Beads and ornamental beadworks have played an important role in the lives of African people. They reflect group identity, age, gender, social status, fashionable desires and are a vehicle through which people store, exchange and transmit wealth. Nevertheless, beadworks have rarely been the subject of thorough and systematic study because in the West they were considered as handicraft or ornamentation rather than art.
Beats of Beads presents differing styles of beadworks from several groups of pastorals and agro-pastoral ethnic groups of East Africa. Each ethnic group and sometimes even different villages within the group adopted color combinations and developed its own typical styles. With the passage of time, they have also incorporated new materials and created a vibrant fashion scene that stands the test of time.
Beats of Beads features, among others, the works of Cyrus Kabiru, which illustrate the importance of beadworks in contemporary East African aesthetics. Kabiru collects stories, rhymes and scraps, and interweaves them into works that embody the diverse traditions of his homeland Kenya, and Kikyuyu, the largest ethnic group in the country. Kabiru's time in Israel took place in the frame of Africa First, a platform founded to support and promote contemporary art from Afica. His visit in various places - the Western Wall, Masada, or sun-drenched Jaffa - planted story seeds within him that eventually culminated in an African-Israeli artwork.
The exhibition is curated by Idit Toledano in collaboration with Eti Dayan – one of the most competent Israeli tour guides in Africa. Over the past twenty years, Dayan has been living among the Masai Mara in Kenya, and over the past few years, she has noticed that the traditional garments and magnificent beadwork jewels so typical of the ethnic groups in Eastern Africa are gradually disappearing. Dayan has therefore begun to collect items in her journeys through the area, documenting in her photographs the person from whom she acquires the items. In the future, Dayan plans to establish a beadwork museum in Kenya, to preserve the rich and diverse traditions of the hundreds of ethnic groups in the region.