Roots partners with NGOs and small start-up companies with ethical and sustainable practices; all organizations that are adding valuable contributions to community programs, conservation efforts, or local and green economies. One of them is Monkeybiz, a non-profit reviving the tradition of African beadwork by empowering women financially and making artists out of crafters.
How did it all start with Monkeybiz?
Back in 1999, Barbara Jackson and Shirley Fintz both, South African ceramicists and African art collectors had a “light bulb” moment. Showing a small beaded doll to a part-time student, Mathapelo Ngaka, who then took it to her mother, Makatiso, a skilled bead artist with the brief “can you do a doll that looks unique?” and Monkeybiz was born. Word of mouth spread of this wonderfully supportive and empowering project and the register grew to over 450 beaders. It has a sustainable business and is a benchmark for non-profit organizations – Monkeybiz is defined by the fact that it has retained its creative heart.
International acclaim has followed. Known as folk art Sotherbys Contemporary Decorative arts snatched up Monkeybiz pieces for a sell-out exhibition in 2002. The vibrant dolls, animals and beaded pictures have enthralled shoppers and collectors in Conran Design. Stores in New York, London, Paris, and Tokyo. Donna Karan has sold Monkeybiz craft art in her New York store DKNY. You’ll also find these iconic pieces at ABC Carpet and Home, a department store that sets trends not only as a New York institution but worldwide.
Monkeybiz is the social responsibility project of Carol Boyes, who has been their biggest benefactor and they have three main principles:
1. To empower women to become financially independent for their families and communities.
Each piece is paid for immediately when the beader brings it on the market days. The artists work from home, therefore, are able to be homemakers as well as to earn every day.
2. To revive the art of beadwork, which has been lost due to modernization and the youth not being interested.
Traditionally beadwork was done to tell a story, or for a particular traditional usage. It was also mainly flat like clothing or jewelry. Monkeybiz uses the traditional methods of beading, but the colors they use are funky and contemporary. The artists bead onto 3D shapes and some very irregular surfaces. The elders in the communities teach the youngsters, therefore, handing down the traditions and ancient crafts.
3. To create a platform for the crafters to become artists in their own right
Every piece has the artists name on it as they sign every piece. Therefore, collectors will follow and collect a certain artist. Monkeybiz also started working in collaboration with some very very big names.
Current support to the artists?
The majority of Monkeybiz artists have known poverty, neglect, and deprivation for most of their lives. Against this background, Monkeybiz has achieved tremendous impact by providing a basic income to many families who would otherwise have been left destitute. Monkeybiz pays the women immediately after they delivered their work on a market day. Every artist has a bank account, encouraging money management and helping with cash security. Monkeybiz pays the beaders according to the quality of their work, encouraging improvement, inspiring higher standards.
In the African culture, the funeral and burial fund will be one of the most important savings they make. Monkeybiz sets up a Funeral and Burial fund for every beader on the register and they match each beader’s contribution to this fund. Depending on funding, they organize workshops; some creative workshops with visiting artists, Beginner Beading and Refresher workshops, helping the beaders who may be struggling with quality. Educational, Entrepreneurial and Business Workshops to inspire the growth of ideas and/or new business, even to understand the business of Monkeybiz.
Their office and retail shop are based in colorful Bo-Kaap. It’s a lively environment and tourists visit the shop frequently. On market days the artists come to the workshop to bring their art pieces, so the office fills up with energy and laughter. Monkeybiz runs on teamwork, and although we all have our own roles and responsibilities we all help where we can – whether it’s in our retails shop or to pack boxes.
Want to make an impact?
Monkeybiz offers an NGO Management internship so check that opportunity out if you are keen to join their team as Naomi did:
“I went into it hoping I would learn a lot, be stretched out of my comfort zone, grow in confidence and feel as though I was helping in some way. As I reflect back I think all of these things have happened. I was able to do a myriad of different tasks, that were stimulating, challenging at times and I was making a difference even if in small ways.”
1. They support over 450 families by selling art pieces and partly funded by donations and gifts.
2. Their art pieces are sold all over the world and via their webshop.
3. Traditionally beads through the ages were used not only to adorn the body but as a measure of value in ritual and economic exchange between locals and foreigners. And through the use of certain colours, messages are encoded on a huge range of artifacts including bags, belts, collars, and headdresses.