30 YEARS OF EMBROIDERY
The Mapula Embroidery Project is one of the most important community art projects in South Africa, assisting over 150 participating women develop artistic skills and creating income to feed and educate their children and improve their lives.
The struggles and triumphs of the women from the Winterveld have been reflected in many of their embroideries over the years. The project was initiated by the Pretoria Club of Soroptimist International and is now administered through the Mapula Embroidery Trust, a registered non-profit organization in South Africa.
As a non-profit, Mapula Embroideries are tax exempt and have been granted Section 18A tax relief for its donors.
Mapula Trust members are all volunteers and consist of embroiderers and professionals including a lawyer and accountant.
In the past 30 years, the embroiderers have developed an intricate system involving design, production, and development of artistic and business skills. In addition to sales of the embroideries, the project is also supported by donations that help purchase equipment such as sewing machines and assist families of the project members.
The Sisters of Mercy who live and run an education and skills training center in the Winterveld, provide the embroiderers with the use of a workspace free of charge and have been involved with the project from the beginning.
The Winterveld, where the Mapula women live and create, is situated 70 kilometres northwest of Tshwane (Pretoria), a rural area in South Africa. It has a complex and troubled history as a result of political, social, economic and gender forces that have left the area under-developed and many residents unemployed, poor and vulnerable.
This situation led to the founding of the Mapula Project in 1991 and has been reflected in many of the embroideries over the years. Mapula means Mother of Rain.
Of the founders Janétje van der Merwe has sustained her involvement in Mapula to the present. The praise poem captured in embroidery and presented to Janétje in 1999 embodies the impact the project has had on the lives of the women in the Winterveld and their heartfelt gratitude to Janétje. ‘Long may Janétje grow as old as the mountain.'
Apart from learning a skill, the embroiderers are all part of the Mapula Embroideries community.
From humble beginnings the women’s work now hangs in museums and private collections worldwide, and is sought after by tourists, conference organizers and both local and overseas buyers. Quilters from all over the world visit the project in the Winterveld regularly.