Culture and Tradition in African Beadwork meets Contemporary Style at Shipley Art Gallery

By Jessica Keating | 27 April 2012
a photo of a pair of hands threading beads
Exhibitions: Journeys in Beadwork: Culture and Tradition in the Eastern Cape; Journeys in Beadwork: Dialogues in Contemporary Style, Shipley Art Gallery, Gateshead, until September 2 2012

The London 2012 Olympics will see international athletes and visitors stream into the UK this summer, with many of us taking inspiration from the incoming heady mix of cultures.

The Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead has done just this with two new exhibitions exploring African beadwork and its influence on fashion. Once little more than an essential item for clothing and accessories, beadwork has now become both an influence on fashion and a statement of it.

The show seeks to explore not only the history of the craft itself but also the people behind it: their lives; roles in the community and; the modern attitudes towards beadwork.

The exhibition focuses on the beadwork of the Mfengu people of the Eastern Cape, a group who for generations have used fashion as a form of expression and communication.

Their clothing and beadwork was often used to convey a person’s home area, age, marital status and even the number of children they had. Over 180 traditional beaded items of the Mfengu people are on display here, on loan from the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum in Port Elizabeth.

a photo of a male model parading knitwear
MaXhosa Knitwear by Laduman Ngxokolo;
Running alongside is a second exhibition, Journeys in Beadwork: Dialogues in Contemporary Style, which delves into the influence this traditional African beadwork has had on our 21st century fashion choices.

The latest African fashions are being showcased, including a new clothing collection from London Fashion Week alumni, Laduma Ngxokolo, a South African fashion designer who fuses old and new by using traditional beadwork patterns in her very contemporary designs.

Part of the Must see in 2012 programme of events celebrating the London Olympics, the exhibitions are a perfect example of how innovative cultural projects are springing up nationwide in anticipation of the summer ahead.

Open 10am-5pm (2pm-5pm Sunday). Admission free.
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