London: Kimathi Mafafo – Ebullience

London: Kimathi Mafafo – Ebullience

Artist Kimathi Mafafo presents with „Ebullience“ a new exhibition at the Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery, running from February 22nd till March 16th.

Woven portraits of illuminated women appear in a swirl of flowers and foliage, colourful patterns and textures. These delicately embroidered works are representations of what South African artist Kimathi Mafafo describes as ‘a state of ebullience’, a feeling of joy and energy that is connected specifically for her to feminine power and liberation.

Bringing together a bold series of new works that were created in collaboration with women that Mafafo has trained in weaving, her latest exhibition at Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery on Tanner Street in London serves as a joyous celebration of sisterhood and self-love.

unlearn and relearn

Mafafo considers each of her woven works to be part of an ongoing and evolving tapestry that responds to her personal experiences but also to the world around her. This latest series was inspired by her observations of a ‘brave new world in which women are and have reclaimed spaces for themselves to be fully alive’ and her own attempts to understand what that means as an artist, a woman and a mother.

Exuberant Charm, 2023 | Hand and Machine Stitched Embroidery on Fabric | 110 x 97 cm / 43 1/4 x 38 1/4 in

As she explains, ‘My daughter is coming into her womanhood in a world that looks very different from the one I grew up in. In order to raise her in the spirit of the feminine freedom I believe in, I am having to unlearn and relearn some of the lessons I was taught about my body growing up.’

knowledge is passed from generation to generation

In a trio of portraits, we encounter a vision of this newly liberated woman rising up from within a maelstrom of plants and fabrics. In one, her eyes are closed in an expression of bliss as she flicks back her braids and basks in the sunlight, in another her head is lowered as if lost in deep contemplation and in the third she is almost entirely consumed by a swirl of silky ribbons in soft shades of pink and gold. 

A recurring motif in all three of these works, but also throughout Mafafo’s practice, is a loosely circular shape, which appears here in multiples, reminiscent of cells dividing, or else as kind of cocoon around the woman, recalling an egg or a uterus – a symbol of fertility and rebirth. It is also a reference to the circular nature of life and the ways in which knowledge is passed from generation to generation.

In Pensive Mood, 2024 | Hand and machine stitched embroidery on fabric | 176 x 134 cm / 69 1/4 x 52 3/4 in

homage to the women

This idea of exchange is fundamental to Mafafo’s practice. For the past three years, she has been working with two women whom she trained in embroidery and while the compositions are the artist’s own, each woman is provided with the space to express their individuality through the stitches that they make. This results in richly layered surfaces that speak of feminine spaces and conversations. 

‘Pleasure activism (or self-love) advocates the idea that seeking and embracing pleasure is both a fundamental human right and a powerful tool for societal transformation. When we find ourselves at this intersection, we are able to embark on a journey of self-discovery and acceptance, understanding that our personal joy and satisfaction are valid and essential components of a fulfilling life.’

Kimathi Mafafo

In one work, in particular, we see this dynamic represented through three female figures dancing around one another, their limbs overlapping to create a kind of hybrid, collective body. It is the first time Mafafo has depicted more than one figure, perhaps marking a shift away from interiority, but also paying homage to the women that she works with and that surround her, both in the past and the present.

vulnerability and confidence

Elsewhere, the exhibition’s title piece, Ebullience, depicts a goddess-like figure with arms and legs outspread in a pose of pure joy and openness. Beneath her is a male figure, his back turned away from the viewer as he reaches his arms up in a gesture of worship or embrace. As with all of the works in the series, it is a deeply sensual piece, but the experience of sensuality comes from within the woman herself rather than in relationship to the man.

In other works, this same kind of pleasure is realised through a closeness to nature – the feeling of sunlight on the skin, being enveloped in a wild landscape, lost in a tangle of plants and flowers – or other women. For Mafafo, these are the key elements of female empowerment, allowing women to feel safe and supported in expressions of both vulnerability and confidence.

Kimathi Mafafo


22 February – 16 March 
Private View: Tonight,  Wednesday the 21st of February
6:30 – 9 pm

Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery
36 Tanner Street

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