Creative Times “in the making”: unfolding the Keiskamma COVID-19 Tapestry of Resilience

AiW note: Posts over 5 days this week, have introduced the epic endeavour of the Keiskamma COVID-19 Resilience Tapestry being made by the Keiskamma Art Project in the rural hamlet of Hamburg, South Africa, through the place, the people – its makers – and their histories.Keiskamma COVID-19 Resilience Tapestry - logo

Marguerite Poland opened this series of posts on Monday with an introduction to the tapestry, and to its significance in both time and place. For today’s final post, the team at Keiskamma Art Project – who have offered their collective testimonies and Words on the Times over the last three days, responses which feed in to the making of the tapestry – have gathered their creative processes together into a document that sheds light on the COVID-19 Resilience Tapestry with the work currently underway.

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. The Trust began with a healing vision, to restore hope and dignity to people with very few resources, living at the precipice of change. It was founded in 2000 by artist and doctor, Carol Hofmeyr. Today the Keiskamma Art Project, the flagship of the greater Trust, works to maintain its founder’s vision, providing vital livelihoods through dignified work, while communicating through art, the reality of rural lives affected by both poverty and history. 

Siya Maswana takes the lead as principal artist, translating all the drawings made by Keiskamma artists on paper to drawings on material, to be embroidered and added to the hessian canvas.

Laying out the very first series of embroideries, soon to find their place on the hessian canvas

So far our tapestry measures 7,5m wide and 2,5m high, and has a tree of life at its centre (a sacred fig tree). We have divided the tapestry into 12 months, like a calendar, starting in February this year – one month of summer, then three of autumn, three of winter, three of spring, and two of summer. January 2021 will be the last month. Each month will be approx 62,5cm wide. Our tree is at the centre in the middle of South African winter (July-August). 

Marguerite Poland’s poems capture not only the seasons according to nature, but also the emotional seasons we have experienced in our response to the pandemic.

When is Jesus Coming? Only more uncertainty

Her short haikus speak of the cosmology that connects people and living things in time and place in the Eastern Cape. We are embroidering the poetry into our tapestry to help describe what we are experiencing, to help colour some of what we see in the world around us. We will expand on the feelings in these poems and link them with imagery from our lives during Covid-19, imagery that fills the canvas beneath the branches of the sacred tree.

So far, we are using:

isidlengwa/isihelegu – the great darkness before a storm / rape / violation. Deprived of all human solace in the dark places of the earth – said of Maqoma. 

(when we knew about lockdown, those days before, already the darkness had descended, shopping, preparing homes, will there be enough? For how long will this last? Fear)

Plague: Umbatalala or ingubane (plague / catastrophe). Isimema: the howling of dogs, a great grief.

The howling of dogs:
our forefathers turn away
from this great grief.

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa appears on television to issue strict guidelines for the country

(Lockdown commences, on TV we hear of people dying around the world, in Italy especially, very sad, an incurable disease, we are at risk, what is going to happen? All at home inside with news on the TV and radio, we hear Ramaphosa speak, our prophet, like Nongqawuse. Our cattle, the economic lifeblood of the people, our well-being, is being affected, the cattle again are dying)

iTobiratyi – the Pride-Breaker (this was the name for the rinderpest ie. a terrible plague)

(People are hungry, they leave their homes in search of food, the tears, the difficulty, the cattle suffer, no work, no income, and people are afraid)

Autumn: sibulisane nokwindla nabo babuye busishiya sodwa.

We would greet autumn
but it, too, abandons us
to solitude.

A lonely masked boatrower: A community isolates

(Lockdown continues, is extended… no one is around, the world is bleak, the police are out stopping people from visiting their family, no permit/no pass!)

No one to play with:
a small boy whacking a tree
with a stick.

(loneliness, waiting, uncertainty, how long will this last?)

How long, oh Lord?
The Jesus Embassy awaits
the Second Coming.

elabafazi – strength of a woman, strength of a hoe

A masked woman carrying her baby on her back (detail)

(But at the same time, we must survive, make the food last, feed the children, people work in their gardens, but the economy continues to die)

Grave:  Makhangel’ ekhaya (buried far from home)

Wherever he lies
may he look towards his home
still praising his herd.

(People are dying in foreign places and their bodies cannot be brought home or buried, they are burned far from home, we look toward where they die with sadness…)

Underworld of drought:
even the shadows of the trees
have died.

(mourning, people are dying alone)

Umke namangabangaba olwandle – he has been taken by seabirds i.e. he has disappeared to a place beyond imagining/ totally lost. 

(The Corona funerals, bodies are being buried by men in white suits that look like white seagulls, this is a world we don’t know, mad, beyond imagining, the seabirds are circling around the funeral)

The Great Burying (July): uNcwabakazi.

The Great Burying:
the moon when the land turns green.
Grass on the winter graves.

