The Keiskamma Art Project in the Eastern Cape town of Hamburg has helped bring hope and confidence to a group of rural women living in an area plagued by high levels of unemployment. They use their embroidery skills to create tapestries that tell stories reflecting their culture and history.

Did you know?

The locally sourced wool used at the Keiskamma Art Project is hand spun and dyed.

From its humble beginnings in the village of Hamburg in the Eastern Cape, the Keiskamma Art Project has grown into a number of art studios specialising in beading, felt-making, embroideries, ceramics and printmaking.

The project began in early 2000, when artist Carol Hofmeyr began teaching arts and crafts to a handful of local women. They used the plastic bags littering their village as material to crochet hats and bags. As their skills and confidence grew, so did the number of women who wanted to take part.

Today 130 artists, mainly women, work under the leadership of 12 local managers and group leaders. They produce arts and crafts that include cushion covers, wall-hangings, bed linen and bags that are all hand-embroidered with scenes depicting the culture and heritage of the region's Xhosa people.

Over the years, this arts and crafts project has successfully completed a number of ambitious tapestries depicting scenes and themes from their daily lives. These have become highly collectable artworks and have been exhibited all over the world. They have won numerous local and international awards.

Among the best known is the Keiskamma Altarpiece. It was inspired by the Issenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grunewald, which was designed to bring hope to people suffering from ergot poisoning in the 15th century.

The women in Hamburg saw parallels between the story depicted by Grunewald and their friends and family members living with HIV and Aids. They infused their tapestry with local details, telling their story of suffering, compassion and hope that has touched people all over the world.

Another well-known piece is the Keiskamma Tapestry, which depicts Xhosa history over the last 150 years. Inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry, it makes use of beads, wire, thread, Nguni cowhide and even wood to create an extraordinary depiction of Eastern Cape culture and heritage.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

The Keiskamma Trust
Tel: +27 (0) 40 678 1177

How to get here

Turn off the R72 between East London and Port Alfred onto the R345. After 14km on the dirt road you will reach Hamburg. Once in Hamburg, the project is located opposite the Esibonela Store. Be aware that the dirt road can be fairly rough, expecially after rains.

Around the area

Hamburg is close to many beautiful beaches. A heritage project in the town is in the process of constructing a museum, cultural centre and tourist information office, which will permanently house the stories, photographs, arts and crafts of the Xhosa people in the area.

Get around

Hamburg is (mostly) small enough to navigate on foot.

What will it cost

Embroidered items on sale vary in price from R50 to hundreds and even thousands of rands, depending on the scale of the work.

Where to stay

There are a number of accommodation options in Hamburg, as well as in nearby Eastern Cape towns. These range from self-catering units to luxury guest houses.

What's happening

The Keiskamma Art Project is just one part of the Keiskamma Trust, which promotes health and hope through art, music, poverty alleviation projects and educational initiatives. Visit their website for more information on events in the area.

Best buys

You can commission a once-off piece of embroidery art that will provide a unique memento of your time in Hamburg.

Related articles