Different sized Miyuki and Czech beads (detail). Photo: Beverley Gibson.

“Mesmerizingly Beautiful Beaded Art Captures the Bewilderment of This Time” by Beverley Gibson

Sitting on a blanket under the African sun, Zandile Ntobela, holds the impossibly thin needle and threads it with black beading cotton. She pulls the black fabric onto her lap and gives the beads a haughty glance. They are minute, tiny little jewels glittering and shimmering in the sun, soon to be painstakingly stitched onto the fabric as her hopes, fears, passions and history help her create a beguiling artwork.

Zandile Ntobela threading her needle. Photo: Beverley Gibson.

Different sized Miyuki and Czech beads (detail). Photo: Beverley Gibson.

Zandile Ntobela is an artist of Ubuhle: Beautiful Beads. Driven by a desire to seek financial, medical, and educational security and encouraged and supported by each other the Ubuhle women left their ancestral home, 20 years ago. Finding none in the land of promise, they formed their own group as artists, driven by determination, encouraged by the desperation of their predicament, and fuelled by their tenacity. Gifted in the art of beading they achieved success through the art of beading.

Zandile Ntobela, La France, 2020. Czech and Miyuki glass beads, hand-stitched, 16 x 20 inches. Photo: Beverley Gibson.

Zandile stands proudly as an artist. She stitches her feelings and experiences. Fiercely proud and protective of her designs, patterning and stories, she stitches from her soul. As the beads dance in the African light, they give a living presence to art that is everything except one dimensional.

Zandile Ntobela, I’ve Lost My Head – Flames of Passion Leap from My Belly, 2020. Czech and Miyuki glass beads, hand-stitched, 20 x 32 inches. Photo: Beverley Gibson.

This time feels like a time of isolation: a time when we live in a place we no longer recognise. Trust in the old values has been shattered. We are told to fear schools. Our children’s haven of hope is now a place hiding an unseen virus that is multiplying and spreading a message of death. Hospitals and clinics are to be avoided or entered in trepidation and fear when essential medication is collected.

Zandile Ntobela, The Politician (detail of the head of the Rooster), 2020. Czech and Miyuki glass beads, hand-stitched, 16 x 20 inches. Photo: Beverley Gibson.

In the loneliness and isolation of their existence, this Ubuhle sister finds comfort in the therapy of beading, the art of making art. Zandile returns to the life she was encouraged to escape. Subsistence farming and the teaching of their ancestors saves her and gives her hope. The chicken and rooster in their comical dance provide both distraction and food. The rooster struts around and it is his beauty captured in Zandile’s work. Zandile studies the various poses that mimic human behavior, and so the rooster is created again and again, bead by bead: the Politician, the Vain, the Smug, the Philosopher, the French, the African.

Different sized Miyuki and Czech beads (detail). Photo: Beverley Gibson.

Zandile’s soul screams for clarity and understanding in this bewildering world. Stitching the dialogue intended to capture the conflict that resonates in her soul, mind, and heart, she creates a captivating work.

Zandile Ntobela, The Magnificence of Water, 2020. Czech and Miyuki glass beads, hand-stitched, 51 x 60 inches. Photo: Beverley Gibson.

The artwork is a headless animal with fire burning in its belly, living in an unrecognisable yet beautiful world. It is a piece we look at and wonder how the artist knew what we are thinking and feeling but could not express. Zandile’s art touches us and we weep not only for the artist but in the recognition of our own bewilderment and fear.


Zandile Ntobela admiring her work at the exhibition, Ubuhle Women: Beadwork and the Art of Independence. The Smithsonian Anacostia Museum in Washington DC, 2013. Photo: Beverley Gibson.

Motivated by their love of beadwork and the respect and awe for traditional African skills, Beverley Gibson co-founded Ubuhle Beautiful Beads in 1998 with Ntombephi Ntobela. For over 20 years, she has had the privilege of marketing Ubuhle and acting as a catalyst for artists. Gibson has traveled to The Smithsonian, The Museum of Art and Design, The Chrysler Museum of Art, The Currier Museum of Art, the Ruth Funk Center for Textile Art, and more recently to Paris (Bonne Esperance Gallery). She has a degree in History and English and a diploma in Education. Beverley Gibson is a mother, married to a farmer who breeds magnificent African cattle (the Ankole and Boran), and a part time chef.


  • Rae Gold says

    February 11, 2022 at 8:49 am

    Beautiful article of a beautiful artist

  • Carol Lee Shanks says

    February 11, 2022 at 10:54 am

    Beautiful and moving work. Thank you Beverly Gibson!

  • sarah ashe says

    February 11, 2022 at 11:36 am

    This work is extraordinary, the use of color and of course the technical skills to create it is amazing. I'd love to know more about these artists, are they part of a collective, how do they market their work, etc.

  • Bo Breda says

    February 11, 2022 at 2:20 pm

    I am a 76 year old retired bead artist. Although my eyesight now prevents me from doing the work I love, it is marvelous to see this gorgeous and meaningful beadwork. Thank you.

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