I've known rivers


Exhibition Opening:                        
Saturday, 22nd July 2023, 11 am – 2 pm  

Exhibition Walkabout:                     
Saturday, 5th August 2023, 11 pm – 12 pm  





For more information on the exhibition and media related enquiries, please contact:

Bag Factory Communications Department: Zinhle Zwane (she/her):

Office: +27(0)11 834 9181 & Email: communications@bagfactoryart.org.za

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The Bag Factory is delighted to present the  2023 Cassirer Welz Award Recipient, Bulumko Mbete’s solo exhibition, entitled: I’ve known rivers.

In the past three months of her residency at the Bag Factory, Mbete has explored new ways of working with textiles by researching and trialling different techniques. In this exhibition, the artist establishes an expanding visual language as she makes a departure from her iconic blanket and bead soft sculptures, by presenting new experiments comprised of installation and textile-based artworks. Although aesthetically distinct from her previous oeuvre, the marrow of the thematics explored within her artistic practice are present and expanded upon in this exhibition. She writes:

‘My project endeavours to document and archive the anecdotes of “ordinary people” and their encounters with South Africa's rich and poignant history. I am reflecting on the intersection of issues such as labour, migration, economy, sustainability, ethical forms of creation, gender and feminism, social origin, and social use.’

The title of the exhibition is taken from a poem by Langston Hughes entitled ‘The Negro Speaks of Rivers’, celebrating and recognising the nature multitudinous of Black histories. Hughes references historically significant rivers as symbolic representations of the continuity of Black history.

History remains a prevalent component in Mbete’s presentation of I’ve known rivers. The artist unpacks its layers by her subject matter, materials and the processes used in creating artworks. This is done by exploring the psychogeography of her own familial history of migration, and her engagement with archive material such as family photographs and inherited clothing.

Through wooden sculptures, she maps out and reimagines her family’s journey of migration and discovers how it is situated within the broader context of South Africa’s history. In this exhibition, Mbete references historical methods of working with textiles, which have largely informed her experimentations during the residency period. She writes:

‘I use textile manipulation techniques, including weaving, sculpting, beading, and natural dyeing, to showcase women's labour and histories. This approach will draw on the influences of Southern African textile traditions and will aim to reflect contemporary perspectives on South African history … in the creation of new textile works.’

 Mbete’s fascination with textile is centred around being able to turn a material into something functional or an object of admiration. ‘I have always been inclined [towards textiles], I’m interested in abstractionism, not necessarily aesthetically, but in the [notion] that an idea can be contained within something that isn’t figurative or a symbol in the conventional sense.’

In I’ve known rivers, Mbete probes us to consider ‘challenging and reshaping our relationship with culturally specific textile materials from Southern Africa.

This award has been made possible with the support of Strauss&Co. Fine Art Auctioneers and Business and Art South Africa.