When I first read about the Siyazama traditional beaded Zulu dolls, I was intrigued with the story of these rural, traditional beadmakers and how they started their doll project. I was fortunate to visit the homestead (pictured here) of one of their most noted, award winning doll makers, Lobolile Ximba, in a remote part of KwaZulu Natal, where I bought one of her white angel dolls. Later, I met with Prof. Kate Wells in Durban, who was instrumental in getting the group going.
The doll makers came together in 2002 for an income-generating project, but so much more happened. A powerful synergy of sitting together to make dolls, sharing information about HIV/AIDS was a transformational process for them. For the majority of these craftswomen, participation in the Siyazama Project was their first opportunity to hear of AIDS and its complexities other than via gossip and rumor. The doll makers shared the information with the other women, often under opposition and duress from the men. They began to stitch beaded tableaux depicting the struggles of women and their growing rage against the AIDS pandemic. Slowly, as the women held fast, the attitudes slowly changed and AIDS awareness came to their rural community. As the bead makers fame and income grew from their doll making, so did the men’s resistance reduce.
The Siyazama Project promotes the role of art and design to affirm indigenous knowledge and skills and as a vehicle to disseminate vital information about HIV/AIDS amongst the most marginalized and vulnerable of people in South Africa – rural women.
The Beaded tableaux and dolls (some of them life sized) of Siyazama have been exhibited at the Michigan State University Museum, in England, Sweden and at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Doll Collections have been commissioned by major collections in the United States and UK.
If you’d like to commission a life sized Zulu doll for a special collection, please let me know and I can help facilitate your needs.