Uluso—“Against the Dark Night Sky”

June 22–September 8, 2024

Four people stand against a red velvet curtain. Two of the people are wearing brightly colored clothes.
Bobson Sukhdeo MohanlaII (South African, 1928–2003), Untitled #81, late 1960s–early 1970s, Digital C-print on Fujicolor Crystal Archive paper, Purchase Francis Woolsey and Helen Silkman Bronson, class of 1924 Fund, 2024.13.3

This small Spotlight display includes four beaded costumes and accessories from the Zulu- and Xhosa-speaking peoples of South Africa as well as four large-scale color photographs by Sukhdeo “Bobson” MohanlaII (Bobson Studio) of Zulu-speaking clients in gala dress fashionable during the 1960s and 1970s. Beadwork garments are a religious art form worn on ceremonial occasions, when the ancestors—the focus of traditional belief—are invoked, usually with music, dancing, and communal sharing of a sacrificial meal.

In isiZulu, uluso is a metaphor for “against the dark night sky.” The title evokes the stars as points of light, like beads embroidered on dark cloth, and it applies to outstanding human virtues, but its root is in sacrifice for the ancestors. Together, the works on view are meant to complement the adjacent exhibition, Ubuhle Women: Beadwork and the Art of Independence, and highlight the outstanding brilliance of beads and their ability to reflect light as key qualities of this sacred South African art form.

Support for Spotlight is provided by Mary Ellen Weiss Rudolph ’61, P ’98 and James N. Rudolph P ’98.

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