For a few weeks, up until the US presidential election, I worked with beadwork designer Pretty Nkogatsi on a piece of wearable art celebrating the forthcoming inauguration of the first female president of the US. On November 8th, our hopes were shattered by the election of a person who promotes hatred, misogyny, and division. A time of anticipated celebration turned into a time for deep reflection. So instead of joyfully announcing SISTER SOURCE CELEBRATES Hillary Clinton, Our initiative took a pensive turn and became SISTER SOURCE REFLECTS on Unity in Diversity. Fortunately, the design lent itself to the reinterpretation.
After a successful 8 year term of the first African-American president, over 62 million people in the US voted for a candidate that played on their fears— racial, social, economic and otherwise. For the millions of American “minorities”, this election ushered in an era of fragmented consciousness —- Wanting to believe and belong in America, but having to look at oneself thru the lens of the dominant other, whose insecurities about shifting demographics were dangerously inflamed by a demagogue who garnered their votes. In 1903 in the book “The Souls of Black Folk”, WEB Du Bois advanced the concept of “Double Consciousness” which describes an individual’s sensation of feeling as though their identity is divided into several parts, making it difficult or impossible to have one unified identity. For a long time, this bifurcated identity was/is a distinctive reality for African-Americans who have to not only view themselves from their own perspective, but also have to view themselves as they are perceived by the outside world. In 2016, an increasingly multi-cultural and pluralistic America, has expanded the number of minority/special interest communities to include, women, latinos, LGBTQ, people with disabilities and more. The current president-elect has presented these communities as needing to be culled, disrespected and generally put in their place. We, the various minority cultural and social groups, are forced to look dismayingly at ourselves through the eyes of hate…our consciousness is bruised, despondent and fragmented.
But there is hope. A possible positive outcome of this era is the unifying of minority communities, progressives and people of good conscience by forming alliances across identity boundaries….We must rise to the challenge of achieving unity in diversity. We must obtain a higher level of consciousness through embracing and celebrating our common humanity. It is appropriate that this art is made in South Africa, a country with one of the most progressive constitutions in the world; where “rainbow” nationhood is an ongoing project and is considered a foundational ideal.
This necklace represents the hope, that even in the face of a populist-inspired threat, the social fabric of America will remain strong and unified in its diversity.
About Pretty Nkogatsi
Pretty’ comes from a long lineage of beadwork artists beginning with her great-grandmother. Taught by her grandmother, Pretty began beadworking at the age of 11 in a small village in South Africa’s Mpumalanga province. Her designs reflect years of experience and a love of beauty and creativity. “The beads talk to me”, she says. “I am always excited to create something new and unique”. Pretty’s designs have graced runways, movie screens and the necks of art connoisseurs. She is constantly sought out by celebrities to make one-of-a-kind pieces for special shows and appearances. As the world begins to appreciate the talent and time required to produce the art (The Unity in Diversity necklace takes 6-8 hours), she hopes to see beadwork enter the world of high fashion and jewelry design.