Beads for Africa: Liza Lou’s Z

Beads for Africa: Liza Lou’s Zulu-inspired “Kitchen”

Liza Lou would cover everything in tiny glass beads if she could. The artist brings her latest creations from Durban to the White Cube gallery in London later this month

Beads for Africa: Liza Lou’s Z

If you ever were to meet anyone actually worthy of being described as beady-eyed it would be Liza Lou.

The American artist, who has been residing in Durban, KwaZulu Natal, for the past ten years, incredibly uses beads as her medium of choice – but not in the folklore manner that is part of the signature style of the Zulu style (although she has collaborated with Zulu artisans extensively).


Lou rather transforms entire rooms into bead-covered mosaics, making the boundaries of abstraction and the concrete disappear with her painstakingly detail-focused work. Her famous beaded kitchen (which took five years to complete) takes up a special at the Whitney Museum in New York, while collections elsewhere include a beaded backyard, beaded toilet bowls and beaded portraits of all US presidents. One commentator once said “If Lou could she’d bead the world.”

Loo resized

But there’s much more to Liza Lou’s than meets the eye. She says that she uses art to address many of the traumatic events she has witnessed in her childhood, transforming objects of dread into places of wonderment. One of her collaborators in South Africa has been quoted as saying that the objects they create, especially the shadier subjects covered – such as suicide and incarceration, are being enveloped in love and forgiveness by the touch of thousands of little beads.

suicide resized

Admittedly, not everyone may be able to relate to these optimistic hyperbolas, but nevertheless it is worth remarking that Liza Lou’s art is quasi-living proof of her values, which build on a notion of benevolence that is rarely seen these days; nor is art that reflects any values in and of itself. Not all her creations reach a rare pinnacle of insight, but the fact that inspiration and aspiration come together in Lou’s work is certainly notable throughout.


Abused by her father’s ultra-religious leanings, Lou escaped her childhood hell and later produced a gripping art documentary about those experiences entitled “Born Again”, which was shown at the White Cube gallery in London in 2006 – her first solo foray into the British art world.


Lou returns to the White Cube this month a new exhibition entitled “Solid/Divide”. The gallery in Bermondsey says that this time, Lou has “distilled her exploration of glass beads into abstract, monochromatic and duo-coloured ‘canvases’ that explore the emotive potential of pure colour and the beauty of imperfection.”

With that kind of promise, how can you afford to miss it?

Liza Lou exhibition: Solid / Divide
Dates: 26 November 2014 – 18 January 2015
Venue: White Cube, South Galleries, 144 – 152 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3TQ
Tel: 0207 930 5373