Creative Times & Living Testimonies (2): “Connections are Strength” – Keiskamma artists on the COVID-19 Tapestry of Resilience

AiW note: Yesterday, as part of our Keiskamma COVID-19 Resilience Tapestry series, we introduced four artists from Keiskamma, leading on from Monday’s introduction to the work, which is currently underway. Today, in the second of our “meetings” posts with the artists and makers, we talk to Nozeti Makhubalo, Saneliswa Maxengana and Nontobeki Peyi about their life stories, working with Keiskamma, and hear their collective Words on the Times and experiences of now, experiences that will hopefully become part of the tapestry. Tomorrow’s post will introduce to you to more of the team.

The Keiskamma Art Project is part of the greater Keiskamma Trust, a South African not-for-profit organization dedicated to the holistic care of the communities that live in the area alongside the Keiskamma River in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. The Trust began in 2000 with a healing vision, to restore hope and dignity to people with very few resources, living at the precipice of change. 


I’m Nozeti Makhubalo raised in Hamburg. I did my primary here at Hamburg Primary School then did my High School at Ndabazandile High and my matric in Nkwanca High in Komani. I am a mother of five, I have three granddaughters and one grandson. I am an artist by birth. I never went to college to study art, something discovered by doctor Carol Baker in 2000. Before I met Carol I was poaching to put food on the table. The first big artwork I did was the Bayeux Tapestry, then the big Keiskamma Altarpiece, the Democracy Tapestry, then The Keiskamma Guernica Tapestry. The last big artwork was the Rhodes tapestry. I did a short course in hospitality at Standane in Port Alfred and I do catering. I’m a good cook, and I’m a trained Village Health Worker.

Nozeti is one of the longest established artists at the Keiskamma Art Project. She describes herself, in her own words, as “disabled, but creative”, and in recent communication was also confident to admit to being “uneducated, but forwards”, hoping for the advancement and growth of Keiskamma. Nozeti emphasizes the importance of exchange and welcomes both young people from the Keiskamma region and people from around the world to contribute to Keiskamma’s future.

Following in Nozeti’s footsteps is Saneliswa Maxengana, who, unlike Nozeti, had a formal arts education and an introduction to being an artist from her father.


My name is Saneliswa Maxengana aka Sanela. I was born in Peddie at Feni location. I’m from a family of six; mom, dad and my three sisters. I’m the third born. I did my primary school at Feni Primary School and went to Nathaniel Pamla High. The love of art, I found it with my father. He used to draw and make tiny sculptures with wood when I was little. I then decided to go to the School of Art at Lovedale College doing fine art. After that I went to Buffalo City College and did art and design. At school I loved pottery. I joined Keiskamma in 2015, March. I was an embroiderer at first. It was difficult, but I got used to it. I’ve been part of many workshops. I did a ceramics workshop at Hermanus, I worked with Imbali doing screen printing, and also worked with Deborah Adams Doering from NY doing drawing workshops. I also attended an international artist’s workshop in Mauritius. I’ve been part of many exhibitions. I displayed my paintings at Ann Bryant Art Gallery annual exhibition, and afterwards with Keiskamma. We have exhibited at the National Arts Festival in Makhanda, and Umnyama Festival in East London and in Hermanus at FynArts festival. My dream is to own a company one day, an art studio. I want to have a solo exhibition.

Both Sanela and Nozeti offered us their Words on the Times, expanding on how, as artists, they are being affected by COVID-19.

Nozeti Makubalo – Words on the Times

Good morning  cc wow the weather is also good this side

AiW: Can you tell us more about your work? How are you working now during the pandemic that is different from before?

Wooo the Covid Pandemic for me it seems as it has come to separate us as we are so used to being together at the studio, chatting to each other as we are working. l’m an artist, I’m drawing. Although I want to be alone when drawing so that I don’t get distracted. When I finish I want to be amongst the others while they start embroidery, share the story they embroider, choose colours with them, but now we need to give each other a space, it’s not the same. It is really different bcz now I’m working at home and send down the pieces to the studio. I’m starting to get used to working at home, to be safe and make sure the kids are doing what they are supposed to do during this period as much as they are so depressed to stay at home, not at school, it’s very difficult for them. But honestly for me to be with them it’s so enjoyable, yes it’s painful but I’ll be more worried if they were at school during this time. My kids are not going back to school this year as our province is in trouble. l’m praying for medication, hoping next year things will go back to normal as this year is being wasted, but it’s better to be wasted than to lose my kids.

