An ode to special women: In conversation with Lerato Motau

By Ticha Muvhuti

At first glance one is drawn to the different facial expressions, the elaborate headdresses and the colourful collars adorned by the women portrayed in Lerato Motau’s Ten Thousand Women, her second solo exhibition currently on at AITY Gallery in Franschhoek. In this form of Black figuration, the artist employs embroidery as a form of painting. Motau uses this layered form of storytelling to celebrate and memorialise the community of women around her, who have been with her through thick and thin.

In this conversation with writer Barnabas Ticha Muvhuti, the artist discusses different aspects of this unique last edition of works.


Barnabas Ticha Muvhuti: Congratulations on marking Women’s Month with your second solo exhibition. Would you please unpack it for us?

Lerato Motau:  My show is about ten thousand women that stood with me. I could not count all of them and I could not name them all on the artworks that I have made for the show. That is why I have chosen the title Ten Thousand Women for those that stood with me, from my mom to my two daughters. The works represent every one of them, their characters, and the way they helped me through my ups and downs. I fell sick last year and some of these women offered spiritual, emotional, and financial support.

Barnabas Ticha Muvhuti: You also acknowledge the community of women who have donated materials which went into this project. Do you consider this some form of collaboration with them?

Lerato Motau: I started embroidery in 2005 when I was doing a learnership at the Craft Council in Johannesburg. I met different women from different countries and each time we met, some of them would donate something in terms of my art. I have kept these gifts for such a long time. I remember Frida donated wool. The late Sue gave me her old, embroidered collars because I wanted to do a series of collars in that year. Other women donated fabrics and scraps of fabric. I thought with art, the more you collaborate or engage in some partnership, the more the work becomes stronger.

The project has a sense of belonging somewhere with people. Even if they have left me or passed away, I still have the piece that they gave me and I wanted these works to also reflect that there are those who are no longer with me, but their spirits live in the work. That includes my sister who passed away last year, I wanted each and everyone to be part of it. I had my first solo exhibition in Johannesburg in 2010. Even with the sixteen artworks that I give away to women that came to the opening of this show at AITY Gallery, I wanted them to be part of this historical moment that is for women and it is Women’s Month, we need to celebrate each other.

Barnabas Ticha Muvhuti: I am sorry to hear about your sister’s passing.

Lerato Motau: At least now I am coping well. The past year was not easy. I even had setbacks of anxiety. On some days I couldn’t cope, but preparing for this exhibition has helped me move forward with life and deal with my anxieties and emotional struggles.