By CCTV correspondent Kate Fisher
Beaded tapestries by South African artists have gone on display at the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum in Washington D.C.. The show features works created by South African women from the Ubuhle artists’ collective in KwaZulu-Natal.
Intricate yet bold, South African bead art is on display for the first time in the heart of America.
“The first thing that I was amazed at was the word Ubuhle. I didn’t even know how to pronounce it until they told me it meant beautiful,” said a visitor.
Popular even with the youngest visitors but why did the museum choose to bring it here?
“Initially it was just the beauty of it. It was just incredibly beautiful work,” said Portia James at Smithsonian. “But then and hearing the story behind the work and the artists coming together it was actually the power of the story also.”
|“The African Crucifixion” by Nontanga Manguthsane, Kalipha Ntobela, Sthembile Majola, Tshengi Duma, Ntombephi Ntobela, Thembani Ntobela and Nonhlakanipho Mndiyatha, 2009 (Image courtesy of Anacostia Community Museum)|
A story of a group of women overcoming the challenges of poverty, AIDS and abuse to make something wonderful but also to make a living. There’s no doubt that the work is visually stunning. But Ubuhle is not just about creating art – it’s about creating independence and empowerment.
“This hasn’t really happened before. These connections between rural women who often have been ignored in the grander picture of things and whose stories haven’t been told. For them to have connections with major institutions like the Anacostia is a rare thing and hopefully it’s something we can develop because the skills are out there,” said curator James Green.
The pieces are sold in galleries in Johannesburg and Cape Town. They take up to 10 months to create, meaning the artist has a very strong personal connection to each one.
|“My Sea, My Sister, My Tears” by Ntombephi “Induna” Ntobela, 2011 (Image courtesy of Anacostia Community Museum)|
“Even the colours of the beads take on the moods they’re feeling, things they’re thinking about,” Green said.
“The sad thing about Ubuhle is since 2006 they’ve lost five artists to HIV/AIDS so a lot of the panels actually function as memorials to Ubuhle sisters who are lost, so they’re very personal objects.”
In part because of this loss the women care for around 15 children. Now they want to create a guild to train them, so that the skills and the work can continue into the next generation.