Ubuhle Women: Beadwork and the Art of Independence

July 17–October 23, 2022

Ubuhle Women: Beadwork and the Art of Independence showcases a new form of bead art, the ndwango (“cloth”), 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 with colored 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.


Shown: Ntombephi “Induna” Ntobela, My Sea, My Sister, My Tears, 2011. Glass beads sewn onto fabric.


Ubuhle Women: Beadwork and the Art of Independence was developed by the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, Washington, DC in cooperation with Curators Bev Gibson, Ubuhle Beads, and James Green, and is organized for tour by International Arts & Artists, Washington, DC.

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Supporting Sponsors

Rubens Family Foundation
Logo for Nocon & Associates, a private wealth advisory practice of Ameriprise Financial Services, inc.

Associate Sponsors

Gallery Council of the Memorial Art Gallery logo
Paul Marc and Pamela Miller Ness
Marion Swett Robinson

Contributing Sponsors

FULLMEASURE logo

Fellow Sponsors

Mary Ellen Burris
Logo: Partners & Napier

Friend Sponsors

Dr. Mattie Alleyne
Mark and Mona Friedman Kolko
Theta Alpha Zeta Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta

Additional Sponsors

Joyce Boucher
Dr. Karal Ann Marling

Memorial Art Gallery Endowed Fund Support

Thomas and Marion Hawks Memorial Fund
Robert L. and Mary L. Sproull Fund
Nancy R. Turner Fund for Special Exhibitions