AiW: What have you found most supportive and/or heart lifting during this time?

The food parcels that were given to people and any Covid relief funds, electricity and airtime were heart-lifting.

Saneliswa Maswana – Words on the Times

AiW: Can you tell us more about your work? How are you working now during the pandemic that is different from before?

I’m working with women creating wall hangings, large and small scale artworks using fabric, embroidery, beadwork and needlework. When lockdown began, everything felt surreal. The threat of Corona had been building over the weeks, and apart from washing my hands extra!  we wear our masks all the time while working. Keiskamma supported us in so many ways e.g. mask, sanitizer, food parcels and with transport for shopping.

AiW: How can other communities like AiW (international) support you?

We would be so much happy if other communities can support us with more orders, donations or funding. Corona, I didn’t think it would get as bad as it did.

Holding the team together through her role in administration and HR is Nontobeki Peyi (Novuyani). Novuyani spends her days behind her computer, in conversation with artists and especially amongst the community, where her heart lies.


My name is Nontobeko Peyi (Novuyani), I was born and bred at King William’s Town, in the village known as Tildin. I am a widow, mother of three and grandmother to five. I am a member of anti-crime concerned people of Hamburg. I did my primary at Tildin Bantu community school. I passed my standard eight (form three) at Dondashe Secondary School and my matric at Jongilanga High School at Kwelera. Before joining Keiskamma I was selling fruit and veg at Daku square in Port Elizabeth. My business was doing well until my husband lost his job. In 2004 March I joined Keiskamma Trust. I started as an embroiderer-machinist-shop assistant-stock room keeper. In 2007 I joined Art management. In 2012 l studied HR fundamentals at Damelin College. My first exhibition to be a part of was in 2005 in Grahamstown/Makhanda (Keiskamma Altarpiece). In 2012 I was invited to University of London, to Birkbeck for the Guernica exhibition. In 2015 I was in a team that exhibited Intsikizi tapestries in Hermanus. In 2017 I trained as a facilitator for teenage parenting with Clowns without Borders. In 2019 I attended a workshop in Mauritius from the 19 April to 3 May.

What I care mostly about is people’s well being. My childhood dream was to become a social worker, but I did not make it due to financial problems. My current dream is to have an elderly home where old people can be taken care of. It breaks my heart to see old people who once took care of their children and their grandchildren, but when it’s time for them to be taken care of, there is no one.

Novuyani shared her views with us at the start of the lockdown.

military in the township sml

Part of the first series of embroideries to be appliquéd onto the Keiskamma COVID-19 Resilience Tapestry – “the military in the township”

In my entire life, I never heard about the lockdown for the whole country. It was on the 23 of March when it was announced that there will be a lockdown starting on the 26 March, for 21 days. It was the first time I hear about the disease called Coronavirus. When we were instructed to stay at home, for me it was just a holiday, I did not take it seriously. As the time goes on and I listen to the news, of which it was the only thing on the news, Covid-19 and the numbers of people infected and the death of people in numbers, it became so scary, but at least our country was still safe. Things changed when it became visible in our country and later to our province. I began to have sleepless nights, thinking about my kids and family, who are scattered all over the country. The thought of it, having no cure nor vaccine is the scariest one.

fear vulnerability just eating

Detail from the Keiskamma COVID-19 Resilience Tapestry – “vulnerable man eating”

The worst thing that ever happened is the closing down of churches, but we understood that it is for our safety.

What keeps me going is to call each other every day, we even formed a whatsapp group where we pray together. We also encourage each other to stick to the precaution measures.

The best thing that ever happened during level 5 & 4 is the ban of alcohol and tobacco. Our village became so quiet, our yards became very clean because everybody is willing to work, and there is nothing to disturb our sons and brothers. The only thing that became overused is food consuming, the one month groceries became two weeks groceries. Another good thing that I have noticed during the lockdown is that people are willing to help each other, in terms of seeing to it that nobody goes to bed without something to eat. We had good Samaritans who made it a point that we got food parcels. Thank you so much to Keiskamma friends.

We caught up with Novuyani again more recently for her Words on the Times.

Nontobeko Peyi (Novuyani) – Words on the Times

Good day good people, let me try to answer   

AiW: Can you tell us more about your work? How are you working now during the pandemic that is different from before?

drawing lonely houses lockdown

Preliminary drawings for the Keiskamma COVID-19 Resilience Tapestry – “lonely lockdown house”

I am one of the few people who works at Art admin. It was not a good experience when many exhibitions had to be cancelled because it’s where we get most sales and exposure. Some of the projects could not be done e.g the one with the school kids because the schools are partially closed.  

