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Art: Ubuhle Beautiful Beaded Panels

Ubuhle [South Africa]  

Ubuhle - Noluvuyo

Approaching London’s National Art Gallery last year, situated to the immediate left of the entrance was a living painting. An expanse of wall that had been planted with approximately 25 various species, totalling over 8000 plants that resulted in myriad colours of leaves that had been cleverly arranged to blend in and bring to life Van Gogh’s A Wheatfield, with Cypresses on which it was based; and from afar simply looked like a giant wall mural. The first time I saw it I did a double-take, having not realised I was looking at a ‘lot’ of plants, and going in for a closer look I just had to pause for a moment amidst the hustle and bustle of Trafalgar Square to marvel at the effect. I was reminded of the living painting when I saw some intricately beaded panels by Ubuhle, from far the effect is the same until you take a closer look and realise that instead of paint, in the case of Ubuhle glass beads are used, giving a grainy effect like painting with different coloured sand.

Akin to a tapestry the resulting effect is incredible, and each panel is unique, and whether abstract or literal seems to tell a story; looking at them I feel like creating one must be a labour of love and can only image how long it takes to bead each one, especially the massive commissioned pieces filling whole walls.


[Image credit: top, Noluvuyo; bottom, Zandile – Ubuhle]

Ubuhle, the Xhosa word for beautiful, is a collective of eight women bead artists and was established in 1999 by Ntombephi Ntombela and Bev Gibson. Now based in South Africa’s Transkei region, what started out as a project helping artists living in rural areas to use their traditional beading skills to earn an income has grown into a revered fine art generating commissions from high profile organisations and being sought after by art collectors worldwide, in addition to being exhibited in galleries.

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