The Art of Beading – Black Bead Artists


The Art of Beadwork

Hi, and welcome to my column about contemporary beadwork. In this iteration, I’m highlighting a few of my favorite Black bead artists

Today I want to give you a brief introduction to some amazing artists and why I love them. All of these beaders deserve their own feature articles, but more on future plans for this column after the important stuff, The Art! As you revel in the diversity of styles, expressions and techniques I encourage you to check out their websites, follow their instagrams, and buy their work.

So, on to what you came here for, incredible beadwork! In reverse alphabetical order because I could never pick a favorite out of these incredible artist, lets start the show!

Ta Meu Bem  || @tameujewelry || www.TaMeuBem.com

Ta Meu (she/her) is a Black, Jamaican American bead artist working out of Los Angeles

Shango #6, beaded mask by Ta Meu Bem of Ta Meu Jewelry

In her Shango mask series, Ta Meu uses imagery that comes from a lineage of Nigerian folklore and worship, while incorporating multicultural beading aesthetics including Russian and Mexican elements.  She says that the pieces are literally and metaphorically heavy. I would add that they have literal and metaphoric weight.

Ta Meu Bem : Don't Shoot hat

Made in 2016, the “Don’t Shoot” beaded hat is, unfortunately, as relevant today as the day it was made.  Regarding this piece, Ta Meu says “Living in this country is drama, but dealing with white culture’s suspicion and prejudice like I’m the cause? Priceless.  I only write in beads when I’m mad.  Expect more soon.  Creativity is an act of resistance against the status quo.”

Beaded mask by Ta Meu Bem. Photography by Nicole Barton Photography

This is the first piece saw by Ta Meu Bem, and it completely blew me away.  On her instagram there is a picture of it in motion that I can watch for hours.  Even in a still photograph, it has so much movement, and such an indescribable color. I feel like it is talking to me and drawing me in, but closing off and pushing me away at the same time. I immediately became obsessed.

Shera Duncan|| Be Exotic Elite Style || @beexoticelitestyle || www.beexoticelitestyle-bees.square.site ||

Shera Duncan (she/her) is a Black bead artist working out of Phoenix, AZ.

Missy Elliot by Shera Duncan Be Exotic Elite Style

Shera has done a number of portraits of people who inspire her, and I love seeing that personal glimpse into what moves creatives. As an artist who sometimes works with their own hair, I guess I was destined to love this piece, but I dunno, I think I would have loved it no matter what. It’s positively iconic (just like Missy).

Beaded Boot by Shera Duncan Be Exotic Elite Style

Shera’s use of color blocking in unconventional places thrills me. There is so much joy and artistry in the colors she chooses and how she combines them. Her work just flat out makes me happy when I look at it which is something I treasure.

Beaded Portrait by Shera Duncan Be Exotic Elite Style

The attention to texture in this portrait captivates me. The evocative texture of the hair, how she incorporates such diverse materials in the face while still being cohesive, the serenity I get from all the soft curves, all of it just thrills me and makes me want to know more about this woman who holds so many multitudes inside her.

Na Chainkua Reindorf ||@ncreindorf || www.ncreindorf.com ||

Na Chainkua Reindorf (she/her) is a Ghanaian bead artist working out of Binghamton, NY

Na Chainkua Reindorf Spill (2019)

I want you to have the same experience with this piece that I did. I want you to look at it, think about it, think about what it is saying to you, the shapes, the textures, the process, everything. Then I want you to take a moment to read the artist statement for the show this was created for.

Fall 2019 by Na Chainkua Reindorf

I could look at this for hours. I probably have. I love that it’s called “Fall” and how it leads me to think of so many different meanings of the word, and how they all apply. See it in motion here

Source (2018-2019) by Na Chainkua Reindorf

At the heart of much of Reindorf’s work is a love and exploration of fabric with an emphasis on West African textiles. When I look at pieces like this I’m reminded of the childhood joy of treasuring scraps of fabric that were to me the most beautiful things in the world. I’ll admit, I often don’t “get” things that might be loosely called minimalist, but Reindorf’s work gets to me in the best possible way.

Kat Nzingha || @katnzinghasdead || www.katnzingha.com ||

Kat Nzingha (they/them) is a queer, non-binary, Black bead artist working out of Philadelphia, PA

For Love (2019) by Kat Nzingha
For Love (2019) by Kat Nzingha photo by Roxanne Drip

Kat Nzingha’s work touches many different mediums but much of their work harkens back to beadwork. In most of what they do there is a reliance on the repetition that is the back bone of almost all beading. For me, and many other beaders, those tiny repetitive motions in service of a larger goal are quite literally a lifeline to some semblance of sanity. They also use beading techniques with items that aren’t considered beads, like hex nuts, and the more you look at it, the more you think, why isn’t a hex nut considered a bead? And, if you are me, the more you think about how we define things and put things in boxes, the more you wonder about what potentials we are missing in people and things and places when we define them.

Another thing I love about Kat Nzingha’s work is all the loose ends. They aren’t just aesthetically pleasing, they demand that you acknowledge the work and time that goes into beadwork. They tell you to think about all the other beading you have seen and wonder how all the string was hidden away so neatly, and how long that took the beader.

