Ubuhle: Beadwork and the Art of Independence

The Anacostia Community Museum is pleased to present the exhibition, Ubuhle Women: Beadwork and the Art of Independence, on exhibition through September 21, 2014, featuring the work of artists from the Ubuhle arts organization.

Ubuhle means “beautiful,” and describes the intrinsic quality of the beads called ubuhlalo in Xhosa. The transformation and metamorphosis of the traditional art of beading from decoration and adornment into contemporary artwork, is manifest in the Ubuhle story.

The exhibition showcases a new form of bead art developed by a community of women living and working together in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Ubuhle Beautiful Beads was established and developed by Bev Gibson, a local resident of Kwa Zulu Natal, and Ntombephi Ntombela, a master beader, in 1999. Recognizing the traditional creative talents of rural women, Gibson and Ntombela created the organization to help restore the dignity of victims of poverty and abuse living in the area by providing local women with the opportunity to empower themselves not only through achieving a level of economic stability, but also by giving them the freedom to develop their own artistic visions. Ubuhle seeks to help women take control of their own lives through their own talents, thereby giving them the means to provide for themselves and their children. The organization has been instrumental in providing local women with support to achieve their own potential, and the confidence to envision and believe in a healthy and secure future, free of exploitation and abuse. Ubuhle is also committed to continual training of rural women in the traditional arts of beading to ensure that this traditional skill is not lost.

Ubuhle utilizes traditional skills and honors a cultural legacy that has been passed down for generations. For centuries beadwork has been an integral part of the Xhosa civilization. Ubuhle transforms this age old technique into contemporary arts expression. Abstract in their appearance and masterful in their construction, the beaded panels speak to a new dynamic for the medium. The flat surface of the textile onto which the Ubuhle women bead is reminiscent of the Xhosa headscarves and skirts that many of them grew up wearing. Using black fabric as a canvas and different colored Czech glass beads as the medium of expression, the Ubuhle community has re-imagined the longstanding beading tradition as a contemporary art form. Twenty-nine works are featured, including the masterpiece, The African Cruxifixion.

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