Men in white suits bury people alone; we cannot attend the funeral

(The new graves.)

Lost years: Ndikubuyiselela okweminyaka eyadliwa zimkumbi I would return to you the years eaten by locusts (In times of trouble. Loss. Regret)

You would be at rest
if I could bring you the years
laid waste by locusts.

(And slowly, we enter Spring, as we learn to adapt to the stringencies of keeping safe, with newfound resilience and a desire to connect)

September: eyoMsintsi ( flowering of the erythrina)

from the bones of Msintsi -
the birth of the year. 

(Lockdown has also been eased, there is more freedom. We look forward to summer and the future)

Summer : Be Cheery again! amaphuzi omelele!

The pumpkins are ripe!
Season for visiting friends,
for gossip and beer. 

November/ December:

In every garden -
sunshine after summer rain:
all the grandmas weeding.

An embroidered owl at the start of lockdown

In the summer to come, we have ‘Lakuba lumkile uvalo nemishologa yamkile – when anguish has died and the omens have fled’, 

(Here we want the imagery to be different. A celebration, people together, the slaughtering of a cow, the symbolism of health, and wealth restored. A vaccine on its way maybe? We are also digitally empowered, using our phones to talk to people in faraway places and sharing our stories)

We are using the symbolism of birds in each season to tell the story and capture the spirit/emotion/feeling.

Raven: unomyayi the black Cape raven is a harbinger of death.

Asiyondlela! Walahleka! (this is not the road, you are lost)

This is not the way!
You are lost in darkness
as black as my wing.

Owl (isikhova) All owls are harbingers of death.

Silent hunter:
flight of the owl - unheard
until it strikes.

An embroidered dove representing grief

Dove (traditional rendering of the call. The artists will know this and have variations). Intliziyo ifile (my heart has died)

My mother is dead
My father is dead
My heart is falling over.

Further positive bird symbols are the blue crane (SA national bird), a symbol of a warrior and a leader; the orange throated longclaw – bird of good omen especially on a difficult journey; the red-chested cuckoo (piet my vrou) – harbinger of summer and harvests.

Negative bird symbols include the fork-tailed drongo – it always goes about with the hoopoe and steals its food as soon as the hoopoe has extracted it from the ground. It has over-arching ambitions, is corrupt and a thief!

Then we have the symbolism of the Keiskamma River, a witness to time and change. It’s something moving and changing all the time, very alive. It signals the continuity of life.

We will embroider the names of everyone who has donated towards our tapestry in the veins of the fig tree with its branches spreading through all seasons. Each and every person who supports us is helping us keep livelihoods alive, contributing to our strength, and aiding our recovery from dark times. 

Keiskamma Art Project artist Siyabonga Maswana bringing the sacred fig tree to life on the hessian canvas of the COVID-19 Resilience Tapestry.

The Keiskamma Art Project has only raised one fifth of what they need to complete the tapestry which, through its creation, will ensure the Art Project’s sustainability for the next six months. Their situation is precarious. Their appeal is sincere and for your support.

Please direct any questions or thoughts to

Or you can donate directly to the crowdfunding campaign which has been set up to raise money for the 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.

We hope you enjoyed this five day window into the work of the Keiskamma Art Project and the individuals on the team behind the COVID-19 Resilience Tapestry.

Each of the five posts in the Keiskamma COVID-19 Resilience Tapestry series this week includes a slideshow featuring a range of Keiskamma’s completed tapestry works, as well as images of the Resilience Tapestry in process. Scroll through these posts to see more of the work of the Keiskamma Art Project.

Prior to today’s document of the making-in-process of the Resilience Tapestry, we have three “meet the makers” posts – living testimonies of the stories and voices of the artists involved as they have adapted to the pandemic, which form an integral part of the work of the tapestry, underpinning its creative processes, informing its storytelling and its power, connecting up its strength. 

“Meetings” posts with the makers and their collective testimonies: (1) Nomfuneko Bopani, Nkosazana Veronica Betani, Cebo Mvubu and Siyabonga Maswana; (2) Nozeti Makhubalo, Saneliswa Maxengana and Nontobeki Peyi; (3) Ndileka Mapuma, Xoliswa Zondeka (Noluntu), Nomakhaya Dada (Nostesh), and Nolusindiso Jakavula Matshezi:

In offering these collective testimonies – rounding up people’s experiences of life and work in the Project in relation to COVID-19 – here on AiW, the artists and makers have responded to our Words on the Times  – an AiW Q&A subset with writers, publishers, agitators, artists, thinkers, booksellers, and more – connecting up our experiences of life and work during the pandemic around our common interests.

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

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.

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.


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1 reply


  1. Healing body and soul: the Keiskamma Tapestry exhibition at Constitution Hill | Liz at Lancaster Guest House Blog

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