The fabric of a nation: Sewing refugee women help celebrate Mandela’s birthday at CMHR

Tags for The fabric of a nation: Sewing refugee women help celebrate Mandela’s birthday at CMHR

News release details

Free admission from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on July 18

A group of refugee and immigrant women in Winnipeg have created vibrant products from South African traditional fabric to celebrate Mandela's 100th birthday on July 18 and the new exhibition Mandela: Struggle for Freedom at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR).

Women from the One Nation Exchange sewing collective will be on hand at the Museum's Boutique from 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. tomorrow to show off the products they created from South African shweshwe fabric (pronounced shway‐shway) and demonstrate their craft.

Free admission to the Mandela exhibition and other Museum galleries will be offered from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on July 18 to mark Mandela's birthday, which the United Nations in 2009 declared as Nelson Mandela International Day.

WHAT: Refugee sewists celebrate Mandela's 100th birthday

WHEN: Wednesday, July 18, 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m.

WHERE: CMHR Boutique, Level 1, 85 Israel Asper Way

One Nation Exchange is a not‐for‐profit group that invites newcomers to come with their children to make friends, learn sewing, earn some income and practice English while forging connections with their neighbours.

It includes many women from African countries who spent years in refugee camps escaping war, persecution and human rights violations. Their lives reflect the story of repression, resilience and hope in the CMHR's new exhibition about Mandela and the anti‐apartheid movement's fight for justice and human dignity.

The CMHR sourced authentic shweshwe fabric from South Africa that One Nation Exchange transforms into cushions, handbags, coin purses and pencil cases for sale in the Museum's Boutique – with every woman retaining a portion of the proceeds (their names or initials can be found under each leather tag on the decorative cushions).

The history of shweshwe mirrors the evolution of human rights in South Africa, as a fabric introduced by colonizers in plain indigo blue, then gradually altered as South Africans embraced it as their own using vibrant colours and geometric designs.

Shweshwe has also been embedded into the Mandela exhibition's text panels and title wordmark – progressing through each zone from traditional blue and white, to the green, gold and black of the African National Congress, to the bold and colourful patterns of freedom.

Media contacts

Maureen Fitzhenry