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              Christine Nesbitt Hills

images represented by Africa Media Online & available for licencing

The Keiskamma Altarpiece

The opening of the Keiskamma Altarpiece takes place on Thursday June 30, 2005 in the Cathedral in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape, South Africa. The Keiskamma Altarpiece is the second monumental embroidery made by the women in the Hamburg region in the Eastern Cape, as a message of hope for people who are living in the midst of dire poverty, HIV/Aids and other hardships. The creation is based on the Isenheim Altarpiece which is a 15th century series of paintings made bu Gr�newald for a Hospice in Germany, where the inmates were dying of the then incurable ergot poisoining.

The Keiskama Altarpiece is made up of a series of hinged panels. Closed, the sombre crucifixion panels using Xhosa imagery are flanked by two Hamburg saints. The panels open up to a vision of hope, redemption and restoration in the four middle panels. The images used here show abundant life with trees, birds, spriritual worship, harmonious traditional life using colours and imagery depicting hope and beauty. When open the altarpiece stands 4m high and is 6.8m wide.

Each layer is dense with embroidery, appliqu� and beadwork, with the last layer a combination of sculptural wire, beadwork and photographs. The women learned new embroidery techniques, particularly stumpwork, to make this piece.

The altarpiece represents many thousands of hours of work by the artists, embroiderers, beaders and printmakers of the villages along the Keiskamma River in the Eastern Cape of South Africa: Hamburg, Ntlini, Bodiam and Bell.

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