Ghana
BY AMA ATA AIDOO

Where the Bead Speaks
My uncle was the prophetic one,
throwing his beads this way and that,
diving, foretelling,
warnings galore, sweet promising.


One eye on the past, four to the future,
half a dozen or more for now.
He was good if the news was good;
for evil news we blamed the beads.


Made from bones
or fashioned glass,
cut out from stones
or beaten brass


It’s the many human hours, Sister,
it’s the sweat and blood, Brother,
which makes the bead a thing apart
from precious diamonds, opals, and gold.


Turn them this way, shake them that way,
see how they shine incandescent,
see how they glow
in a million hues.


Elegant and enchanting bead,
flowered flawed, folded, or fielded,
you are the true frame of our feasts,
your festivals, fetes, and fiestas.


Give me a bead that’s wrapped in joy;
find me a bead to carry my grief.
We sing of beads, and sing with beads;
just see how well they show on us.


Beads are the zeze of our joyous trails,
the ziz of life when all else fails.
Beads are zany, zesty, zingy,
the greatest zaiku, a grief zapper.


Speak to me of beads, Grandma,
speak to me.
Talk to me of beads, Nana,
talk to me.


She brightened up immediately,
she looked at me with a welcome smile.
Grandma pulled up a stool and sat,
she listened well to me and asked:


“You want a tale on beads, do you?
You want a tale or two?
I’ll tell a tale or two to you.
But to speak to you of every bead,


in words that sing and dance like them,
you and I shall surely need
more than my life in hours and days,
more than your life in weeks and years.


A million lifetimes is not much
if beads are the theme, the thought, the thing.
We dive for beads, we swim, we float,
we mine for beads, we comb the woods.


Koli beads for the infant
on his wrist and on her waist,
cascades of white beads for the mother,
a very fitting celebrant.


There are beads that are tame
like what welcomed baby here;
there are beads that are wild,
lion’s teeth, lightning struck.
And there are beads around my waist,
For only my and my dot-dot’s eyes!!


Have you seen my love tonight?
Asked the ardent warrior youth.
Light of step, curved like a bow,
her eyes were wonders to behold.


She was oiled and very clean,
she was powdered like a queen,
she wore a sarong of the purest silk,
her toes were nestled in their thongs.


Have you seen my love tonight?
She who wore gold beads in her hair?
Then the pretty maiden asked,
who has seen my love tonight?


Who has seen my warrior brave?
he had said no more to war,
he had buried his arrowhead.
His girdle was free of blood and sweat.


He was adorned in his very best,
he was oiled like a king,
with beads of silver in his hair.
Who has seen my love tonight?


They welcome us here in the palest white
and bid us farewell in black,
sometimes blue, and brown, and red,
metallic green, or indigo.


There are beads, by far the most,
that are polished, tarred, and feathered.
There are beads, worked over and under,
elegant hued, thin and narrow.


Beads are the zaffered, the zingiest,
the zenith of all great times.
Cool, calm, and forever collected,
clawed, clayed, or colored,
constantly changing, bead
you are the best, you are the greatest.


So don’t talk to me of the chevron.
Don’t ever talk of it.
Don’t break my ears on the chevron.
Don’t break my ears!!!


As barter for my life and yours,
no gem on earth could fit the bill.
Not gold, and if not even gold,
then what on earth is chevron?


I dread the chevron.
It was a weapon
of oppression,
and not at all . . . a bead.


Seven whole humans for one bead?
And what kind of trade was that?
A layer each of sand and mud
for the lives of our kinsmen?


So what if it was one and not seven?
One soul for a shiny piece of bead?
This sounds like the greatest greed,
this sounds like utter foolishness!


Don’t talk to me of the chevron,
don’t even mention it.
Don’t break my ears on the chevron,
don’t break my ears.


They say that cheap beads prattle,
rattle, and tattle,
but great beads never talk.


Yet if a string of beads is fine,
it sings,
it dances,
it jumps,
and sizzles.


If a string of beads is truly fine,
it can speak in a million tongues.
It will have something for all,
and say the most amazing things.


And every now and every then
every bead laughs out aloud.
There are beads that are smaller
than the hopes of a mean mind.


