Valerie Hearder’s African Threads

Posted by Dorothy Lander

Born near Durban, South Africa, textile artist and teacher Valerie Hearder has lived most of her life in Canada, presently in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia.


Keiskamma Stitcher with Red Cow (available on Valerie’s Web site)

African Threads has forged strong fair trade links with women’s sewing collectives in South Africa. In communities and homes burdened by HIV/AIDS, the women express their culture through their craft and often support ten or more people.

Valerie was inspired to start African Threads when she heard a talk by Stephen Lewis about the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign.  A portion of the profit from a purchase from African Threads (dolls, tapestries, textiles, T-shirts, jewellery) is donated to the Stephen Lewis Foundation to support African Grandmothers who care for millions of orphans.

I met Valerie by chance in Mahone Bay — African Threads tapestries are on display in the Mateus Bistro — and we found we had much in common.  I had attended the presentation by Kate Wells — Dolls with Jobs: A visual account of SIYAZAMA — at the annual conference of the Society for the Arts in Health Care (SAH) in Detroit in May 2012.  Valerie knows Kate Wells and her research with the expert craftswomen of Siyazama, in rural KwaZulu-Natal,  who use their bead work to communicate messages for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment — messages that could not otherwise be readily conveyed to an illiterate population.  Moreover, strong cultural taboos around talking directly about sexual practices continue.  (Valerie includes the Siyazama beadwork of these Zulu craftswomen in her fair trade inventory.)  The SAH conference was also the book launch for Kate Wells’ latest book on SIYAZAMA (which means “we are trying” in Zulu), through Michigan State University.


Excerpted from book launch notes:

Throughout the world art has long been used as a tool for cultural, social and economic change. The Siyazama Project, uses traditional and contemporary artistic expression to document the realities of HIV/AIDS and to open lines of communication about the virus. Though based in South Africa, the project has become a model for collaborations among artists, educators and health practitioners.

Prior to this publication, the MSU Museum has been working with artists and educations in South Africa over the last decade, resulting in a 2006 Siyazama exhibition at the MSU Museum, as well as a series of educational programs for MSU and the surrounding community. The Siyazama Project also served as a lead-in to a new “Creativity and Health” initiative the MSU Museum is also involved in.  Curators and educators from the College of Human Medicine, College of Education and MSU Museum are researching ways to connect medical practitioners with the humanities in ways that promote healing and health care practice.


~ by artpoped on July 26, 2012.

One Response to “Valerie Hearder’s African Threads”

  1. Thanks, Dorothy, for writing about African Threads. A delight to meet you and John in Mahone Bay. I’m ordering this book by Kate Wells and hope to get in more Zulu dolls from this doll making group. Valerie


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