Beadwork exhibitionTHE debate on whether traditional craft can be considered art is nullified by a unique exhibition showcased over the 2013 National Arts Festival and officially opened this month – becoming a permanent exhibition at the Athenaeum Gallery in Port Elizabeth.

The beaded artworks form part of Route 67, public art journey weaving through the suburb of Central and celebrating the 67 years of Nelson Mandela's contribution to the struggle for democracy, in the city that bears his name: Nelson Mandela Bay.

Route 67 was conceptualised by the Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA), a special purpose municipal vehicle for city development, and funded jointly by the Agency and the National Lotto Distribution Trust Fund (NLDTF).As part of Route 67, 33 Eastern Cape bead workers drew inspiration from 67 Nelson Mandela quotes and generated visual representations of those quotes in the form of beaded artworks. 

In a workshop driven process, the beaders – brought together by Ndileka Qangule – responded to Nelson Mandela quotes that draw on his political and activism musings over 67 years. “The beaders went through various drawing and design phases.

Through a workshop process the concepts and initial designs were developed into 30x30cm beaded panels that now form part of the first of a permanent collection for the Athenaeum and a photo-book, which celebrates both personal reflections on and experiences of the legacy of Nelson Mandela,” said Jacques Nel, of Numb City Productions which manages the Athenaeum.

Nel was also part of the team that lead the workshops. “The process was cathartic, and we believe, drew on the natural talent of the beadworks and expanded it into the realm of art. The piece speaks for itself – splashes of vibrant colour are marked by deep commentary on socio-cultural and political experiences,” added Nel.

“The group certainly processed aspects of their own lives while reflecting on national changes through the lens of Nelson Mandela – the outcome is both animated and introspective.”

The MBDA said the programme falls within its ambit of socio-economic development through public art. It thanked Qangule for the co-ordination of the beading team, the bead-artists for their dedicated work, the Nelson Mandela Foundation for the quotes, J Nel, Paula Paton and Leminah Chifdaza for their artistic guidance, Fritz Schultz for photography and The Trinity Session for their creative project management of the work and book.

The MBDA also acknowledged the contribution of the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory (Nelson Mandela Foundation) to the quotes used in this publication. The Centre of Memory contributes to the making of a just society by promoting the vision, values and work of its Founder and convening dialogue around critical social issues.

“Our closing event will see the women viewing their final products – which amount to an incredible tapestry of handcrafted work, including a photo book – for the first time,” said Dorelle Sapere, MBDA Planning and Development Manager. The exhibition closes on 18 July, but will be on permanent display in the Athenauem coffee-shop, its new home.

The beaders are: Ester Willemse, Thembisa Adams, Miriam Gcukumana, Nompumelelo Mantewu, Nomalungelo Mhtantla, NoKwayintombi Willem, Vuyelwa Shumane, Nozizwe Mtyeku, Priscilla Nopote, Amandla Siguba, Eunice Jacobs, Nosixwe Dingaan, Sindiswa Siugqoto, Nonongwe Celela, Miriam Mbembe, Veronica Mzozoyana, Evelyn Ntshetha, Mbokazi Ndlebe, Sithandile Geleba, Nontwazana Zondani, Hanjiwe Tshalise, Nomathemba Nela, Ntombenthsa Njajula, Milisa Gunuza, Thandi Madluvu, Zoliswa Hoyi, Xoliswa Ncapayi, Ntomizodwa Cekiso, Mandisa Mredlana, Carol Vuso, Nozukile Monde, and Nobesuthu Hanise.

For more information contact Jacques Nel of Numb City Productions on 074-195-9169 or [email protected]