After a heart-warming and eye-opening encounter with South Africa and the stark differences between the lifestyles of those living in developing countries and those in developed, The Haas Brothers returned home to the US, where they live in LA designing and creating unique interior décor artworks, with ambitions of collaborating with Monkeybiz.
The Texas-born twins approached Monkeybiz at the Design Indaba in Cape Town during February 2014. It was the bead artists’ ability to convey expressions so vividly in the pieces and animals that drew the twin designers to combining creative efforts.
Upon returning to South Africa for introductions with the Monkeybiz team, 15 artists from Khayelitsha were waiting to greet them. Simon and Nikolai Haas met Community Director Mathapelo Ngaka, “the group’s benevolent matriarch”, and christened the collaboration, ongoing from 2014-to-date, as ‘Afreaks.’ The name perfectly describes the theme of the project which is to shed a light on those who flow through society, both local and global, marginalized and as outsiders, economically and creatively. The creatures and artworks born from the process reflect the nature and beauty of being ‘freaky,’ an effort in reclaiming the word from bullies and malice. “We bond over our common otherness.” And what a sight the creatures are indeed! From pouty duck lips to long-hanging tongues, the story is given life in the physical world.
The Haas Brothers & Sisters
Simon and Nikolai Haas worked very closely with the women, fingertips working bead by bead beside one another, learning and joking all along the way. The artists at Monkeybiz indeed have a universe of knowledge and craft filled with deep treasures many contemporary artists would culturally have never experienced before. “It was a great way for us to learn about them and vice versa,” as Simon Haas recollects in the project book ‘Haas Brothers Volume 2 Afreaks’ which was printed featuring the 15 Monkeybiz artists and the creations. This special journey The Haas Brothers and Monkeybiz embarked on together led to an exhibition during February 2016 at none other than the esteemed Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum. Of the 15 Monkeybiz artists, 5 were invited for the prestigious launch in New York. The same 15 bead artists are still referred to affectionately by The Haas Brothers as ‘The Haas Sisters’ since the two sides met and memories of their shared exhibition at the Smithsonian live on.
The book documenting the journey from the Haas Brother’s side of the story is nothing short of striking in that it is a candid, heartfelt rendition and documentation of the creative and barrier-breaking process that comes with harsh reality checks when we are forced to confront inequity.
The book focuses on the human interactions between Simon and Nikolai Haas and the artists saying that they are “humbled by their talent and mastery of this craft and (they) dedicate (themselves) to learning traditional methods.”
The traditional methods the artist’ at Monkeybiz employ are an intrinsic part the NPO’s identity. But evidence will show that this method and loyalty to ancestral roots does not limit the heights to which creativity can soar! Monkeybiz still maintains a loving friendship with The Haas Brother who continue to support the bead artists with donations and bonuses resulting from sales of the ‘freaky’ creations.
Monkeybiz is an economic upliftment project dedicated to reviving the traditional craft of African beadwork and empowering women to become financially independent. Since 2000 Monkeybiz has supported in the region of 300 bead artists to continue creating these unique artworks. All profits for the sale of artworks go back into the community where bead artists are provided with year-end bonuses and funeral cover for their immediate families.
The crowning achievement of Monkeybiz is that it recognises and develops the artistic ability of people who have never had the opportunity to express themselves through art. Monkeybiz provides a platform for beaders to become artists within their own right.