7. Hoepoe

30 x 20.5cm, silk and cotton embroidery thread, acrylic paint, glass beads (Maria Mabena) and machine embroidery (Ina van Eeden) on calico

This work begins not with a poem, but with a hoepoe. A beaded hoepoe made by Maria Mabena of Dullstroom.  Somewhere in the back of my mind I have the idea that I would love to work together with other women to create a more complex South African conversation where we can create an unspoken beauty. Ina van Eeden of Hoedspruit crafted the machine embroidered figures. This is the beginning of this idea.

I grew up on a quarter of an acre plot in a suburb next to Johannesburg Airport. The hoepoes were regular visitors in our garden. I found it strange that they appeared to really like it there.

This work is about home as location. It is about an intimate point of reference within a complex and often brutal landscape. My mother and father created a beautiful, warm space for us to grow up in. It was the gift of solid ground and my mother’s singing in the kitchen, accompanied the cooing of turtle doves. These doves would land on her shoulders when she hung the washing, and to this day she still sings with the birds.

My father planted irises outside my bedroom window, an elegant and comforting carpet of colour that danced with the sweetpeas he planted every year that climbed up towards my high, high window. Such is the innocent poetry of parents.

In retrospect, this work is about finding the sacred, the layering of life that surges in the tapestry of the ordinary where it is possible to find yourself in your own suburban home, safe in a dangerous land.

On an open road with no traffic, a pair of hoepoes flew right in front of my car on two occasions. Each flight was a breathtaking spectacle of pattern and colour. I was able to weave the present back into the past with the song of the fly-by hoepoe. In this way this beautiful bird is almost as comforting as a high priestess at a time of crisis.

This work reminded me of the power of memory, that which we can hold onto as a reminder of what is no longer physically present, much like the echo of nature which has already disappeared in many parts of South Africa. In Mpumalanga, the memory of great plains and burnished sunsets, now the reality of coal and bad air which I know will never be rehabilitated. The convenience of warm memory shields me from complicitness and destruction as I yield to the inevitability of electricity.

I am constantly aware of living in South Africa, of history and wounds that vibrate with such ferocity decades after the events which may now never be resolved. It is a place of burden, where the past is a perpetual enslavement for a capitalist machine that is now a backdrop for a life that appears to be doomed.

I know women carry the spirit of the unborn and the departed, as much as they carry the future that still has to be imagined. It is an ancient song of enslavement that is pounded into the earth that must, at the same time, embrace the memory of inexplicable grief as well as the relentless promise of new life.

Somewhere beneath all of this chaos exists a promise of something sacred. I know that it is subtle, a passage not well marked in a treacherous landscape. They say that when all is dark and cannot be seen or felt anymore, you should be quiet and listen for the call of the hoepoe.