Beadwork and the Art of Independence
May 23 through August 16, 2020
On view in the Atrium, Blackmon, and Weil Galleries
Ubuhle Women: Beadwork and the Art of Independence showcases a new form of bead art, the ndwango (cloth), developed by a community of women living and working together in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The artist community Ubuhle was established in 1999 by Bev Gibson, a local resident, and Ntombephi “Induna” Ntobela, a migrant laborer from Bizana in the Eastern Cape, on a sugar plantation north of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal. Together they created a platform where local women could use the beading skills they had inherited as a means of achieving their own financial independence.
The black fabric on which the Ubuhle women work is reminiscent of the Xhosa headscarves and skirts which many of them grew up wearing. Stretching this textile like a canvas, artists can transform the flat cloth into a contemporary art form with colored Czech glass beads. Using skills handed down through generations and working in their own unique style “directly from the soul,” according to Ntobela, the women create abstract as well as figurative subjects for their ndwangos.
Ubuhle means “beauty” in the Xhosa and Zulu languages; it describes the shimmering quality of light on glass, that for the Xhosa people has a particular spiritual significance. From a distance, each panel seems to be formed from a continuous surface, but as each tiny individual bead catches the light, the viewer becomes aware of the meticulous skill that went into each work and the scale of ambition: a single panel can take more than 10 months to complete.
The featured Ubuhle Artists will be Ntombephi Ntobela, Nonhlakanipho Mndiythata, Zondille Zondo, Zandile Ntobela, and Thando Ntobela.
Ubuhle Women: Beadwork and the Art of Independence was developed by the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, Washington, DC in cooperation with Curators Bev Gibson, Ubuhle Beads and James Green, and is organized for tour by International Arts & Artists.
Ntombephi “Induna” Ntobela, My Sea, My Sister, My Tears, 2011, glass beads sewn onto fabric, 25 3/4 x 25 3/8 x 2 inches, Lent by The Ubuhle Private Collection
Zondille Zondo, I am ill, I still see Color and Beauty: Jamludi The Red Cow, 2012, glass beads sewn onto fabric, 49 x 64 1/4 x 2 inches, Lent from a private collection
Thando Ntobela, Lucky, 2005, glass beads sewn onto fabric, 16 x 16 x 1 inches, Lent by The Ubuhle Private Collection
Ntombephi "Induna" Ntobela, "Tribute to My Sister Bongiswa", 2010, glass beads sewn onto fabric, 21 1/2 x 27 3/4 x 1 inches, Lent by The Ubuhle Private Collection