Photo & Research: Catherina Wilson
This photograph is part of the research project ‘Connecting in Times of Duress’, an NWO-funded research project at Leiden University of Leiden, aimed at understanding communication and conflict in Middle Africa’s ‘mobile margins’.
Fleeing war-torn Bangui (Central African Republic), Osée found refuge in Congo in 2013. To make ends meet in a new environment, Osée learned to string beads. He threads beautiful purses in the bright colours of the Central African Republic flag: green signifying the forest, yellow the mineral richness of the country. Osée adjusted in Congo by learning the skill of beadwork, but he also holds on to the heritage of his homeland by using the colours of his national flag. As the purses are spread around and people move, the colours of the Central African Republic move around Congo and beyond.
Beading is among the most intriguing and important symbols in African culture, past and present. Historically, beadwork was the insignia of tribal royalty. This practice has gradually decentralised and developed a broader meaning in society. In contemporary Africa, beads and seeds have experienced a revival in popularity and are easily visible in everyday dress patterns, incorporating cultural as well as individual expressions.