02.03 2017

Welcome to a little history lesson. Before you start groaning and thinking of dusty old bent artifacts, or sad, slow websites that don’t load properly with very wordy information last updated at least a decade ago… We thought we’d give you some insight into what is actually a fascinating story of how wire-art started, and how it became such a valued, innovative and sought-after contemporary art form. This may still be a wordy post – but if nothing else, it makes one appreciate the value of the items, and how the art form has evolved. Quite an eye-opener really!

Let’s start with the nuts and bolts locally:-

Wire-art is said to have begun in the townships and rural areas, with children (and sometimes their parents) making toys from discarded materials they were able to recover, such as old fence wire, tin cans, bottle tops, etc. Over time, the saleable value of these items was noticed, and people started to make items not only for themselves, but to sell to others.

Bicycles and cars made out of wire were the most popular items to make.

Wire art is now a thriving business and a sophisticated art form, with many producers of wire sculptures supporting families by selling their creations on street corners, at markets, in shops, high-end boutiques and selected art galleries.

So how did these wire sculptures become beaded?

Hard to say exactly, but in Southern Africa, beads have been found in important historical sites across Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

The uses of beads differ widely across the continent and the world, and include:

Relaxation: worry beads are used in many cultures for relaxation, and as amulets to guard against bad luck.

Currency: One of the uses of Aggry beads from Ghana was for exchange and as a way of payment during early trade in Africa. Europeans first collected aggry beads from the West Coast of Africa in the 15th Century.

Games and hobbies: some games were played using beads.

Adornment: historically, beadwork was the insignia of tribal royalty. In contemporary Southern Africa, beads have experienced a revival in popularity and are easily visible in contemporary fashion design, which incorporate cultural as well as individual expression.

Used for souvenirs and to raise awareness: contemporary uses now include beaded souvenirs, such as wild animals, décor items and art pieces. The list continues to grow as the art form evolves.

The use of beads added an additional decorative and colourful touch to the wire pieces.

With the various uses of beads, especially the last two, and with wire being a relatively cost-effective and strong structure for beadwork, it is only suffice to say that this mixing of mediums was a logical next step in the development of this art-form.

Rewind to a decade or so ago, when independent artists had seen the commercial value of handmade wire and bead products and had started selling these informally… As time passed, the craft started evolving as artists started seeing that new products needed to be developed constantly to stay ahead of the growing competitive pack. This coupled with formal organisations opening within the craft industry (Yay, Streetwires!) innovating and refining the quality of the art through skills-training – this once haphazard collection of styles became a respected art-form in it’s own right. And now, even more so as people try and identify with something tactile, familiar, and unique in a fast-paced and sometimes impersonal shopping experience. (a new appreciation for handmade shows as the trends shift away from mass-produced and ‘faceless’ products to those made by hand, accompanied with a story and a certain energy that they carry.)

Taking it to a whole new level

So there you have it…!