<< Maggie White <mwhite> >>
I think I would think about not only HOW beads are made but also WHY they are
made and used in art.
I can think of two examples of contemporary artists who use beads in their
work, for totally different reasons and for very different effects. One, Liza
Lou, has an installation currently on view at the Santa Monica Museum of Art
(reviewed in the NYTimes Tues. June 30). I think her work was discussed on
this listserv a few weeks ago. She uses the beads to make a mundane
scene--such as her mother's kitchen--gorgeous and special. There may be many
other associations we have with beads (costumes of Las Vegas dance girls;
evening bags and dresses; the flash, grace and freedom of ice dancers) that
she may or may not have had in mind. She does say, however, that the extreme
labor-intensity of covering an entire installation with beads is an important
aspect of the work.
The second is an African-American artist of Carribean ancestry who does
beadwork sculpture that refers to Caribbean traditional work. His name may be
Manuel Vega (I'm sorry to be so vague; if my phone calls get returned I may be
able to correct this.).I would do some research on African and Afro-Carribean
beading traditions, and then look for local artists who may have included
beads in their work.
Sometimes assemblage artists such as Betye Saar will use pearls or beads
because of who or what they evoke about the past. When strung in a single
line, they can also add a wonderful, sinuous line to a composition.
After learning about the various uses and meanings of beads in many cultures
(and don't forget rosary beads, as well as the royal art of Benin in Nigeria,
where coral beads were an exclusive possession of the king, given to his
family and supporters as a symbol of their rank and closeness to him), you can
have students design and create beads that could carry some sort of meaning in
today's culture, in a mythical culture, and/or in the future.
I think I might also challenge students to think of the associations that
beads bring to mind for them today (perhaps do some writing on this) and then
have them do a work that uses these associations in some way.
The idea here is that beads are not only decorative: they bear meaning, and
can do this on several levels--uniting today and yesterday, this culture and
that of our ancestors.
Good luck - sounds like great fun. My only worry might be that they would get
tired of beads after awhile and maybe having small groups doing research on a
specific time/culture/artist and then reporting out to the group might keep
the unit from dragging on...???