Theme: South African Essence

Qaqambile (meaning bright light) is a fine-art beading studio that works closely with visual artists to translate their brushstrokes into panels of thousands of beads. ​ Founded in 2004, the project was initiated by Jeanetta Blignaut Art Consultancy, and in 2006, dynamic beaders and businesswomen, Nolubabalo Kanku, Neliswa Skiti and Mandisa Masina, took over the project, seeing in it a sustainable future for themselves, their families and their community. ​ Over the years, the studio’s collaborations with artists such as Tamlin Blake, Liza Grobler, Marlise Keith, Kagiso Pat Mautloa, Doreen Southwood and Lisa Todd have been snatched up by collectors around the world. “There is a light shining on our business,” says Skiti, referring to the fact that their panels have been showcased at fairs such as London’s 1:54 and Milan Design Week, and found homes in collections as far afield as the UK, France, the USA, Canada, UAE, Australia and New Zealand. For Skiti, the decision to take over the business in 2006 was a no-brainer, as beading offered not only financial security, but an escape from her problems, too. “When I’m beading, I’m happy,” she says. “It doesn’t matter if I have family issues, marital problems or if something is bothering me at home, every time I touch beads, I forget the bad things in my life and I just feel joy.” ​ This joy has manifested into hundreds of beaded panels, and over the years, the studio has developed deep knowledge in the fields of colour theory, visual art interpretation and, of course, the incredible art of beading, knowledge that Skiti and her team have used to create their own artworks, too. “We want to tell our story, about life in the townships or in the rural Eastern Cape, so we sketch drawings or take photos from our everyday life, make a collage that tells who we are and where we are from, and bead this onto panels,” she explains. ​ Like all their works, these are a collaborative effort, and at least three beaders work on a single piece, so as to share the load of painstaking labour, to assign the individual strengths of each beader to particular aspects of the design, and also to distribute individual style across the work so that the finished artwork functions as a cohesive piece. The tableaus have become incredibly popular with collectors and tourists alike, and a recent work sold at 1:54 Art Fair, before the doors even opened to the public. For Skiti, who had never been on a plane before becoming a businesswoman, travelling the world and seeing the studio’s work celebrated globally has been an incredibly rewarding experience. But the joy of having found her calling lands closer to home. “The day I got the call to start this project, I told myself, I will never go hungry again, and nor will my family,” she says. “We were starving at the time, but I saw myself travelling, becoming a businesswoman, and doing what I love. Now I hold my head up high, because it has all come true.”

100 Beautiful Things is presented by the V&A Waterfront in celebration of South Africa’s creativity, compassion, ingenuity and resilience. Every week we will be showcasing five amazingly beautiful creative things that make us proud. It is curated in partnership with Platform Creative.