AiW: What have you found most supportive and/or heart lifting during this time?

What I have seen as most supportive is that there are funds allocated for Covid-19 relief, as much as we did not benefit from all of them, but it’s good to know that there are some efforts done to help the disadvantaged during this time. The other thing that is heartwarming is that as much as we are scattered as families, we managed to form some whatsapp groups whereby we are able to check on each other’s well being on a daily basis, which was not happening before.

lonely lockdown house and dog

Part of the first series of embroideries to be appliquéd onto the Keiskamma COVID-19 Resilience Tapestry – “lonely lockdown house and dog”

The other heart warming thing is to see the people who are well off in our communities show their sympathy to the disadvantaged by providing food parcels, that was Wow, because we always see that gap as a bad thing but now we have seen that it is there for a reason, so that some can get help from others, it is a blessing. 

AiW: How can other communities like AiW (international) support you?

International communities can help us by filling us in to technology because as the rural communities, our kids can not do their school work during this time whereas the ones in urban and international continue with theirs due to the advantage of technology. As the adults, we are very much exposed to Covid-19 because we have to go to town using taxis, pay our bills, do the shopping while the international communities, they do everything from home.

Novuyani highlights a radical need to intervene in the growing ‘digital divide’ affecting poor rural communities sooner rather than later. Keiskamma is looking for partners who could help them through the difficult transformation from doing everything physically and by hand, to learning to do certain things, like accessing grants and banking, online. Computer literacy and good connectivity are vital, two gaping needs that the Art Project is trying to address. But they need people prepared to walk with them, and guide them in technological ways. Living in a rural area, connections are strength, especially long-term connections where real sharing and growth is possible for everyone involved.

If you feel you can support the artists and project in any way:
– please direct your questions or thoughts to
– or, you can donate directly to the crowdfunding campaign which has been set up to raise money for the Keiskamma COVID-19 Resilience Tapestry specifically, the best means of providing an income to the artists and embroiderers at this time.

Please visit and leave your details so we can be in touch with you. No donation is too big or too small and goes directly towards artists’ livelihoods.

Until tomorrow, our Keiskamma COVID-19 Resilience Tapestry series will continue meeting the makers, exploring the stories of the people behind the work and who are at the heart of the Project, and hearing some of their Words on the Times. Words on the Times is an AiW Q&A subset, initiated at the start of the lockdowns necessitated by the pandemic, and continuing on in order to connect up our communities as our experiences continue to change and alter in life and work.

You can read yesterday’s first of three “meetings” posts from the artists Nomfuneko Bopani, Nkosazana Veronica Betani, Cebo Mvubu and Siyabonga Maswana hereTomorrow we will hear from Ndileka Mapuma, Xoliswa Zondeka (Noluntu), Nomakhaya Dada (Nostesh), and Nolusindiso Jakavula Matshezi read their collective testimonies here.

Monday’s introductory post – which brings to life the landscapes, history, and context of the Keiskamma Art Project’s work with the writer Marguerite Poland, who is collaborating in the COVID-19 Resilience Tapestry – is “A Season of Regeneration. Follow the link to read.

The series will conclude on Friday with a look-in to the creative practices and critical responses of the making of the Keiskamma COVID-19 Resilience Tapestry itself, in its evolving, unfolding processes, and as it is being made.

Image credits: Keiskamma Trust.

For more archive posts from AiW on the Keiskamma Art Project’s range and for an insight into the making of another of their series of tapestry works, click the image below to watch 3 short documentary films shared with us in 2017 by Guernica Remakings (Nicola Ashmore, University of Brighton), about the Keiskamma Art Project’s tapestry remakings of Picasso’s iconic painting, Guernica, and through which the makers of the five Keiskamma Guernicas voice their role in the making process. Nozeti Makhubalo mentions her involvement in the Guernica tapestry in her testimony as part of today’s post (above).

Each of the Keiskamma Guernicas – compassionate, hopeful, politically resistant, made between 2010 and 2017 – tell the story of the impact of HIV/AIDS and challenge the ineffectual response of consecutive South African governments to its crisis in the Peddie region of the Eastern Cape.

3x documentary films about the making of the first and largest Keiskamma Guernica featured in the Guernica Remakings exhibition, curated by Nicola Ashmore:

Categories: Reviews & Spotlights on..., Words on the Times

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