Beadwork, Art and the Body
Editor: Anitra Nettleton
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South African beadwork has a rich and diverse history and is abundantly represented in the beaded art pieces in the Wits Art Museum (WAM) collection. Some works date back to the 4th century CE but most date from the 19th to the 21st centuries. Currently numbering over 9 000 items, the three major collecting areas of classical, historical and contemporary African artworks are broad in their geographical range and deep in some local areas of specialisation.
Paying homage to this collection, Beadwork, Art and the Body is a compilation of essays by scholars who have researched and written about the traditions, practices and aesthetic forms of beadwork in southern Africa. The book covers an expansive history of beadwork in South Africa from the 19th century to the contemporary moment. The artists and the beadwork featured range from Sotho-, Tsonga-, Xhosa- and Zulu-speakers, ending with a focus on fashion designer Laduma Ngxokolo, whose work has been inspired by Xhosa beadwork. Questions of ethnic affiliation and beadwork patterns are explored in relation to the different aesthetic forms of beadwork and its use as a marker of identity and status within and beyond communities.