Streetwires is a pioneering social entrepreneurial organization. This Proudly South African and Fair Trade accredited business provides sustainable and meaningful employment to over 120 wire craft artists who work full-time from a vibrant studio in central Cape Town. The Streetwires entrepreneurial model is community-driven and encourages members to start complementary handcraft enterprises. Its continued success translates into employment opportunities that serve as stepping stones into the broader economy and facilitate both ongoing creative skills development and leadership opportunities.
Streetwires specialises in the design, handcrafting and marketing of exceptional contemporary African wire and bead art. It has not only revolutionised this sector of the local craft industry, but also raised the status of wire and bead craft to a recognised art form. A year-long collaboration between designer Michaela Howse and Streetwires artist Elias Kahari – resulting in a signature collection of artworks celebrating Nguni cattle and Xhosa culture – serves as a potent example of the creative potential of this medium. The Streetwires product ranges include sculptures, corporate and promotional gifts, functional accessories and home décor items such as tableware and lighting.
No-one is exactly certain how wire art came about. The most likely origins of this art-form are the tranquil hills of Maputoland and Zululand in rural Northern Kwazulu-Natal, in the North-East corner of South Africa. For many years, due to a lack of resources to buy proper toys, the young herd boys of these regions have been fashioning their own out of discarded coat hanger wire, tin cans and whatever else they can get their hands on. Their ingenuity is quite amazing, and it is not an uncommon sight to see one of these boys steering a fully functional, made-to-scale model car crafted solely from discarded materials, complete with independent axles, fully functional steering column and a keen attention paid to details such as licence plates, headlights and in some cases, optional extras like mag wheels and free-flow exhausts. It wasn’t long before older inhabitants of the area, recognising the uniqueness and marketability of these wire toys, began making their own wire creations and selling them to tourists and visitors to the region – and thereon the vibrant medium of wire art was born.
Today, this genre is a thriving and legitimate art form in its own right, with many ‘wire-masters’ supporting their families by selling their creations on street corners, at craft markets, in shops and selected art galleries. Products range from working wire radios in a number of shapes and sizes, to CD stands, key-rings, wire picture frames, baskets, vases, wine racks, egg cups and beaded sculptures. In fact the scope and range of wire art products is almost limitless. A common thread running through all these creations, and one which sets them apart from most other art forms, is the fact that the majority of wire art is designed not only with ornamental value in mind but also to be functional in one way or another. These are genuine, original hand-crafted examples of African art that not only look great, but often also serve a purpose in the home or office.