Stitching and unpicking ambivalence toward womanhood and maternity in works by Ilené Bothma



Ilené Bothma, South African feminist, Maternity, Abject, Knitting, Textile art


Ilené Bothma knits with nylon stockings, stitches with human hair, and performs interventional actions with household furniture. Many of her canvases are vintage handkerchiefs and stockings. The body – specifically female and maternal bodies – is everywhere signalled, but seldom present. The artist also produces meticulously detailed, naturalistic paintings of her own and others’ knitting, embroidery and crochet. Her delicate patterning with hair and her paintings of fabric soiled by bodily fluids  provide a reflective tension within her work that speaks to how narratives of gendered roles and identities are written into representation. What the artist calls her ‘deliberately bad knitting’ is central here (Bothma 2020b). Bothma also creates a narrative for the work itself, encouraging possibilities for the interpretation of creative labour. As Valerie Mainz and Griselda Pollock (2000:3) put it, ‘attention [is] given here to the work process by which an image is itself produced’. What emerges is a foregrounding of women’s ambivalence.






Themed section: Material narratives