Interview: Craftivist Nell-Louise Pollock, stitching memory onto fabric talks about her work for Cape Town Opera’s One in Three- spotlight on GBV awareness

One in Three a compilation of opera extracts -to bring awareness to GBV (gender-based violence)
When: November 25 to December 11, 2022- Artscape, in Stellenbosch and Saldanha
Featured artist: Nell-Louise Pollock
Info: Bookings for the Artscape shows through Computicket and more info at

Free shows: Complimentary tickets Fri Nov 25 at 18h30 Sat Nov 26 15h00. E-mail by November 23 Tickets issued on a first-come-first-served basis. Anyone who has already bought tickets will still be able to attend, and will be refunded in due course. Please email to request free tickets and refund, if you have already purchased tickets

Cape Town Opera is presenting, One in Three, a compilation of opera extracts from George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, Sibusiso Njeza’s Amagokra and Braam du Toit’s Die Kortstondige Raklewe van Anatasia W– to bring awareness to GBV (gender-based violence). The season starts on November 25 and 26 at Artscape. The title, One in Three, references “the horrific proportion of abused women and girls in South Africa”. November 25 marks the start of the 16 Days of Activism against GBV and  is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. There are free performances at the White City Multipurpose venue in Saldanha (December 4) and in the Stellenbosch Town Hall (December 11). Craftivist, Nell-Louise Pollock is the featured artist. Her artwork, Crucified has been used as the poster for One in Three.

Activism and opera

Your embroidered artwork has been used as the GBV concert programme coverWill it also be placed on stage? You are one of the speakers, featured on stage, in between the opera extracts?

Nell-Louise Pollock: My embroidered art piece, Crucified, that is used on the poster and programme cover, will be used on stage, along with a few other embroidered pieces before the opera and during the speeches. My art pieces will be on display in the foyer before and after the opera. I will also be in the foyer, embroidering names of victims of GBV in my letter to the president – Dear Mr President

Crucified– imaging the horrors of GBV

Your embroidered artwork represents the women, children and LGBTQIA+ communities – silenced by GBV. Insights into the image, please?

Nell-Louise Pollock: Crucified, the art piece that I designed and embroidered for the poster is dedicated to South African women, children and the LGBTQIA+ crucified and denounced by our countrymen.

The fabric over our mouths is to keep our abuse and plight quiet and keep us living with the shame of abuse. It shows that we have no voice in our patriarchal society. It is also represents the deafening silence from government in respect to fight against GBV. I used safety pins for several reasons: The safety pin is designed to keep fingers safe from injury, but it is our injured bodies that carry our broken fingers and bones. Safety pins are used for first aid to bandaged wounds; wounds often inflicted by the ones living in our homes. A variation of the safety pins is used for cloth nappies. I used it as a reminder of the babies and children murdered and abused. The person’s eyes are closed, indicating death. The closed eyes are reflects on how we, as a society would rather keep our eyes closed, than to face the reality of GBV and femicide in our country.

Craftivist artist- fight against social injustice

Insights into the term, crafitivist and where it originates?

Nell-Louise Pollock: The word ‘craftivism’ is a combination of the words craft and activism. Betsy Greer, an artist, writer, maker, and speaker, is credited with popularizing the term Craftivism [*Greer 2006 as cited by Bratich & Brush 2011].  In her words, ‘Craftivism is about more than ‘craft’ and ‘activism’—it’s about making your own creativity a force to be reckoned with. The moment you start thinking about your creative production as more than just a hobby or ‘women’s work’, and instead, as something that has cultural, historical, and social value, craft becomes something stronger than a fad or trend’

Craftivism is a form of protest or a means to advance social causes. It is often a social process of collective empowerment, of action and expression; that said, it can also be practiced individually where one person expresses and drives their own initiative in respect of the fight against social injustice; for me it is gender based violence. Collectively we are known as craftivists.

Journey as a GBV craftivist

What triggered your work as a craftivist and your focus on GBV- personal/political/artistic?

Nell-Louise Pollock: My journey with craftivism started in late August 2019 as I stood in front of the Clareinch post office, in Claremont, Cape Town. This is the post office, where I collect my mail and dispatch packages to the customers of my small business. In August 2019, a few days earlier, it was here, in ‘my post office’, where Uyinene ‘Nene’ Mrwetyana was brutally raped and murdered by postal worker Luyanda Botha. Looking at the flowers and messages neatly placed in and around the post office, I got angry.

Gender based violence shaped my life early on. I was held against my will and raped by two men when I was only nineteen- the same young and tender age Uyinene was when her innocence and then her life were brutally taken from her. Fear and resentment have lived with me ever since. I decided that day to use my art to highlight the plight of my country’s womxn and the war that is waged against us every day. I have been a craftivist ever since.

