October 3, 2022

Weya women

The Weya quilt is a product of a group of women living in rural Zimbabwe who were taught by the European artist Ilse Noy. Ms. Noy came to Zimbabwe in 1984 as a member of the German Volunteer Service. After working for three years at the Cold Comfort Weaving Co-operative on the outskirts of Harare, Ilse moved to Weya, a small communal area in Zimbabwe . There she taught local women sewing and painting skills, and appliqué and embroidery techniques.  Today the Weya quilt workshop has become a veritable industry and the quilts are sold across Zimbabwe, in neighboring countries, and in fact, all over the world. The diverse themes depicted on the quilts reveal many aspects of the Weya women’s culture. The quilt-makers have in effect translated their daily life into their works, alluding to their marriage, their husband and children, sexuality, death, spirits, ancestors, hopes and worries. The quilts are inspiring expressions of humanness and have proved to be great sources of revenue for the brave artists who make them.

For more information and other examples see Ilse Noy, THE ART OF THE WEYA WOMEN, by Baobab Book, 1992, 1994

The following is excerpted from:

Comparative Perspectives Symposium: Feminist Art and Social Change (pdf)

Zimbabwean Feminist Art and the Politics of Representation  by Helen Nabasuta Mugambi

Artistic representations of African women, in the forms of figurines, paintings, batiks, or even postcards, have become extraordinarily popular in global ethnic art markets (Mugambi 2006). The most popular image is that of an African woman toiling in a domestic space. The woman is often depicted pounding grain, carrying water pots or firewood, or as the archetypal mother figure, carrying a baby on her back. A figurine of the woman pounding grain that I purchased at Harare International Air- port (fig. 1) is a perfect example of such art.

Though such popular representations are rooted in the real lives of rural African women, when marketed out of context or outside the totality of women’s experiences, these representations deteriorate into cliche’s that fail to communicate women’s agency and subjectivity. The domestic space to which African women are relegated according to stereotype is conventionally perceived as private and nonpolitical, a place in which women function simply as nurturers, sustaining a communal culture. By simply replicating disembodied domestic chores, these popular images connote a silenced woman trapped within an inert objectifying domestic space and present an African woman whose identity is collapsed into problematic cultural constructs that obscure the female voice……

……..Thus, this apparently unsophisticated piece of applique ́art reveals several levels of feminism. The women assert themselves as visual artists as well as writers who reproduce and transcend domestic space while remaining concerned about it. They gain a powerful collective voice through a feminist statement that addresses women’s collective problems. They seize the power to redefine gendered spaces within the home and invade the predominantly male post colonial literary space as they merge written narrative with the visually constructed story in the applique’ quilt.

Weya Story Quilts are on sale at AfricaDirect.com