Blanket statement

New exhibition in Cape Town explores 160 years’ of history.

Showcasing the unique and engaging designs of traditional and contemporary Basotho blankets, a new exhibition at the Sanlam Art Gallery in Bellville, Cape Town, will run until 14 June 2024. Titled Sutha ke Fete, which means ‘make way so I may pass’ in Sesotho (an invitation to make way for an imagined passerby wrapped in a richly decorated heritage blanket), the exhibition is the first showcase in the Western Cape of the globally iconic Basotho blankets.


The Basotho blanket is a cultural symbol. A distinctive form of woven blanket commonly worn by Sotho people in Lesotho and South Africa, the blankets are donned to mark different occasions and rites of passage in society. They also hold a rich tapestry of history, dating back around 160 years to when they were first manufactured in England before ending up in Basutoland (now Lesotho), telling intertwining tales of African and England, clothiers and capitalism.


The patterns of the blankets were made possible by the invention of the Jacquard weaving machine during the British Industrial Revolution. Missionaries first brought blankets to King Moshoeshoe I’s nation in 1860, and presented to him as a gift. English traders then established trading posts to meet demand, and began developing new designs, in collaboration with their customers, such as the famed Seanamarena blanket.


Stefan Hundt, curator of the Sanlam Art Collection, says the blankets on display comprise rare wool heritage blankets – some on loan from The National Museum in Bloemfontein – and beautiful blankets made by Aranda, the sole (and oldest in South Africa) manufacturer today.


‘We look forward to welcoming visitors to a memorable exhibition that celebrates the rich history and heritage of Basotho blankets and the shared stories they represent,’ said Hundt. ‘They interweave political commentary and individual expression, with science, industry, and innovation. More importantly, they’re an integral part of the fabric of Basotho culture.


‘Every big moment in Basotho people’s lives is marked with a blanket. The blankets symbolise life itself: new life, shared life and the end of life.’



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