Get to Know Sanaa Gateja, the Ugandan ‘Bead King’ Who Makes Beads from Recycled Paper

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Sanaa Gateja, a modern Ugandan artist, has a distinctive name that the people of his home region call him. He was dubbed “Bead King” because of his artistic technique, which involved recycling paper into beads. The technique has not only gained him renown, but has also improved the lives of women in his community and other African countries, who have become a value chain support system.

His art’s inventiveness has established him as one of the continent’s most exceptional artists. He has shown his work to art enthusiasts and curators in Japan, Italy, and the United Kingdom.

No matter how long his career takes him away from home, nostalgic feelings always lead him back. His career began in 1970, when he was assigned to supervise the craft shop at Uganda’s pavilion at the International Expo in Osaka; he later discovered his distinct style of art while teaching in London, according to his article.

He noticed a paper bead while searching through the art trash after class one night, which launched his obsession with recycling paper into his own beads. He carried the bead home to study it and make use of the gift that had captivated him.

Sanaa has not stopped making paper beads since then; his trade has prospered mostly due to the global availability of paper. He makes use of recycled paper, which is abundant in Uganda. When he came across propaganda periodicals that were not only colorful but also glossy, it was a watershed moment in his career. It inspired him to inject sophistication and glitz into the beads he created.

Paper waste is a problem that many countries face around the world, including Uganda. Books, pamphlets, political posters, and calendars, according to the Bead King, are readily available raw materials for him. He recounts how Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign press materials fueled the manufacture of his beads. According to us, he turned it into a gigantic tapestry called CHANGE, which was displayed at the Museum of Art and Design in New York.

Saana’s paper beads have surely become a national cottage industry in Uganda, allowing women to supplement their income. Several Ugandans work with recycled paper to create wall hangings, art, and home décor. Beads are thought to provide an additional source of income for an estimated 50,000 Ugandans.

Saana was born in 1950, during the period of British colonization of Uganda. At the age of 21, he built his first gallery near the city’s historic harbor; his first visitors were men, women, and children from the neighborhood. He was captivated by the children’s smiles while wearing his beads. He makes cloth from tree bark in addition to recycled beads. Saana, now in his eighties, still enjoys crafting paper beads.

His efforts were essential in uniting Africans against colonialism across the continent. He has taken part in numerous shows and is well-known for his work.

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