Working from Little Farm, Lidgetton in the Natal Midlands they have inspired an international audience with their art exhibition at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC.
The five artists of Ubuhle Beautiful Beads who are sustained soley through the sale of their artwork have taken the skills inherited from their mothers and grandmothers and have created a new art form – the Ndwango. This is the artists’ own word for describing their works and it translates modestly as ‘cloth’ or even ‘rag’. An ndwango is a painting in beads. These artists have employed Zulu and Xhosa beadworking techniques, such as beading directly onto cloth in order to create a canvas with the surface entirely covered in closely strung and intricately woven beaded patterns.
From a distance each ndwango seems to be formed from a continuous surface, but as the beads catch the light and are revealed individually, so the viewer becomes aware of the meticulous skill that went into each work and the scale of ambition: a single ndwango can take more than a year to complete. Ubuhle means ‘beauty’ and it describes the shimmering quality of light on glass that appears on viewing an ndwango – a sense of light that for the artists has a spiritual significance.