The bead work exhibition has arrived at the Wits Art Museum (WAM). A variety of bead work created by women throughout southern Africa are exhibited from the 1800’s right up to contemporary times.
“We haven’t had a major exhibition of bead work in the last 20 years,” says Professor Anitra Nettleton, Director of the centre of creative arts for Africa.
Veils, aprons, belts and blankets adorned with abundant colourful beadwork is being displayed at the Beadwork, Art and the Body, Dilo tse Dintshi’ exhibition. Items made by women of various ethnic groups.
The Sotho people are popularly known for their traditional blankets and hats, which are fashionable among everybody. But not much is known about the bead
work that is made and worn by seSotho women at certain events and stages of life.
Ndebele, Zulu and Xhosa people also have their own style of beadwork. Their symbolism differs in size and colour. The Ntwana people are also represented in the collection. They are an ethnic group that is made up of Ndebele and Tswana people.
August being women’s month, this exhibition celebrates women’s work. Much of which was stolen by imperialists as ethnographic evidence. Much of the artwork has no known artist or definitive date of creation. The only thing that is clear is that Southern African women were the artists behind the works.
Professor Nettleton emphasized that, “in many ways, bead work became women’s work. ”
Recorded bead work dates back as early as the 1800’s. SeSotho women over time have perfected the art of beadwork, making them out of glass, clay and wood. This fashion trend continues today, African women still adorn themselves with beads. Beads serve as a fashion statement and they tell of ones social status.
Certain beads are worn at particular times of a woman’s life stages. Girls wear aprons when they are initiated into womanhood. When a woman marries she is also adorned with a special kind of beaded veil that shows that she is now taken as a wife. Even when a woman dies, she is buried with her beaded jewellery.
Contemporary artists like Zanele Muholi and Andrew Putter also feature their contemporary bead artworks. Men also feature in modern beadwork. Artists like Laduma Ngxokolo have fused traditional aspects of bead work with modern styles to form exciting pieces.