What a fantastic day to celebrate beaded art. We think jewelry and beadwork enriches the world with culture and folklore. Beads have been intertwined with the human experience for ages. Beads are a symbol of behavioral modernity - they note a transition when early humans left a life of pure survival and embraced culture and modern thought. They are truly transcendent. Beads have elevated us. Beads have been currency. They have been status. They have allowed us to express ourselves.
And they are a vanishing aspect of modern culture.
Today we are looking at Selven O’Keef Jarmon. Selven is a fashion designer/ visual artist, and published author from Texas. His work has been featured on television, radio, and magazines. He began moving between the United States and South Africa in 2003 and has been witness to how fragile a culture can be in modern society, even if once mighty. As Selven watched the healthy local beading community in South Africa dwindle, he decided he wanted to make a change by creating art installations that would highlight the traditions that we need to hold dear.
Today, we will take an in-depth look at two of Selven's pieces.
360 Degrees Vanishing is a massive tapestry of beads. The project started as a simple wall of beaded panels. It grew into a mighty cathedral of beads that required the assistance of structural engineers to help complete. We will also look at a smaller project that Selven organized. Leisure Tower was an event that gathered refugees from around the world. The day they got together to create the art piece was a magical event that will speak to the heart of every beader.
Selven put his faith in .024 diameter Soft Flex Beading Wire to hold his beads. The structure he created weighed 3,000 pounds at the heaviest points. This demanded the strongest wire he could find. His research led him to our company. We are proud to be a part of Selven's projects. He is a gifted artist. Soft Flex Beading Wire also got a fun nod in the Houston Chronicle. Our wire is called 'space-age thread'. We won't argue!
From Selven, "The process our thread selection was born out of me and purchasing several different types of thread over the retail counter. When Ms Bulelwa Bam came over from South Africa for the first site visit, we tested them together and the Soft Flex thread stood out and we placed a call to the corporate office and was surprised how helpful they were to assist and work with us on large quantities. Bulelwa took the Soft Flex samples back to the beading communities in South Africa and they did further samples with the larger beads. By the time the first beaders arrived to participate in the project, we had already decided that Soft Flex thread would be the thread of choice."
360 Degrees Vanishing
360 Degrees Vanishing is a beaded art installation. You can view the project, on site, at:
The beads that comprise the 360 Degrees Vanishing structure were all produced in the United States by the lone surviving company still creating such products on shore, The Beadery in Rhode Island founded in 1932. The beads were 23 mm in size and 350,000 plus beads were estimated to have been used in the project.
The structure of the art installation is a mirror for the skin of a lake. Once a pebble is dropped onto the surface, it creates a ripple of concentric circles and then vanishes. Jarmon interprets this ripple as a positive effect.
Selven wanted to produce a work that showcased one culture and made it relevant in another. In this case, he wanted to bring the unique beading culture he observed in South Africa to the Western United States.
Selven moved to South Africa after a discussion with his sister. His sister had lived there while she worked with Habitat for Humanity. Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit organization that helps build, strengthen, and stabilize impoverished communities. They build decent and affordable housing for people that otherwise would have no options. Selven's sister told him South Africa was a land of extremes. Weather, politics, beauty - it sounded like an adventure.
The beading culture Selven witnessed in South Africa had once been a powerful part of the cultural identity. Over time, he saw the beading artisans of South Africa dwindle. This isn't just a local issue, either. The beading cultures in the United States have also seen ebbs. The once proud traditions that had been cultivated and flourished have seen a subsidence and left a void.
The diminishing beading industry has left footprints in thousands of lives. A landscape that was once abundant with bead stores has been replaced with shuttered windows and fast food. Thriving bead shows that once entangled cities with visitors from around the world have returned as trunk shows and small affairs. Countless vendors and artisans have had to take inventory of their lives and move on to different opportunities to keep the lights on.
From Selven, "The angle of this work is to address vanishing ideas within culture that are just disappearing. I am actually using beadwork, which is also vanishing in one country, South Africa, to actually talk about things that are vanishing within the Western landscape. I am hoping, as an outcome, that the viewer looking at this work would begin to think about things that are vanishing in their culture."
Selven hoped to inspire a feeling of connectivity with this art installation. He wanted people to feel as if we are all part of a beaded tapestry. We all have shared stories.
Project coordinator Bulelwa Bam organized the event. She worked with the South African government to bring beaders to Texas to complete the project. The project initially consisted of seven elder beaders and seven young beaders. This would ensure the craftsmanship was passed down to the next generation. When the project completed, the goal would then be to return to South Africa and create a similar installation there.
But the project became a much bigger beast. The seeds had germinated into a mighty branching tree. Eventually, sixteen South African beaders came to Texas to lead the project. Thousands of local beaders and interns were recruited to join in the installation. With the volume of staff, Selven was witnessing a vanishing culture truly receive the spotlight.
Bulelwa holds out hope that this project will grab attention from people across the globe. She wants the beaders that participated to return and thrive in their home communities.
