presented at Paris Fair ART ÉLYSÉES, Gallery Baudoin Lebon from 24th to 28th October, Champs Élysées Paris


(From the catalogue SUPER BORING, „Wayne Barker – threading through history“ by Carol Brown, excerpts p.84-85)


These are two-dimensional canvasses rendered in beads. They seduce and dazzle transforming Barker’s familiar images into a new South African context. Although I am aware that to impose a linear development on Barker’s work may sometimes seem somewhat incongruous – neither his life nor his thinking is linear – but, looking at these works in the context of his career that progression is obvious. Nothing is as simple as black-and-white, lines can be curved and so both progression and digression can and do exist together in his work. The linearity comes from having an authentic vision to which he has remained true in the twenty five years of his art production.

It is necessary to pause and consider the history of beadmaking in Southern Africa. The region is famous for this tradition which is millenia old and has adapted to modern circumstances in a most inventive way.  But where did beads come from and when? Like most things, as we are recently discovering, they were first made in Africa, where the production of beads occurred alongside the discovery of glass, up to 30 centuries ago. Today most of the beads in South Africa are imported from European sources, following trade routes from the Czech Republic and Venice established in the 16th Century. This rich and complex history of ancient production, African trade routes, European in way we now interpret beaded works.

Beadmaking was already widely practised at the time when Pierneef was being heralded as a hero of the South African art community, but the attitudes and taste of the time considered the practice no more than an ethnic curiosity. Patterns of South African art museum and corporate collecting have been well documented and it is a fact that it took more than fifty years Post-Pierneef for these  art collections to acknowledge that beaded works formed part of our artistic lexicon. This was due in part  to a western influenced hierarchy of artistic materials but also to the fact of racial and gender discrimination (as beadwork was conceived of largely as women’s work) as well as modernist ideals of what visual art could be. Barker’s beaded paintings now reclaim and restore this history, placing the beadwork in the forefront of the painting and relegating Pierneef’s images to the background.

The process of making Barker’s beaded works is itself a complex one. Barker begins by photographing female models in his studio. Recently his models have largely been women from other African countries, many – if not all – of whom are refugees from their countries of origin. The second stage of the work involves constructing a painting from the original photograph; this painting is then deconstructed using computer generated marks and images. The mechanical art of taking a photograph is transformed through the artisanal craft of the painting, and then again transformed into a machine printed image. This image becomes the template for the beading.

This template is then taken to the beaders’ studio – a triple volume building in downtown Cape Town close to Barker’s studio in Observatory, where there is a hive of creativity and energy. They painstakingly glue strung glass beads onto each work taking several months to fully complete the patterns. This is an undeniably labour intensive process but one which these women say has enriched their own creativity. They describe how following Barker’s lines and working out how to transfer the tones and textures of the print into bead colours has made them more enthusiastic about their own creativity and lent them the inspiration to begin working on their own designs.

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