The artist drawing with the threads that bind us


Mandy Coppes-Martin adjusts threads of raw silk attached to paper. Close up, the fragments appear messy and haphazardly placed. Taking a step back reveals that each strand was painstakingly intertwined to form images – of humans, of animals, and of the interplay between people and the world around them. Though incredibly fine, Coppes-Martin’s art makes a bold statement. “I would describe my work as thin, ethereal, and delicate, which for me represents the fragile relationship that we as humans have with our environment,” she says.

Coppes-Martin makes paper from pulp and intricately crafts objects and images from cotton rags, hemp, sisal, and silk. She juxtaposes the beauty and fragility of these natural materials with a sense of disgust. At the 2016 FNB Joburg Art Fair, Coppes-Martin exhibited a piece consisting of bits of handmade antique lace, cotton, and paper thread that spelled out the word ‘putrid’. The contemporary artist’s use of materials that are subject to tearing, breaking and falling apart is deliberate, reminiscent of the way people treat the earth. “Many of my works tell stories and a lot of them are on how we choose to deny what we are doing to this environment,” she says.

While doing her Master’s in Fine Art, Coppes-Martin travelled to Japan to learn alternate ways of papermaking. After completing her degree in 2004, she took her methods across the world. The visual artist has exhibited in the Phillipines, worked in printmaking in Holland, Germany and Belgium, and ran paper training initiatives in Mozambique and Botswana. In everything Coppes-Martin creates, reminders of our impact on the earth and the responsibility we have towards it are woven in her work. “I feel that art can be a very powerful tool in creating environmental change,” she says. “Through my work, I hope that people are able to see the smaller things in life and in doing so, find solutions to conserve South Africa’s resources.”