n Image & Text : a Journal for Design - Scars, beads, bodies : and in nineteenth-century "Zulu" beadwork and its photographic imaging

Volume 23, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1020-1491



In the nineteenth century, two imports to South Africa, beadwork and photography, were to impact on the ways in which people presented themselves to the gaze of others. Both required some forms of pointing and stitching, both within the things they constructed, and between the things they constructed and the bodies of those they made visible. Both were imported via colonial intrusion and were used to control the local population by visibly binding them to particular identities. At the same time local populations used these imports to reinforce their own identities and to speak back to the power of the colonists.

The first import, of glass beads to the east coast, resulted in a tradition of beadwork in a multitude of styles. I examine the ways in which beadwork can to be linked to isiZulu-speakers' scarification in the way it is tied to the body, worn and sometimes even stitched into the hair. I argue that these praxes talk of beadwork as a creation of a second level of skin and of a combined, layered set of meanings and identities.
The second import, photography, allowed the different manners of scarring and of wearing beadwork to be recorded over a long time span. By bringing together the indexical function of photography (via Barthes) to record identities, the pointing of the camera at the object to be fixed, the bodies, the scars and the beadwork and, I argue, following Jacques Derrida's (2009 [1978]) notion of "", that the photographs have been laced onto, and entangle irretrievably with, that which they supposedly "represent".

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