Ubuhle Women: Beadwork and the Art of Independence

Exhibit Details

August 17 - November 10, 2019
Opening Day: August 17, 10 AM - 6 PM
Eldredge, Spratlen, and Armstrong Galleries

This traveling exhibition presents a spectacular overview of a new form of bead art, the ndwango (“cloth”), developed by a community of women living and working together in rural KwaZulu-NatalSouth Africa. The plain black fabric that serves as a foundation for the Ubuhle (Ub-Buk-lay) women’s 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. From a distance, each panel of the ndwango seems to present a continuous surface; but as the viewer moves closer and each tiny individual bead catches the light, the meticulous skill and labor that went into each work—the sheer scale of ambition—becomes stunningly apparent. A single panel can take more than 10 months to complete.

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.

Program Details

Opening Day: Saturday, August 17, 10 AM - 6 PM

10 AM - 6 PM: Maker Station & Ubuhle Pop-Up Merchandise Sales
10:30 AM: Family Guided Tour
2:00 & 4:00 PM: Guided Tours for Adults

Slow Viewing Night: Thursday, September 5, 6 PM

Free and open to the public.

A red and black logo for International Arts and Artists
A black and white logo that says Missouri Arts Council with an outline of the state of Missouri in t

Financial assistance for this project has been provided by the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency and the Edward F. Hilbruner Irrevocable Trust.

Additional support is generously provided by Rob & Sally Baird.