Skip to Content

The museum is closed today. View our hours.

Beaded Apron


Mid–20th century


Possibly Zulu
KwaZulu Natal, South Africa
Eastern and Southern Africa

About this artwork

Practiced by girls and women, beadwork has long been a highly admired form of aesthetic expression throughout South Africa. The art form experienced a renaissance in the late 20th century, particularly in rural regions, where bead workers infuse traditional forms with innovative flourishes that showcase creativity and individuality. Unmarried Zulu women make richly patterned beaded aprons like this to wear around the waist, while married men at times wear them across the hip. The apron may come from the Ndwedwe Valley area of the Valley of a Thousand Hills, where the heavy use of black colors in aprons is common. The cross motif at the center likely refers to Christian iconography. Christianity is widely practiced in South Africa, and beadwork is sometimes used as a platform for expressing religious affiliation. The most prominent example of this is the Nazareth Baptist Church (also called the Shembe Church for its founder, the prophet Isaiah Shembe), which features a unique blending of Zulu and orthodox Christian practices. Shembe rituals include group festivals where the faithful sing and dance wearing colorful costumes that include elaborate beadwork.


Currently Off View


Arts of Africa


Northern Nguni


Beaded Apron


South Africa




Beads and thread


Approx. 12.7 × 22.9 cm (5 × 9 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of John Reuter-Pacyna and Jay Zerbe

Reference Number


Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email . Information about image downloads and licensing is available here.


Sign up for our enewsletter to receive updates.

Learn more

Image actions