The next time you’re in Cape Town, South Africa–and I truly hope you will have the chance to find yourself there, it is one of my very favorite places on Earth–and you are wandering the area of the Bo Kaap/Malay district with its rainbow of brightly painted cottages and steep cobblestone streets, seek out a small storefront called MonkeyBiz. Here you will find a wondrous array of beaded animals and beaded human figurines and other sparkling beaded decorations that will drop your jaw. The light plays off the tiny seed beads by the millions of all the inspired artworks. If you’ve already been to souvenir shops and trading stands, you will have seen beaded animals tourists take home as keepsakes, but they are nothing like these. Not only is there true craft skill in the making of these pieces, there is wonderful artistry in design as well.
The MonkeyBiz Bead Project South Africa is a non-profit income-generating bead project that empowers women with sustainable employment and healthcare/education. More than 450 women artists, many of them bringing home the only income for their families, and most of them HIV/AIDS infected and/or affected, have the prime directive to make something unique and beautiful. The results are so playful and exploratory, they put similar work by others to shame. My pale green and black lion is one of the favorite things I’ve brought home from my travels.
The beads and other materials are provided for the artists who mostly reside in the townships outside the city, and the quirky, one-of-a-kind pieces they create and bring back to MonkeyBiz are sold around the world as well as shown in galleries and art shows. You can shop for your own art online. This is a great way to support individual entrepreneurship and increase the vitality of handmade artwork as a viable form of employment. You can also support the organization here (with donations of operating cost or, importantly–and significantly–donations toward the cost of food and soup kitchens supported by MonkeyBiz), or offer your services from near or far as a volunteer.