSocial Dynamics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Southern Africa
  • Tapestry
  • apartheid
  • erasure
  • ideology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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