William Kentridge's Porter Series, Carte l'Europe, (Shower Woman) belongs to a small series of tapestries which the artist began in 2001, and demonstrates his continued fascination with a number of important themes he has worked on throughout his career; namely political and historical transition, shadows and projection. The subject of an exhibition organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2007, these tapestries are at the same time political and poetic as, in this particular example, an animated figure of a woman is depicted taking a shower-unaware of her voyeuristic audience's presence. This figure is then superimposed onto a nineteenth-century antique map of Europe, with the abstract silhouette of the woman dramatically contrasted against the cartographical formality of the chart.
The fabrication of these works involves several stages which begins with Kentridge producing a collage of his chosen composition. He then works in close collaboration with the Stephens Tapestry Studio in the artist's native South Africa to fabricate the finished piece in which hand-picked dyes are used to color the locally spun mohair, which in turn is used to construct the tapestry itself. Using the French Gobelin high-warp technique, the weavers work from the bottom up on a vertical loom, making use of enlarged photographs of Kentridge's collage which are placed behind the loom to act as a template. Reviewing the Philadelphia exhibition in the New York Times, Roberta Smith notes how this particular method introduces a degree of movement into the work that is often absent from more traditional tapestries, "Translating the collages into tapestries is a process of amplification, expansion and refinement. They are drawn and further detailed in thread.New lines are added too, giving the works a sense of flux, as if Mr. Kentridge were rethinking them. The maps are more legible, the edges of the torn paper more assertive. In awaking and giving life to Mr. Kentridge's images, the weaving process could almost be said to animate the collages a sense of visual energy bordering on motion" (R. Smith, "Shadowy Nomads, Writ in Warp and Woof," New York Times, December 31st, 2007).
The depiction of a woman bathing draws on classical European themes that have dominated art history for centuries but by introducing the figure of the African woman, Kentridge's work becomes infused with more recent colonial history and has ensured that he remains resolutely relevant, questioning the current state of the relationship between Africa and her European neighbors.