Dan Halter // “Shweshwe” // October-December 2017
“Shweshwe” is a printed dyed cotton fabric widely used in traditional Southern African clothing and is the inspiration for Dan Halter’s (*1977 Harare, Zimbabwe) project.
Early German and Swiss settlers in Southern Africa brought with them “Blaudruck” (“blue print”) fabric which influenced the local production of Shweshwe. In Cologne, Halter will go back to the historical roots of this fabric following the roots of his ancestors. Halter will translate his own family’s story into blaudruck. His family came from Switzerland and his grandfather built a house in Zimbabwe in the 1930s. Halter grew up in that house and after he left home – his parents were attacked in that house. They consequently moved to Germany. Halter will work with a small textile factory in Cologne that still uses the blaudruck method.
The project will end with an exhibition of the fabric works and a program in which the local audience is invited to follow the process and learn about the context and research. There will also be artist talks that will be moderated and more informal discussions in which migration will be discussed with a more global view.
Shweshwe: Originally dyed indigo, the fabric is manufactured in a variety of colours and printing designs characterised by intricate geometric patterns. Due to its timeless popularity, shweshwe has been described as the denim or tartan of South Africa.
The local name shweshwe is derived from the fabric’s association with Lesotho’s King Moshoeshoe I, also spelled “Moshweshwe”. He was gifted with the fabric by French missionaries in the 1840s and subsequently popularised it.
It is also known as “German print”, sejeremane in Sotho and ujumani in Xhosa, after 19th century German and Swiss settlers who imported the blaudruck (“blue print”) fabric for their clothing and helped entrench it in South African culture.
Dan Halter (*1977 in Harare, Zimbabwe) holds a BFA from the University of Cape Town. He lives and works in Cape Town.
Using materials ubiquitous to South Africa and Zimbabwe, Halter employs the language of craft and curio as a visual strategy to articulate his concerns within a fine art context. Through this, as well as through photography and video, Halter addresses notions of a dislocated national identity and the politics of post-colonial Zimbabwe within a broader African context.
In addition to numerous solo exhibitions Halter has participated in international group shows and biennials including US at the South African National Gallery (curated by Simon Njami), Zeitgenössiche Fotokunst aus Südafrika at the Neuer Berliner Kunstverein (NBK), Havana Biennale and Earth Matters at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington DC. He has completed international residencies in Zürich, Rio de Janeiro, Scotland and Turin. Recent exhibitions include the 7th Triennial of Contemporary Textile Arts of Tournai, Belgium and Dan Halter / Mappa Del Mondo at the Nassauischer Kunstverein in Wiesbaden Germany.
Halter’s work also appears in the a number of collections including, The South African National Gallery, UNISA (University of South Africa), University of Cape Town, Scheryn Collection, Artphilein Collection, Pigozzi Collection, SAFFCA Collection, Round About Collection, Rennie Collection and Reydan Weiss Collection.
My artistic practice is informed by my position as a Zimbabwean currently living in South Africa. My work deals with my sense of dislocated national identity, human migration and the dark humour of present realities in Southern Africa. This is largely a backlash due to a history of oppression that continues to manifest today.
I use ubiquitous materials and engage with local popular visual strategies as a form of expression. My work often exploits the language of craft and curio in a conceptual art context. I explore various techniques of fabrication, and this frequently involves collaboration. I use materials that resonate with meaning and there is a narrative element to my art. I engage with history from a contemporary perspective and with the today’s technology.
For the last four years I have worked with Bienco Ikete, a refugee from the DRC. Together we have organised a way of weaving paper artworks.