November 18, 2020

Jenny Bennie

I love my embroidered bag produced by the Keiskamma Project in the Eastern CapeThe initiative was started in 2000 in the hamlet of Hamburg to help women with HIV find a way to sustain their families. I acquired this interesting handmade item in 2002 when researching a shipwreck off the nearby coast. It is regularly used for carrying my Bookclub books and inevitably draws favourable comments.

Work done by the Keiskamma group is inspiring. They interpreted the Bayeux Tapestry in their own way and sympathetically depicted the history of the local isiXhosa nation in a similar piece of work.  It now hangs in the South African Parliament. Another of their triumphs is an enormous tapestry of an African version of the Guernica’, which is currently at the Nelson Mandela Art Museum in Port Elizabethafter returning from a world tourThe Keiskamma Project, founded by Dr Carol Hofmeyr, is ongoing and highly successful.

Bag by the Keiskamma Project in the Eastern Cape

Although this piece of fabric is not an outfit as yet, I acquired it many years ago at the National Arts Festival in Makhanda (Grahamstown). The silkscreened material was produced by a local artist in a retro style. I love the design and colours and think the completed garment will make a statement. 

This piece of blue and white Ming china is dear to my heart. It was washed onto the beach at Morgan Bay on the Wild Coast near East London from the shipwreck “Santo Espiritu”, wrecked in 1608. Although I am totally against picking up flotsam and jetsam without a National Monuments permit, the local isiXhosa women make a living from turning these shards into jewellery. It was given to me in good faith and I could not refuse it. I use it to promote discussions about preservation and conservation.

Jenny Bennie is a Consultant Historian and Maritime ArchaeologistShe sits on the advisory board for the No 7 Castle Hill Museum and is Vice Chairman of the Historical Society of Port Elizabeth, South Africa. An historian and maritime archaeologist at both East London and Port Elizabeth Museums for over 30 years, she is also the editor of Looking Back (Journal of the Port Elizabeth Historical Society). Jenny holds a Masters degree in Maritime Archaeology (Rhodes), and is the author of a variety of articles in popular and scientific publications.