Lema Shamamba’s embroidery (Photo: The Single Object)
Lema Shamamba’s embroidery (Photo: The Single Object)

SocietyApril 20, 2021

The Single Object: The embroidery with a story to tell

Lema Shamamba’s embroidery (Photo: The Single Object)
Lema Shamamba’s embroidery (Photo: The Single Object)

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.”

Watch The Single Object episode one: Chainsaw

Need help?

Phone support

0800 88 33 00 National Rape Crisis helpline. Find helplines and websites for those affected by sexual violence in your own area at rapecrisis.org.nz

0800 623 1700 HELP Auckland – free from any phone, 24 hours a day, every day

0800 733 843 Women’s Refuge crisis line — free from any phone, 24 hours a day, every day.

0508 744 633 Shine Helpline — free from any phone, 9am to 11pm every day.

0800 456 450 It’s Not OK info line — free from any phone, 9am to 11pm every day.

Online support

You can ask for help online through the Women’s Refuge Shielded Site service available on popular New Zealand websites.

The service is private and won’t show up in your browser history, so you can get help without anyone finding out.

  1. Go to a New Zealand business website that offers the service, such as The Warehouse, Countdown and Trade Me.
  2. Click on the Shielded Site logo, usually at the bottom of the website:
  3. You can ask the Women’s Refuge for help, make a plan to leave and learn how to stay safe online.

The Single Object is produced in association with Objectspace. For more stories in the series, click here.

Made with the support of NZ On Air.

Was this the light that the prime minister stared at while designing the traffic light framework? Probably not tbh. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver
Opinion

Excuse me, what colour is this? 

Attention drivers and other people who have from time to time looked at traffic lights: this is a scandal.
Image: Archi Banal

Can crypto be used for good?

Cryptocurrency enthusiasts are raising money for charity, but doubts remain about how well the model can work.
Mad Chapman, Editor
The Spinoff has covered the news that matters in 2021, most recently the delta outbreak. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

Get The Spinoff
in your inbox

Society