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South African artwork’s AIDS awareness-raising tour comes to Southwark

The Keiskamma altarpiece, a triptych combining intricate embroidery, appliqué and beadwork, is at Southwark Cathedral until the end of the month.

South African artwork’s AIDS awareness-raising tour comes to Southwark
South African artwork’s AIDS awareness-raising tour comes to Southwark

This is the last stop on its world tour which has included Toronto last year.

The huge work – 13 feet high and 22 feet wide – with two sets of opening doors is the creation of 130 South African women and men.

Each of the ten panels tells a modern story of life today with images depicting loneliness, hardship and confusion and restored pride.

On the front are scenes of mourning where the community is suffering from AIDS. The first opening reveals the never ending circle of village life. The second opening uncovers the bereaved grandmothers assuming responsponibity for their grandchilden.

The altarpiece is opened three times a day at 10am, 2pm and 5pm. There is a ten minute pause before the final layer is shown to all for visitors to examine the detailed work.

"It is a real pleasure and a genuine privilege to welcome the Keiskamma Altarpiece to Southwark Cathedral," says the Dean of Southwark Colin Slee. "It is in the ancient tradition of altar reredos, which were great works of art: they reflected the context of their time and location. This one highlights the challenges of HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa with great beauty and pathos."

Keiskamma embroidered items are on sale in the cathedral shop.

The tryptich's visit is sponsored by Anglo-American, the first large employer to implement free workplace UIV/AIDS treatment programmes.

• The altarpiece is at Southwark Cathedral until Thursday 30 October.

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