Ubuhle Women: Beadwork and the Art of Independence
Ubuhle Women: Beadwork and the Art of Independence showcases a new form of bead art, the ndwango, developed by a community of women living and working together in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The six artists featured in the exhibition call their paintings in beads ndwangos, which translates as “cloth” or “rag.” The black fabric on which the Ubuhle women work is reminiscent of the Xhosa headscarves and skirts which many of them grew up wearing. By stretching this textile like a canvas, the artists transform the flat cloth into a contemporary art form colored with Czech glass beads.

Using skills handed down through generations, and working in their own unique style “directly from the soul,” according to 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 it describes the shimmering quality of light on glass that for the Xhosa people has a particular spiritual significance. From a distance each panel seems to be formed from a continuous surface, but as each tiny individual bead catches the light the viewer becomes aware of the meticulous skill that went into each work and the scale of ambition: a single panel can take more than 10 months to complete.

Number of Works::
31 beaded mosaics, plus 6 photographs, and a video
Organized by:
Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, Washington, DC
Bev Gibson, founder of Ubuhle Women; James Green, co-curator
Approximate size:
250-300 linear feet
Moderate security
Participation Fee:
IA&A makes all arrangements; exhibitors pay outgoing shipping costs within the contiguous U.S.
Booking Period:
12 weeks
June 2017—April 2022
July – December 2019; May 2020 – April 2022
Dayton Art Institute, Dayton, OH 
June 24, 2017 through September 10, 2017

Flint Institute of Arts, Flint, MI 
January 21, 2018 through March 31, 2018

National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library, Cedar Rapids, IA 
May 12, 2018 through September 16, 2018

Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA
October 18, 2018 through February 24, 2019

Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, NH
March 23, 2019 through June 16, 2019

Springfield Art Museum, Springfield, MO (reserved)
August 16, 2019 through November 10, 2019

Ruth Funk Center for Textile Arts, Melbourne FL 
February 1, 2020 through April 25, 2020

Painting with Beads: A New Art Form Emerges in South Africa
Smithsonian Magazine, by Vicki Gan, January 14, 2014

Beads that shimmer with aspiration at Anacostia museum
The Washington Post, by Lonnae O’Neal Parker, December 27, 2013

Amazing beadwork means independence for South African women
Dayton Daily News, by Meredith Moss, June 24, 2017

Ubuhle Women: Beadwork and the Art of Independence simply astonishes
Dayton Local, by Amy Dallis, June 28, 2017