Ubuhle Women: Beadwork and the Art of Independence
Ubuhle Women: Beadwork and the Art of Independence is a spectacular overview of a new form of bead work, the ndwango (“cloth”), developed by a community of women living and working together in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The plain black fabric that serves as a foundation for this exquisite beadwork is reminiscent of the Xhosa headscarves and skirts that many of them wore growing up. By stretching this textile like a canvas, the artists use colored Czech glass beads to transform the flat cloth into a contemporary art form of remarkable visual depth. Using skills handed down through generations, and working in their own unique style “directly from the soul” (in the words of artist Ntombephi Ntobela), the women create abstract as well as figurative subjects for their ndwangos. Ubuhle means “beauty” in the Xhosa and Zulu languages and well describes the shimmering quality of light on glass that for the Xhosa people has a special spiritual significance.
Ubuhle was conceived in response to the profound social and cultural transformation of modern South Africa as a result of migration and economics. Established in 1999 by two women—Ntombephi “Induna” Ntobela and Bev Gibson—on a former sugar plantation in KwaZulu-Natal, Ubuhle began as a way of creating employment for rural women by combining traditional skills and making them profitable. By incorporating a skill that many local women already had—beadwork, a customary form of artistic expression for generations of South African women—and teaching it to those who did not, they began to provide women with a private source of income and a route to financial independence.
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, Washington, DC.
This exhibition is funded in part by the Friends of the Godwin-Ternbach Museum, Kupferberg Center for the Arts, and Queens College, CUNY. Education programs and initiatives are supported in part by the Milton & Sally Avery Arts Foundation, and public funds from the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with NY City Council.