Ubuhle Women: Beadwork and the Art of Independence

Ubuhle Women: Beadwork and the Art of Independence


November 14, 2020 – January 17, 2021
(Closed Nov. 26, Dec. 24-25, and Jan. 1)
(Open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 25 and Dec. 23)

Esther B. O’Keeffe Gallery: North, Main and South Galleries

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. The exhibition is accompanied by a free souvenir Gallery Guide created by the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum in Washington, DC.

An audio tour is available  by visiting https://fourarts.oncell.com/en/index.html. After selecting the exhibit, enter code: 2498 for access.

Virtual Tour

Click and drag your mouse across the screen to explore the exhibition

Learn More

The Smithsonian has created a resource guide which can viewed here.

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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