Bringing back to life the ancient and spiritual craft of beading, a co-operative of women from the Khayelitsha township in South Africa are part of an extraordinary contemporary project which celebrates the art form.
These striking folk-art sculptures have been the subject of a sell-out exhibition at Sotheby’s and are held in the Smithsonian Design Museum as part of a collaboration with artists the Haas Brothers. The Shop Floor Project is excited to be showcasing a collection of new works.
About the Project - The Cult of Monkey Biz
Back in 1999 South African ceramicists and African art collectors Barbara Jackson and Shirley Fintz had a “light bulb” moment. Showing a small beaded doll they had in their collection to Makatiso Ngaka, a skilled bead artist they asked her “can you do a doll that looks unique?” and with that Monkeybiz was born.
Word of mouth spread of this empowering project and the register grew to over 450 beaders. Against all odds, it has maintained a sustainable business and is a benchmark for non-profit organisations – Monkeybiz is defined by the fact that it has retained its creative heart.
International acclaim has followed. Known as folk art, Monkeybiz pieces were snatched up by Sotherbys Contemporary Decorative arts for a sell-out exhibition in 2002 and are held in galleries from New York to Tyoko.
AN ANCIENT CRAFT
(above: Tsonga-Shangaan artist. N'wana c. 1950 University of Iowa Museum of Art - Symbols of Self: Art and Identity in Southern Africa)
Traditionally beads through the ages were used not only to adorn the body, but as a measure of value in ritual and economic exchange between locals and foreigners. In traditional African rituals, a fine bead necklace or beaded piece is treasured because it is thought to impart spiritual energy.
Colours are invested with meaning - Pink denotes poverty and the use of pink beads could mean: "you are wasting your money and have no cows to pay for my lobola or You do not love me!" Messages are encoded on a huge range of artefacts including bags, belts, collars and headdresses.
(above: a 19th century beaded apron from the Sotho, held at The British Museum. Object number: Af1983,11.109)
Beading is also central to Sangoma (traditional healers) reflecting the various phases of initiation and rites of passage. With Society taking up a more modern way of life and moving into the cities many of these traditions have fallen away, together with the old beading techniques and culture. Monkeybiz is leading the revival of this venerable tradition by bringing to it a fresh, modern aesthetic.