Iminus Bahira || @iminus || #iminusdidthat ||

Iminus Bahira (she/her) is a Black/African bead artist working out of the Bronx, NY.

Ghetto Cookie Monster by Iminus Bahira

Two things to know about Iminus’s work: 1) much of it is designed to be wearable art, and 2) she is often inspired by music and musicians. This is one of a series of delightful patches that checks both boxes. It’s based off imagery from a Tory Lanez album, and it’s intended to be sewn onto a jacket. She’s made them in a wide array of colors and materials, but they all have maximum shine and bold colors, and I love imagining them bopping down the street on the back of the perfect jean jacket catching all the light and attention.

Wu Tang Piece Iminus Bahira. collaboration with Khaliph Sharif

“If you live through defeat, you’re not defeated, if you are beaten but acquire wisdom, you have won”  –  Wu-Tang “I’m coming for ‘everything’ he said I wouldn’t acquire in his absence”  – Iminus (quotes Iminus connects to this piece). I love how the nozzle of the spray paint is aiming at the viewer in a defiant, confrontational way.  It feels so appropriate for such a modern day Invictus-esque sentiment. It makes me think of all the times I have funneled rejection, put downs, and stupid ex feelings into making better art.  I wanna be that spray paint, defiant and resilient in the face of adversity.  Knowing that whatever life throws at me, through art I will come out stronger and wiser.

Beaded Piece by Iminus Bahira

I love the improvisational quality of this piece. It feels like wandering through someone’s subconscious mind. Or describing a dream. I also love Iminus’s Instagram because (aside from all the incredible work) she really goes to town with shooting video of pieces and photographing from different angles, which seems to be the best way to capture all the shine and facets, and even the musical inspirations. Check out the videos and angles of this piece.

Demetri Broxton @dbroxtonstudio || https://www.patriciasweetowgallery.com/artists/demetri-broxton/

Demetri Broxton (he/him) is a Blasian (African American and Filipino) bead artist working out of Oakland, CA.

Still N***a (2018) by Demetri Broxton

Demetri tells me that “Still N***a” is one of his favorite pieces and I completely agree. This space is way too limited to delve into everything it says to me about the complexities of masculinity and the Black male experience, but he goes pretty in-depth about this piece on his website, and it’s a really important and insightful read.

DNA & If I Ruled the World (2019) by Demetri Broxton

Demetri draws from a variety of cultural influences including Yoruba, Mardi Gras/Creole, hip hop, graffiti and boxing, and many of his pieces contain elements not visible in pictures such essential oils, Frankincense, Myrrh, and various herbs used for power and protection. Every element has a specific meaning, nothing is superfluous.

Apollo Creed as Muhammad Ali (2019) by Demetri Broxton

Demetri’s work is full of contrasts. American ideals vs American realities, “women’s” work vs “men’s” work in craft and arts, perceptions vs actualities in Black masculinity, hidden power vs invisible power, hard vs soft, divergent cultures at odds…He says his boxing gloves are a stand-ins for the Black male body, but I think they are also apt because there are so many warring concepts in his art, so many ideas that appear to be fighting one another but beautifully come together in each piece.

Celia Jayi||@celiajayi || www.celiajayi.com ||

Celia Jayi (she/her) is a Black bead artist working out of Essex, UK

Beyonce by Celia Jayi

Celia Jayi takes bead embroidery to a whole new level. Literally. Her work piles beads on top of beads in a way that is either totally random or extremely precise, I’m not sure. I just know I love it, and her completely unique style is immediately recognizable.

Galaxy Hoop 4 by Celia Jayi

I love this piece from Celia’s magical “Galaxy” series. I want to swim in it. I want to shrink down and go mountain climbing amongst all the gorgeous colors. Another thing I love is the packaging Jayi creates for her delightful bead kits and the pieces people purchase. True works of art inside of works of art.

Frida Kahlo by Celia Jayi

It is fitting that I am closing with this picture of Celia working on her intense Frida Kahlo portrait. It accompanied a raw, insightful, and heartbreaking post about some of her feelings around being a Black bead artist in a white beading world. The beading world portrayed in publications, galleries, books, etc. can feel very homogenous in terms of practitioners, styles, techniques, and end products, but there is a huge world of beaders who are breaking boundaries in terms of who they are as people, what they are saying with their work, the techniques and subject matter they are choosing, their materials, their demographics and identities, and where beading fits into their lives.

This is the work I want to explore in this column.

In the future, you can expect to see more posts like this, groupings of artists, or pieces, with a thread that connects them all. You can also expect more in-depth features on specific artists, taking deep dives into their process, materials, messaging etc. (although I have no idea how I will decide who to start with, there are so many folks with whom I am low-key obsessed). There are so many things I can’t wait to show you!

Also, I want to hear from you, beaders and beading fans! What do you want to see more of, who should be on my radar, and what you would like to see discussed? Please, reach out and let me know your thoughts (critiques are as welcome as suggestions)!

Thanks for taking the time,

Caldwell (they/them/it)

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