Selven saw beads as an important art medium. Beads have meaning and value beyond tourist curio and knickknacks. He felt that selling beautifully strung designs on the streets had diminished the cultural importance of the beads and the artist community.
Hopefully, projects like 360 Degrees Vanishing will cause people to reevaluate the significance of beads. It would be terrible to see our intimate connection to beads lost to apathy and neglect.
Initially, Selven had hoped to unveil 360 Degrees Vanishing in November of 2014. It seemed like a doable goal. As the months stretched on, money seemed to dominate every conversation. There were costs for acquiring the tools and items needed to complete the installation. There were costs for feeding and housing the artists from South Africa. There were salaries to cover. Money became a terrible specter.
Selven began looking for ways to recover costs and press on. He looked to crowdfunding sites, like Indiegogo. He held public get-togethers and wine tastings to get funds. He was also able to use his celebrity to get donations. Selven was able to contact the South African Minister of Art and Culture and other organizations affiliated with the arts and was able to cover the cost of transporting the South African artists to and from Texas.
During his time in South Africa, Selven help to create the creative community content for a major reality TV show called KWANDA which means wealth and growth spherically. The show aired on prime time TV South Africa for 13 episodes with him being involved in the making of each episode with his team of fashion designers and community seamstresses. The goal of this series was to take five communities that were blighted by poverty and beyond government assistance and to show them how to recover their livelihood. Selven pushed to make these communities learn how to create jobs and secure an income that would help the population rise above the hand they were dealt.
And, in the long run, the ability to leverage costs to get his talented beaders to the location to get the art piece underway.
Keep an eye out for Selven. He is a wonderful visionary. The culture of beads and beaded art is most definitely better for his participation. If you can afford to donate to any art causes, be it time or money, please do so. If we do not continue to foster and cherish the beauty of beads, we may blink and find it gone.
In 2003, Houston based artist, Selven O’Keef Jarmon, began spending time in South Africa. One of the unique elements of working there was the number of enthusiastic beaders. The locals would create incredible beaded art. Selven began his own bead collection. As time passed, he noticed a decline in the visibility of these artisan beaders and began to inquire what was happening to the community. He was told that these beaders had moved on. It occurred to him that if the culture was not maintained and visible, it would be absent in the lives of future generations.
At this point, Selven wanted to organize a project to put beads in different hands. He aimed to give access to beading to cultures and groups that may not have been given that chance. He hoped this would spark a broader conversation about cultural loss and preservation.
Selven was approached by a representative from The Levant Foundation. They were interested in coordinating a project with refugees. This was just the kind of enterprise that would allow him to communicate his desire to introduce beading to cultures that had not been given the opportunity to explore it.
Selven thought about the people he would be working with - their lives. They had come from places of detriment and woe to a place that may would seem ideal for a better life. Selven thought of the hope they would have. The new sense of freedom and possibility that would have been given to them.
Selven mused about the word 'leisure' and how it related to the new lives of the refugees. On the surface the word may seem unusual, but leisure has weight when you think about the word. There is an expansiveness to it. Leisure is respite and freedom. Leisure is the opportunity for exploration and a break from a hard scrabble existence. Selven had an image of rocking chairs when he thought of the word leisure. He thought about idle time and peaceful calm.
Selven proposed his ideas to The Levant Foundation. He wanted to do a social sculpture piece. He would build seven rocking chairs with tower backs. Each chair would have a letter from the word leisure. The letters would be beaded. The Levant Foundation contacted Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston and UNICEF and the project was launched.
Around sixty representatives, from thirteen countries, were brought together. Twenty-two different languages were spoke between the group. The people in attendance hailed from all corners of the globe - Yemen, Iraq, Guatemala, Syria, and more. The ages and social groups were as varied and colorful as the beads they were given.
Interfaith Ministries provided the room. Selven watched as strangers assisted and befriended each other. The room was an incredible place of diversity and rewarding encounters. Selven counts this beading session as one of the best he has ever experienced. At one magical point, the UNICEF team decided it would be fun to have people come to the podium and tell everybody their names, countries of origin, and then a song would be played that they loved. By the time people started coming to the podium, there was dancing in the room and nobody was a stranger.
The work on the beaded letters continued as the room filled with the energy of dance and love. Selven watched two Syrian boys, maybe six or seven years old. He smiled as he noticed them making return visits to a bowl of candy in the room. The two boys began running and playing. They were happy. Selven saw comfort and joy in them. And he realized these children had come from a land devastated by continuous war. Despite the horrors they may have witnessed, these two were comfortable enough to visit everybody in the room, spreading joy and feeling the shared bond.
The refugees gathered in that room completed the beaded rocking chairs. All had walked into a room of unfamiliar faces. And all had finished a work of art as friends. Beads had brought dissimilar cultures together that day and united them.
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Blog contributor Thomas Soles loves Jazz Age writers and crunchy french fries. His favorite gemstones are Lapis and Pietersite. His favorite hobby is day dreaming. And his favorite mustache is Freddie Mercury's. As you can see, he has a healthy (or possibly unhealthy) sense of humor. You can write to him at Thomas@SoftFlexCompany.com