The Siyazama Project and BCXSY in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa (2009 – present)

In 2009 Editions in Craft initiated the first contact with the Siyazama Project, a collective of twenty women from the rural province of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa who work with traditional beadwork. The vision was to set up a collaboration to develop products together in workshops by linking traditional skills with contemporary design practice and through sharing techniques and exchanging ideas.

For the first workshop in March 2010, the design cooperative BCXSY (Boaz Cohen and Sayaka Yamamoto) from the Netherlands were invited to collaborate with eight women of the Siyzama Project (Lobolile Ximba, Sbongile Ximba, Celani Noyjeza, Princess Ngonephi Ngcobo, Kishwepi Sitole, Tholiwe Sitole, Beauty Ndlovu, Thokozani Sibisi) to design and produce prototypes together.

Beadwork is a strong part of the Zulu tradition. The trade in beads began hundreds of years ago and probably first came to Africa about three thousand years ago. Since the Zulu people could not make the beads themselves, they valued them highly and used them to create many different items. They also weaved messages into them, which were then sent to friends and lovers. Zulu beadwork was thus not only a craft, but it was importantly also a means of communication similar in principle to a written language. Formerly imported from Venice, Italy, the beads now come primarily from the Czech Republic and India. Today the beadwork is still the exclusive terrain of Zulu women, and is the main source of income for many of them.

The Siyazama Project now predominately makes decorative dolls and animals, which are sold at local tourist shops, but the Siyazama project is ready for expansion, especially as the bottom is starting to fall out of the souvenir market.

BCXSY are product and interior designers and their work can be described as an interplay between the value of material, form, history and meaning. They often introduce elements of handiwork in their design.

In researching the beadwork of Siyazama, BCXSY found their inspiration in traditional ceramic vessels – earthenware constructed by handmade coils of clay. Associated with the natural movements of a snake, they wanted the beadwork to be suggestive of the scales on a snakeskin, both in pattern and color. Another idea was to use only locally found and recycled materials in order to keep the production process simple.

Leaving ample room for interpretation and creative input by the Siyazama women, BCXSY developed open-ended sketches for a vase, a lamp and a bowl, which would form the starting point for the workshop. The technical solutions and the shape, colors and patterns were further developed together in the workshop.

The outcome is Coiled – a series of prototypes for three different size vases and a lamp. The bases of the vases are made of recycled pet bottles and left over pieces of fabrics, covered with strands of beads.

Coiled will be an ongoing and unlimited series. Each product will be handmade and unique, and different in shape, colors and patterns.

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