Exhibition: Worlds on a String – Beads, Journeys, Inspirations

Textile Museum, Canada - Worlds on a String

Exhibition dates: 15 June – 23 October 2016

Universal materials of communication, ornamentation and ritual, glass beads offer extraordinary insight into worlds and world views – microcosms of meaning and symbolism. Cherished around the world, the shared passion for these luminous, kaleidoscopic treasures has sparked global trade, drawing ships across oceans. Media of exchange, currency, identity and status, their language offers unique insight into global trajectories of influence and innovation. Worlds on a String explores beads and beaded objects across time and cultures, a story of journeys and inspirations that speaks to how, through centuries, the bead has informed economic and political relationships, shaping cultural and creative imagination.

With a size that belies their potency, the wide-reaching distribution of glass beads was transformative – a compelling force of cultural impact and political influence. The earliest glass beads were produced in India in 200 BC, and exported to countries along major trade routes to Africa and Asia. From the sixteenth century onwards, beads manufactured in Europe made their way throughout the world, extending colonial relationships, complementing rather than replacing indigenous practices. As artists skillfully merged tradition with innovation, bead-making cultures flourished in response to this new form with a spectrum of visual brilliance and technical innovation that would ultimately influence Europe in return, from popular domestic crafts to haute couture.

Worlds on a String brings together stunning examples of vibrant beadwork from Africa, Asia, the Americas, Oceania and Europe, and explores the process through which beading practices have evolved, echoing and absorbing changing social and political circumstances as this popular new material inflected cultural perspectives and creative practices. The popularity of beads has never waned, their forms and meanings transforming constantly. Today artists continue to work in this compelling art form as a vehicle for creativity and self-expression, as well as strategies of cultural resistance and economic resilience. Worlds on a String includes work by contemporary artists from the Ubuhle community in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa as well as Canadian indigenous art – work that speaks to the significance of glass beads in the ongoing reimagination and reinvention of global traditions and social enterprise.

For more information, visit the website of the Textile Museum of Canada, Toronto, Canada.

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