Mfengu | Reviews


Margo Jefferson, “When Fabric is Where Culture Meets Style,” The New York Times, December 13, 2005

“A few days after seeing ‘Rara Avis,’ I went to the Axis Gallery in Chelsea to see ‘Mfengu: Personal Objects and Textiles from South Africa.” It is an elegantly small collection. Skirts, cloaks and headscarves hang on the wall: this is dress as art. It is refined minimalism. (My colleague Holland Cotter cited the delicate severity of Agnes Martin.) The patterns of detailed, whimsical beading made me also think of Paul Klee. And the black headscarves look like constellations, with patterns of pale thread and white buttons that form circular and geometric shapes.

It was tempting to think of this art as timeless. But then there was the fabric, which had once come from cattle skin, and had long since been adapted for use as British military blankets. The second room of the gallery was filled with mannequins dressed in 1960’s clothes – pleated, wrapped, draped, and always marvelously beaded – worn by South African Zulu and Xhosa women.

What a glorious mélange of tradition and innovation!”

– Margo Jefferson


Holland Cotter, “African Art Shows Offer Visions of a Continent That Is Rich With Life,” The New York Times, November 25, 2005

Axis Gallery

“The power of female creativity courses through a small show of South African garments at the Axis Gallery in Manhattan. All but one piece was made by and for women of the Mfengu cultural group. Of several monochromatic skirts, some are white or beige-gray, and one is dyed a dusky ochre, a color associated with the earth, fertility, and menstrual blood. In every case, the surfaces are ornamented with lines of beadwork, as fine and taut as compass needles. The minimalist painter Agnes Martin would have adored the elegant probity of this work, and its message of strength in restraint.”

– Holland Cotter