Pippa Hetherington in collaboration with Keiskamma Art Project

Cuttings (1820 – 2020)

Installation of 10 garments; textile, embroidery thread and wire

Dimensions variable

Courtesy Spier Collection

Cuttings 1820 – 2020 is a collaborative body of work by visual multi-media artist Pippa Hetherington and the world-renowned Keiskamma Art Project. It was the acquisition of this body of work for the Spier Collection that inspired the idea for a new collaboration opportunity for fine artists, with the embroidery studio. 


Attachment to land is an ever-present source of tension in South Africa with fiercely contested political debate around land reform. People continue to be hurt in this process of reckoning. Land ownership in our country is steeped in our collective – bloody and brutal – history. Tribal wars, Frontier wars, Anglo-Boer wars, and Zulu wars were all the consequence of disputes about land rights: who belonged to the land and who the land belonged to. Stories of loss and violation and heartbreak in these places have become inseparable from the conflicting meanings South Africans read into the land they inhabit. Our shared landscape is our shared history, a history from which we cannot disentangle ourselves.  


2020 marked 200 years since the arrival of the British Settlers in South Africa. Mostly urban dwellers from the cities of England, the 1820 Settlers were allocated land on the southern bank of the Great Fish River in the Eastern Cape on a promise of greener pastures, a new future, and an opportunity to escape from crippling economic hardship in the motherland. The soil was arid and challenging to till, so cattle quickly became a prized local commodity to the British settlers, as they were (historically) to the Xhosa. It was soon apparent to the settlers that they were part of a cohort of recruits who had been strategically enlisted to act as a buffer between the Xhosa people north of the Great Fish River, and the British-ruled Eastern Cape to the south.  


While there are many written testimonies by British settlers, what we know of the Xhosa north of the Great Fish River comes primarily from oral storytelling. One of the best-known stories is that of Nongqawuse, a young Xhosa prophetess who claimed that the ancestral spirits had spoken to her on the banks of the Gxarha River, telling her that the Xhosa nation should kill their cattle and destroy their crops. In exchange, the spirits would drive the British settlers into the sea. She relayed these prophesies to the elders, who then instructed the Xhosa nation to obey what the ancestors had communicated. This led to millions of Xhosa cattle being killed in 1856-7. This tragic action, together with the destruction of crops, led to widespread and devastating famine. 


Two centuries later, a group of artists—female descendants from Xhosa and 1820 Settler families— have come together to share their stories. Using stitching, textile, photography, and fabric, they make art that tells poignantly of their painful, entwined histories: histories that are impossible to disentangle.  


The word ‘Settler’ is an ideologically laden term, given South Africa’s bitter history of racial domination and segregation. But the Keiskamma artists show that we can strive to reconfigure our shared histories – in a way that opens rather than silences – dialogue and healing. By sewing fragments of culturally distinctive or significant fabrics into conversation and binding them together as a whole, the Keiskamma women create beauty from an eclectic, and often surprising, combination of textiles and patterns. The garments become sites of dialogue, not singular conversations, expressing interwoven, rather than parallel, histories and identities.