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Billie Zangewa Sews the World a “Soldier of Love”

By Eliza Jordan

June 2, 2020

On view through June 6 at Galerie Templon is Malawian artist Billie Zangewa’s exhibition “Soldier of Love.” This is the Johannesburg-based artist’s first show at the gallery, and it shares positive messages of hope and unity—something we all may be searching for right now.

Zangewa has gained acclaim for her embroidery work, centered around personal experiences, communicating ordinary activities of daily life as a woman and a mother.

To encourage political thought on such scenes, these images are combined with universal subjects to offer reflection on larger topics like gender stereotypes and racial prejudices. As racial justice protests continue in cities all over the world, “Soldier of Love” shares a message of change.

“The exhibition is entitled ‘Soldier of Love’ because I believe that, especially at this time in history that we live in, universal and personal love is something that we have to fight for. I consider myself a soldier of love,” she said.

While isolated in Johannesburg during to the COVID-19 pandemic, Zangewa spoke with Whitewall about how she is staying creative and connected, and how humanity’s resilience is a spark of hope.

WHITEWALL: How are you doing during this time of confinement?

BILLIE ZANGEWA: I am doing my best to stay composed because I know that this is out of my control. Definitely feeling stressed and anxious about the uncertain future and the invisible enemy that we face, but I realize that I have to keep it together. As a result I am operating in survival mode.

WW: What are you listening to, reading, watching?

BZ: I was trying to read James Baldwin’s Another Country but gave up as I just couldn’t focus. So now I’m just paging through fashion and decor magazines. I am listening to the Paris radio station Radio Nova and watching old beautiful films like Jane Campion’s The Piano and Merchant Ivory’s Howards End.

WW: What are you cooking?

BZ: Lots of pasta. My son loves it. His favorite is fusilli in a basil and tomato sauce with mozzarella. I’ve also been baking tarte tatin, another favorite of his. So far I’ve made a peach, apple and a mixed berry one. Going to try a pear one and maybe a savory one too. I’ve also been making a favorite of mine, chicken curry, my version. I don’t actually know how to make a classic Indian chicken curry but love spicy food. There is also a potato and cauliflower gratin that is a huge hit in out house, plus a green bean salad.

WW: How are you staying connected?

BZ: I’ve been connecting with friends and family on a regular basis via video, phone call, text messages and email as well as a little bit on social media. I loved the novelty of the group video meets initially, but soon found that they were encroaching on my introverted ways so I’m not doing those anymore. Just one-on-one chats. Lockdown or not, I’m still an introvert!

WW: How are you staying creative? Are you able to make work at this time?

BZ: I am trying to stay creative but it’s so hard to focus! The many balls that I’m juggling on a daily basis also make creating a challenge. I’ve been setting myself very easy goals for each day, to keep things moving as I have upcoming deadlines, but I’m not working at my usual capacity. I’ve also been doing some research and prep for new works as I’d like to hit the ground running once things open up. I’m also using this time to allow new ideas to come to the fore.

WW: Where are you finding hope or inspiration?

BZ: I am finding hope in the belief that things are exactly the way they are supposed to be and also that this is all happening for a reason. I think that humanity is resilient and that we will get through this. I am finding hope in every new day, each breath that I take, and the very presence of my son.

Billie ZangewaGalerie Templonsoldier of love


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