I grew up in a small town, Westonaria, in the North West Province My mom has always been a painter. Even though she could never been a fulltime artist, our house was filled with paintings. I am a self-taught embroidery artist. My journey into the art of embroidery started in 2017 upon the recommendation of my therapist; she encouraged me to use my hands to heal from the trauma after my rape. Through the medium of embroidery, I use thread to express my thoughts. The stitching and composition allow me to practice mindfulness and healing, whilst at the same time creating accessible pieces of art.

Mending threads journey of healing

Mending threads is the name of your business. Can you tell us about how this came about –‘mending threads’ and what drew you to embroidery as a medium? It requires precision and one can get hurt with needles, stabbed and pierced as one works. One is almost wounding fabric – piecing it?

Nell-Louise Pollock: The name Mending Threads was inspired by journey of healing- almost the opposite of what you have referred to above: To mend, sew-up, darn or patch, a damaged piece of fabric: To mend, repair, restore, renew, and rebuild, refers to my own rebuilding process after my rape. I have been drawn to embroidery and fibre artistry for the longest time. My mom and grandmothers all embroidered. I loved seeing the way that the craft of embroidery was being more recognized as an art form. When I started embroidery, it was just for myself – embroidering, stitch for stitch, through my own trauma. It was only later that it turned into a small business.

Dear Mr. Presidentstitching memory onto fabric

During the run of One in Three, you will be in the foyer working on an ongoing project – Dear Mr. President? Insights into Dear Mr President, please? How long have you been working on this artwork?

Nell-Louise Pollock: I began creating this artwork in Cape Town on the first day of the 16 Days of Activism campaign on November November 25, 2021. I will complete it on November 25, 2022, one year later. The statistics for the last quarter of GBV and femicide will only be released later this year [2022]. I will only then be able to finish the last names after that press release goes out. Currently, I have embroidered 1641 names, on 20 metres of fabric.

Dear Mr. President is an open letter to Cyril Ramaphosa. It is horrifying in its simplicity – an embroidered list of names- the names of every woman and child that has lost their life to GBV. Those women and children who were murdered so violently deserve to be remembered; not as a statistic or number, but as a name on a billboard or the front page of a newspaper; a never to be forgotten reminder that needs to become a part of our national collective.

Embroidering each name gives me time to pause and remember them. It’s a time-consuming labour of love that I do daily in honour of each life lost. I am stitching their memory onto fabric; a reminder that their names should be shared and done so with conviction. They are our mothers, our sisters, our aunts, our wives, our grandmothers, our daughters, our granddaughters, and our life partners. They are the backbone of our country.

My hope is to have this letter handed to President Ramaphosa. I want him to roll open the white fabric -like a sacred scroll- and read the names out loud. I want him to be embarrassed by the names embroidered in red thread; a symbol of the blood that continues to drench into our soil, stark against the white fabric of innocence lost. The importance of this being a performance art piece is vital to my message. Every hour, seven women and children are killed, and 120 women and children are raped every hour.

[Statistics released by SAPS 2022/02/22 – as supplied]

Opera journey

How did you get involved One in Three?

Nell-Louise Pollock: I was sent a screenshot by one of my followers on my Mending Threads Instagram page. They thought of me when Cape Town Opera sent out a call for artist to do a poster. I have never designed a poster, but l reached to them to enquire if they would like to display my Dear Mr. President craftivist project in the foyer, before and after the show. I was happily surprised when Magdalene Minnaar [artistic director of Cape Town Opera], contacted me and asked if would like to be the featured artist for One in Three.

Ongoing activism

Anything else to add about your work as a craftivist, your involvement in One in Three and your GBV activism?

Nell-Louise Pollock: My fight continues:  “There are precious lives between these cold numbers.” Graça Machel. 

Crucified: This artwork by craftivist Nell-Louise Pollock is being used as the poster for Cape Town Opera’s One in Three, November 2022. The programme of three opera extracts highlights GBV. “…The safety pin is designed to keep fingers safe from injury, but it is our injured bodies that carry our broken fingers and bones. Safety pins are used for first aid to bandaged wounds; wounds often inflicted by the ones living in our homes. A variation of the safety pins is used for cloth nappies. I used it as a reminder of the babies and children murdered and abused. The person’s eyes are closed, indicating death. The closed eyes are reflects on how we, as a society would rather keep our eyes closed, than to face the reality of GBV and femicide in our country…” Image supplied.
One in Three: Nonhlanhla Yende and Nicole Holm. They are singing in Die Kortstondige Raklewe van Anatasia W. (The short shelf-life of Anastasia W.), presented by Cape Town Opera’s One in Three, November 2022. Pic by Annène van Eeden.

✳ Featured image: Craftivist Nell-Louise Pollock is the featured artist for Cape Town Opera’s One in Three, November 2022- three opera extracts – a focus on GBV. This interview has been marginally edited for length and clarity. Supplied images.