Arts Bar hopping in Durban

Durban’s vibrant Florida Road — the buzzing lifestyle hub — is once again the centre for all things culture, art and street vibes. The first Arts Bar Festival invites guests of all ages to immerse themselves in a universe of arts, crafts and music. 

Supported by the Durban Art Gallery — which was the first gallery to recognise African craft as an art in the 1970s — Arts Bar is a combined market and showcase event that opens the street from 4 to 5 June and provides a much-needed fresh platform for African craft to be revived for the people it is made for. 

A much needed platform

Arts Bar Festival, like the microcosm of the floors of music festivals and the intimate interactions of a bar, is an interactive, participative festival showcasing Kwazulu-Natal’s top bead work; décor items; telephone wire art; ceramics; fabric art and upcycled material. 

​​It will also feature a catwalk session showcasing accessories; live drawing for both adults and kids; a pottery demonstration with South African ceramicist, Sbonelo Luthuli; and a drumming session by Drum Shack. 

“The aim of Arts Bar is to provide a much-needed marketing platform for visual artists and crafters. Their businesses had suffered during the lockdown and they have been unable to access their markets locally and internationally,” says beadwork artist and author Hlengiwe Dube. 

The not-so secret language of beads

Hailing from the Valley of a Thousand Hills in KwaZulu-Natal, Dube’s intricate beaded works and cel phone wire creations will be on full display at the Art Bar Festival. As a master beadmaker, Dube will reveal all in her talk,  “The Secret of Beads” on the morning of Saturday, 4 June. 

“For me, it’s the importance of Zulu beadwork as messages of love, caring, and communication. People used to be identified by the use of colour in the way they dressed,” says Dube. 

In her home of the Valley of a Thousand Hills people were lucky to have access to an array of colours that told stories. But it has become evident that people neither  understand the significance of certain colours, nor do they wear these vibrant designs with pride, explains Dube. 

“Our designs are multicoloured, laced with black. For example, red beads say ‘love’, black beads are used for marriage, white for purity, and green for messages of youth or that one is waiting,” says Dube. “The sequence of beads is like writing .… in the alphabet,” she adds. 

The lost understanding and pride in arts and skilled crafts in Africa is another reason why the Arts Bar Festival is an important event that invites and reminds everyone that what they wear says more about themselves than they would think. 

Dube recalls a day where she saw a man wearing a beaded necklace with pride, however he could not have known what the necklace meant because only she — and those who speak the language of beads — would know that necklace spoke a message of rejection. Noting that this man was wearing “a rejection with pride”, laughs Dube. 

Beaded designs with triangles that face down are typically designed to be worn by men, whereas triangles that face up are designed for women. Dube explains that she has seen people who evidently don’t understand what they are wearing has a secret language woven throughout its colours. 

“For me, [craft] is a way of sharing your inner path through your artwork,” says  Dube. “I have made links between love letters talking through the phone through artwork made from telephone wires,” she continues. 

Telephone wire art and design has become so much in demand, that crafters in Kwazulu-Natal can no longer just go to the scrapyard where they would have usually obtained materials. 

Luckily, in Durban there is a store that makes materials similar to telephone wires for local people to continue this craft, and in new colours, providing new avenues of expression.

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Kimberley Schoeman
Kimberley Schoeman is a sophisticated and eccentric wordsmith at the Mail & Guardian. A tastemaker in the making, she is in pursuit of the best in culture, fashion, and style.

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