Kimathi Mafafo is a multidisciplinary artist whose practise ranges from embroidery and oil painting to installation. Born in the semi-arid Northern Cape, Mafafo’s verdant imaginings, characterized by lush greenery and sensuous drapery, are far removed from the dusty mining town where she grew up.
Mafafo’s father G. Rocky Mafafo, a respected water-colourist, encouraged his children to take art classes at the local William Humphreys Museum in Kimberly. She affectionately recalls wandering around the collections of 16th and 17th-century Dutch still-life paintings, entranced by the vitality of their colours and their exquisite level of detail. Inspired by the technicality of these works and under the watchful eye of her father, Mafafo became a technically exacting artist. While her compositions may burst with riotous plant life each leaf and frond remain meticulously executed. Her compositions are seductive in their level of detail yet remain curiously flat, emphasizing their highly staged nature and the narrative element, which is central to her work.
Mafafo’s imagery is partly guided by her desire to celebrate the black female form, inspiring women to embrace their own worth and beauty. Her earliest works are partly autobiographical and tell the story of a woman withdrawing from the urban lifestyle and finding strength in nature and within herself.
Mafafo continues these themes in her latest work as she works alongside Mustapha Saadu – a tailor from Ghana – with whom she has collaborated on a series of embroideries. This latest series, ‘Voiceless’, focuses on women who feel powerless in their relationships due to the weight of cultural expectations.
In Mafafo’s words “These embroideries tell dark stories of women who are trapped under the weight of tradition, living in a dark space and not realising that the world is beautiful! My work shows that she only has to leave, then she will realize that there is more in life”.
Inspired by stories of women around her, Mafafo likens the woman in her narratives to flowers slowly blossoming against all odds, subtly criticising traditional gender roles while at the same time encouraging women to realize their own strength.