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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The Siyazama Project (KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa)

The Siyazama Project was founded in 1999 and has since been led by Dr Kate Wells, professor at the Durban University of Technology (DUT) as part of ‘Design Education for Sustainable Development’. It was initiated to deal with the urgent need to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic in rural KwaZulu-Natal and was taken on in order to inform and educate a small group of rural traditional beaded doll makers on the concerns and taboos surrounding the AIDS condition. The overall aim of the research is to better understand the effect and effectiveness of beadwork craft as a visual metaphoric mode of expression, and seeks to promote the role of design as a means to spread information about HIV/AIDS.

Today the Siyazama Project functions as a bead craft collective. The most important beaded doll makers in the project are:

Lobolile Ximba, Bonangani Ximba, Fokosile Ngema, Sbongile Ximba, Celani Noyjeza, Princess Ngonephi Ngcobo, Tholiwe Sitole, Kishwepi Sitole, Alexia Mashazi, Beauty Ndlovu and Thokozani Sibisi. They are often joined by their daughters, sisters and peers from their own communities in Muden, Msinga, Inanda, Inchanga, Nuyaswa, Hillcrest and Ndwedwe – all rural areas in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

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BCXSY (Eindhoven, The Netherlands)

BCXSY was founded in 2007 and is a cooperative between designers Boaz Cohen (born in Israel) and Sayaka Yamamoto (born in Japan), based in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. Both are recent graduates of the Design Academy in Eindhoven. Joining their different skills and cultural backgrounds they create a common narrative and have produced various collections such as Play, Change and Forever, which include furniture, carpets, vases, jewelry and unique objects.
Their work has been shown at the Dutch Design Week, Lodz Design, Spazio Rossana Orlandi, Tokyo Design Week, Gwangju Design Week and 21_21 Design Site amongst others.

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