Robyn Pretorius in collaboration with Keiskamma Art Project, administered by Spier Arts Trust

Emtonjeni: The Well of Hamburg’s Soul

Acrylic and Embroidered tapestry 

985 x 1205 x 35 mm

Courtesy Spier Collection

Robyn Pretorius explores portraiture to survey likeness, visual interpretation, and storytelling. She aims to convey a celebration of diversity and identity. Her portraiture is driven by the belief that the more we celebrate difference, the more we can feel connected. The ethos of her work is encapsulated by the quote “art exists so that we know we are not alone.” 

Robyn spent a week in Hamburg, Eastern Cape to co-create Emtonjeni: The Well of Hamburg’s Soul with a group of embroiderers from the Keiskamma Art Project. 

 The work invites the viewer to experience the essence of a thriving rural community nestled around an ancient fig tree. It references the history of Hamburg, where the tides of an estuary have both sustained and shaped a vibrant culture. The resilient walls of rondavels, meticulously crafted from seasonal shell sediment of the Sunshine Coast, symbolise the strong foundations upon which this community has flourished. Water, which is both sacred and life-giving, takes centre stage, symbolising the heartbeat of Hamburg in the Eastern Cape.  

“Emtonjeni” is for Pretorius a visual testament to the wellspring of life that flows through this remarkable village, inviting viewers to immerse themselves in the rich tapestry of its history and the community that has been living in harmony with the Keiskamma River. 

A profound connection between the residents and the rolling hills of Emtonjeni, nurtured by the bountiful gifts of fish, cattle, and grasslands, is portrayed with Nozeti Makhubalo’s portrait as central figure. She is one of Hamburg’s respected elders and a founding (still practicing) embroidery artist with the Keiskamma Art Project.