It’s a wrap as museum blasts way into yarn-bombing craze

HOOKED ON ART: Yarn-bombing museum staff, from left, Preston Brooks, Simphiwe Nama, Melisizwe Boloti , Emma O'Brien, Natalia Yui and, front, Ingebong Jacobs have transformed the pillars of the NMM Art Museum in Park Drive.  Picture: EUGENE COETZEE
HOOKED ON ART: Yarn-bombing museum staff, from left, Preston Brooks, Simphiwe Nama, Melisizwe Boloti , Emma O’Brien, Natalia Yui and, front, Ingebong Jacobs have transformed the pillars of the NMM Art Museum in Park Drive. Picture: EUGENE COETZEE

THE public art craze of yarnbombing surfaced in Port Elizabeth yesterday, with the facade of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum in Park Drive sporting some rather fetching giant “pillar warmers”.

Also known as guerilla, urban or graffiti knitting, yarn-bombing is a form of street art using colourful displays of knitted or crocheted yarn or fibre.

Museum director Dr Melanie Hillebrand and her staff have enjoyed many months of practice in knit one, purl one – all to show knitting need not be scoffed at any longer as a pastime for slipper-wearing grannies, inept primary school needleworkers or bored housewives.

Hillebrand, whose own love affair with knitting began at the age of 12, said it had seen a massive revival in recent years, with scores of fans even aligning themselves with a special brand of activist called the “craftivist”.

Knitting is not only a craft, but as legitimate a medium for art as any other, tying in with spheres as diverse as anthropology, technology, high fashion and, increasingly, cultural activism, according to Hillebrand.

Yarn-bombing was used by some as a form of protest, she said. It is a social campaign that has seen women – “and many men too” – attaching their knitting to objects as varied as buildings, trees and even sculptures.

In some countries, principled knitters even congregate on the steps of public buildings, like churches and parliament, just to get in the way.

At the museum’s AGM this month, Hillebrand delivered a lecture titled “Will a knitter ever win the Turner Prize?” which focused on how knitwear and textile design were being re-examined within contemporary art.

The talk corresponded with the museum’s recent Journeys in Beadwork exhibition which included several of award-winning knitwear designer Laduma Ngxokolo’s Xhosa-inspired jerseys.

The gallery’s pillars were cocooned in knitting on the day, though the Bay wind meant the installation did not stay up for more than a few hours.

The craze, which began in Europe and the US, has in recent years attracted millions of fans worldwide, including in Britain where the so-called “y-bombers” proudly post pictures of their handiwork on the internet.

And South Africa is not far behind. Two years ago, The Spear artist Brett Murray saw one of his other artworks – a sculpture of Bart Simpson in Cape Town’s St George’s Mall – yarn-bombed as a sign of solidarity for the arts.

The Eastern Cape was first yarn-bombed in 2012, when a giant “M” created out of neon knitwear appeared at Shark Rock Pier and then at the Donkin Reserve in Port Elizabeth.

The colourful stunt, an initiative of Mohair SA, later also saw the giant letter, made from mohair yarn, pop up at the Kirkwood Wildsfees. – Louise Liebenberg

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