Though called bodom, as in a dog,
poochy pug, puggy pooch,
bodom beads, they are so big,
they are the elephants of the pack.
They lead the way
and announce the day.


The nature of beads is a mystery,
the how of it, the feel, the glow
of earthly gems: the least and most,
our first and true try to create,
to beautify our human selves.


The best of doors to human hearts,
our spirit’s window to the world,
beads clothe our woes in vivid color.
Beads like angels plead for us.


Beads can lift the heaviest heart.
And like tea and precious brews,
beads can warm us when we are cold,
and cool us when we are hot.


Blessed are the beads
that bring us peace.
Spare us, O Lord, in this lifetime,
beads of war, chaos, and strife.


No beaded strings of calamities,
earthquakes, floods, and famine.
No veritable tsunamis of woe.
Keep us cool and keep us warm.


For each color in the rainbow,
there is a bead, somewhere on earth:
a million years old, if a day,
or shy in its newsness, and done this dawn.


Blue beads, green beads,
yellow beads and grey,
black beads, white beads,
red beads and brown.


Your rise from heaps of your own ash
with more of you than ever were.
You, bead, are an awesome one,
you are the phoenix of the years.


Their making uses endless hours,
the how, the when, the what of it.
The wearing is by a billion souls
whichever way, however much, and everywhere .


Mined and molten
man-made wonder,
raw organic, or cooked, and dried,
forever treasured, forever prized.


Bettered and bartered,
broken and beaten,
burnt or badgered,
bruised and bloodied


you are the never-left-behind,
oldest, ordered, owned invention.
Pure and precious, polished pearl,
still safe, sacred, scraped, or scratched;


Traded, treated, tough in trouble,
unique, unmatched, unbreakable.
Verdant velvet, virginal as rain,
beads are virile, vestal, vain.


Gilded and golden,
there can be no palanquin.
If you are not sitting with the king,
you are the queen,
the soul, and spirit within.


Beads are deserving,
beads are worthy,
wash me some beads to warm my skin,
a token of love, a gift for my kin.


Hollowed and hallowed,
jingled, jangled, juggled,
you are our life’s companion,
the closest friend until the end.


Don’t tell me if there were no beads
something else could meet our needs.
Something what? Something where?
Please keep it there, even if it’s rare.




Curatorial Statement

I think about what controls art and why when I think of “Chevron” by Ciara Newton. I think about the masquerade of 20th century artists who used their colonialism to steal the aesthetics of African art. This artistic passive aggresion stripped the works of their meaning and maliciously employed their power. Ciara Newton’s work counters that malignant force by facing the cinders of charred and strung beads that once held seven human bodies. The chevron now makes me think of how that so-called intrepid art aesthetic of europe still seduces young people today in school systems of the west.

After colonial artists stole from  exploited people and places they stole from the poor, destitute, workers of factories in the 19th and 20th century. This stripped bare fetish for labor aesthetics is called modernism. The Chevron series does not align with that shallow, hollow form of the past. 

The predominant aethestics of contemporary art still flirt with that violence. Newton instead estabished how each body was marred by the aggresion in art from colonialism to now. Her bead choices and treatment remind me that in every seductive contemporary aesthetic taste there is a needs to look up where our visual histories come from.

The white western aesthetic of art denied its genocide in all of these cases. Picasso said, “good artists copy, great artists steal.” When will this habit of theft, so deeply attached to murder, genocide, and exploitation leave our practices? When will the aesthetics of art not require violence?

Kristina Bivona 2022
about jargonist 
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Dimension: 5ft x 5ft x 5ft 60lbs Date: 2018 Materials: Wood, Fire, Ink, Cotton
Originally made of seven layers of colored glass, the Chevron beads’ value equated to approximately seven West African bodies. This ongoing project works to honor the lives destroyed, taken, and undervalued.    If not gold then what on earth is Chevron? Seven whole humans for one bead. A layer each for the lives of our kinsmen. Seven souls for a shiny piece of bead,this sounds like the greatest greed.  I dread the Chevron, it was a weapon of oppression and not at all a bead. So don't break my ears on the Chevron, Don't even break my ears."