It’s embroidery, but not as you know it. Lema Shamamba’s intricate stitchwork features machine guns, severed limbs, people crying – and the logos of the global tech giants she holds responsible.
CW: Violence, sexual assault
Lema Shamamba fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo when armed militia started killing people in her village. She took the youngest of her three sons and headed for neighbouring Uganda. After being reunited with her other two sons, the family spent a couple of years living under a tree.
The DRC has some of the most mineral-rich land on the planet. That’s what makes it such a valuable location for the world’s largest tech companies. “Those companies, they go there to take those minerals,” Lema says.
“They come with force. The force is what? Is guns. When they come with the guns, you don’t have any option.”
In 2009, Lema was granted an interview to leave Uganda as a refugee. Her interview was on a Wednesday, and on Friday the family flew to New Zealand. They came with no material goods, but plenty of skills.
Now, when Lema isn’t tending her patch at her local community garden in West Auckland, she embroiders. At first, she just embroidered decorations for her house. “Then one day I just think, oh, I need to tell my story.”
Lema’s story is confronting, to say the least. Her embroidery is full of death, suffering and violence. And next to that, the instantly recognisable logos of the global tech giants she holds responsible.
“I can’t blame somebody who doesn’t know that story,” she says. But anyone who sees her embroidery will know her story, and knowing her story comes with a responsibility to act. “They are responsible to say something, to change the Congolese life.”
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