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ICONS OF INDIA/BEADJEWELLED (article first published : 2005-06-7)

Antique Indian gold and contemporary African beaded jewellery showing the creativity of ancient and modern design on two continents meet and dazzle. This touring exhibition opens at the Durban Art Gallery on June 9.

On show is a collection of exquisite handcrafted Indian gold jewellery predominantly from South India, representing a tradition that is thousands of years old. The exhibits are on loan from the Musée Barbier-Mueller in Geneva, together with examples of beaded jewellery from Ubuhle Beautiful Beads in the midlands of Natal.

The Gold of Africa Museum has a special relationship with the Musée Barbier –Mueller: it acquired from it the collection of African gold artifacts now permanently housed in Cape Town and has benefited from loans from this prestigious institution. The most recent loan is a magnificent collection of Indian gold jewellery. Given the level of interest in the collection, the Gold of Africa Museum decided to show the collection in Johannesburg and Durban as well as Cape Town.

The fine examples of a goldsmithing tradition that is thousands of years old represented by the gold pieces, give an insight into the iconography and cosmology of Indian ancient religious and cultural life. While most of the Barbier-Mueller collection once belonged to various individuals, it is believed that some of the pieces, based on their quality and size, originated in temples where images of gods and goddesses are fashioned from stone and metal, then once consecrated, worshipped daily using prescribed rituals.

Among all the art forms, jewellery is probably the most ancient as well as one of the most portable. It is partly due to its portability that styles and designs have endured unchanged; but it is also the reason that very few old ornaments survive.

Based on the lives of gods and goddesses, abstract and obscure philosophical concepts are conveyed in layman’s terms to be easily comprehensible. As in all else Indian, material belongings meanings are assigned even to that which appears merely decorative. Everything is linked in an unbreakable chain—man, the metal, the ornament, nature and god. From the lucky amulet tied to the wrist of a newborn child to ward off the evil eye, to the piece of gold placed in the mouth of a dead person to pay passage to heaven, ornaments and jewellery serve a purpose beyond the decorative.

The establishment of the Gold of Africa Museum by Anglogold Ashanti in 2001 had as one of its founding objectives the stimulation of contemporary jewellery design. In fulfilling this, a collection of beaded jewellery has been commissioned representing traditional African techniques that have taken design inspiration from the Indian jewellery, and have been produced by rural woman. In addition a collection of beaded panels showing how original designs transcend stereotyped categorisation, becoming bejewelled artworks, are juxtaposed with the antique collection.

The beaded pieces have been commissioned from Ubuhle Beautiful Beads a collective of rural woman using their traditional skills to create exquisite works of art, jewellery, and fashion accessories. Ubuhle a project founded by Beverley Gibson and Ntombenhi Ntombela situated in the midlands of Natal, has given the opportunity for these woman to overcome rural poverty build a spirit of self reliance and regain their dignity in producing beauty from quality glass beads.

The bejewelled pieces on exhibition demonstrate how the Indian gold pieces have sparked the creation of a beautiful beaded jewellery collection and unique Artworks. Using traditional techniques and a beaded medium, which is as Indian as it, is African, they reflect the hybrid aesthetic inspired by both.

The exhibition is significant and important to this country in showing how the skills of rural woman can be utilized to create contemporary designs, and how designers into fashion creations and accessories can incorporate their work. Examples are included on the exhibition with the work of the Durban based award-winning couturier Terrance Bray who has incorporated beaded material from Ubuhle onto his creations.

The exhibition presented by the Gold of Africa Museum and supported by Anglogold Ashanti is on display at the Durban Art Gallery until August 21 after which it moves to the Gold of Africa Museum in Cape Town from August to December 2005.




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