BY Annie Waterman | August 9, 2012
While walking among the brightly colored homes and quaint cobble stoned streets of Bo-Kaap, Cape Town, it's hard to miss the vibrantly painted storefront of Monkeybiz. Inside, it is equally colorful, as the vast array of whimsical beaded animals and figurines, made up of minute seed beads by the millions, are on display. Monkeybiz was founded in 1999 in order to revitalize the indigenous art of bead work, while creating employment opportunities for women living in impoverished villages throughout Cape Town. Artists are employed to create funky animals, inspired by their drawings or imaginations, and include brightly colored elephants, pigs, cattle, dolls, black and white checker penguins, and so much more. These beaded animals are bought as keepsakes, each being a beloved art piece filled with vivid colors, textures, stories, and personal expression.
Monkeybiz arose because they were entering uncharted territory. The team would jokingly say, "People could be excused for having thought we were monkeying around.” They are humble and not afraid to poke fun at themselves as they speak of their achievements. Monkeybiz continues to transform communities through an innovative and highly successful program, as it provides job skills, business training, access to nutritious food, AIDS clinics, and a stable source of income for more than 450 artists. Women not only gain valuable skills, but also confidence as many become art educators, community leaders, and bead workshop facilitators.
Monkeybiz is memorable as it embraces the spirit of 'ubantu'- sharing with one another in a common spirit of humanity- in the new South Africa. Monkeybiz pays each artist according to the merit of her work, which creates incentive for continuous improvement and innovation within the community of bead artists. They always strive to deepen their commitment to the philosophy of ubuntu.
Since the apartheid ended in South Africa, the art of bead making has increasingly diminished and poverty has run rampant. Rapid urbanization and the rise of Western materialism eroded the beadwork tradition. Monkeybiz is leading a revival, ironically doing so in the city, and bringing to it a fresh, modern aesthetic. Beading has been integral in many rural African cultures, particularly within the Xhosa, Zulu, Ndebele, and Sotho communities. It is an art that has been intertwined into sacred rituals, initiations, and used for adornment. They are often a measure of value in traditional and economic exchanges. Additionally, in many non-literate cultures, beads have developed their own language in their use of symbolism and color. They suggest messages of all kinds, including love, devotion, and even dishonesty. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, an avid supporter, observes “A project such as Monkeybiz addresses a very deep human need in that it helps people to help themselves.”
Monkeybiz is yet another talented group that will be featured at Artisan Resource™, which debuts this August 19-21, 2012 at the New York International Gift Fair®, held at the Jacob Javits Center and at Pier 92. These fun and whimsical beaded pieces of art can be found at SOURCE’s booth which will be representing an array of approximately sixteen distinctively South African artisan enterprises. SOURCE brings South African design to the global marketplace, and is responsible for the majority of design and craft exports out of the country. Monkeybiz has carefully selected their best beaded products from unique and quirky animals, dolls, coasters, place mats, and a few rubber figures from their recycled tire project.
Sales manager, Sarin Goott points out, "Our goal in attending Artisan Resource is to launch our collection in a dynamic way, and by targeting larger US retailers. We believe that this show is the perfect platform to raise our status onto an international level and for the American market to ‘fall in love’ with our product." Sarin and the rest of the staff are dedicated to making the late Barbara Jackson's dream of making making Monkeybiz ‘Bigger then Barbie’.”
For more information, please visit: http://www.monkeybiz.co.za/