The artist shaping her future from the fragments of her past
Lizette Chirrime’s childhood was filled with trauma – and she can’t forget. Instead, she’s using her memories to create art and a happier future. Her pain started when she was sent to live with her often-absent father and oppressive stepmother when she was just seven years old. “My life changed,” she says. “Every day I was beaten. They called me names. They said I was ugly, I was dark. I was just rejected all the time”. The abuse almost broke her. But Chirrime found solace in visits to the sea, discovering an inherent creativity which would bloom into full-blown artistic accomplishment.
Using a variety of textiles and found material, Chirrime creates works that speak back to her past and her womanhood. A recurring theme is the ocean, influenced by tales of mermaids in Mozambique and dreams of the sea. “I return to the ocean because it’s my home. It’s where I feel alive, where I feel healed,” she explains. Chirrime had her first solo exhibition at the Association of Photography in Maputo. But with few opportunities to grow in her home country and surrounded by memories of the past, she moved to Cape Town in 2005. Going from gallery to gallery with photos of her work, she was finally accepted to do a residency at Greatmore Studios. The resulting attention saw her pieces being displayed around the world. She also exhibited at 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London last year. “I’m very proud to be an African female artist. I work for myself and that gives me strength,” she says.
Chirrime’s 2016 exhibition, A Sinfonia da Alma Liberta II (Sounds of a Free Soul), featured large amounts of hessian. The material is often discarded or used for doormats in Mozambique, which is why she so strongly identifies with it. Combined with the saturated hues and busy prints of shwe-shwe, her work remains unmistakably African, the fragments forming spectacular collages of cloth. “Art is a therapy,” she says. “Art doesn’t allow you to keep the anger or the pain or the problems in your heart.” Like the scraps that come together on canvas, Chirrime is using parts of her childhood experiences and influences to stitch her life back together.