THE Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Art Museum is flying the flag for the Eastern Cape in the UK with an exhibition of beadwork of the Mfengu, Xhosa and Pondo people.
The exhibition is running at the Shipley Art Gallery in the north-east England town of Gateshead, in Durham county, and is already drawing warm reviews from the media.
Museum exhibition officer Simphiwe Nama said the project was part of a cultural exchange programme initiated by the Nelson Mandela Bay metro.
It is the first South African beadwork exhibition Shipley has hosted, and it is being presented in conjunction with beadwork and beaded clothing from elsewhere in Africa – including the knitwear creations of homeboy fashion design phenomenon Laduma Ngxokolo.
Ngxokolo has spoken before of how he got his inspiration from Eastern Cape beadwork but what is not so well known is he spent some time at the Bay museum studying its exhibits, Nama said.
The more than 100 beadwork pieces being showcased at Shipley were sourced from NGOs in Motherwell and Peddie as well as from the art museum’s own collection.
It was a “mixed bag” of contemporary and traditional work, supported by information gathered by the art museum team during research before they left for the UK, he said.
“Some of the teenagers we interviewed said they considered it to be an ‘old thing’ but on the other hand it is still used in many traditional ceremonies and also by designers like Laduma.”
Gateshead is on the River Tyne, opposite the city of Newcastle. Although the area was very different to Port Elizabeth in many ways, it was also quite similar, Nama said. “Like PE, it is not a fancy place. It is an industrial place with a rich history of mine workers.”
Shipley is a recognised national centre for contemporary craft including ceramics, wood, metal, glass, textiles and furniture, making up one of the best collections outside London.
Barbara Hodgson of Newcastle newspaper The Journal described the beaded collars, chest pieces, anklets, bracelets and decorated clothing as “expressions of love” and “about group identity, too”.
Beadwork is traditionally worn during rituals. The exhibition runs until September 2.