Arranged in an orderly non-alignment at the entrance to the Bee Line Art Exhibition was a collection of quirky blocks of wood each sporting a tin roof. The polished walls with neat yet random holes represented something! But what? A town for solitary bees? Miniature blocks of flats where each hole is a potential home? YES! Simply beautiful. A strong message that bees have lives and need homes and an existence unrelated to our demands on them as food pollinators and providers of honey.
I thought back to when I first met sculptor Jenny Cullinan and co –founder of Ujubee (‘Uju’ is the Zulu word for ‘honey’). She was collecting signs worded Wild Bee Hives at a local printing shop. I had been thinking about getting a hive and asked Jenny if she knew where I could buy one so that I could harvest honey. Kindly she explained how Ujubee looks after the Cape Honeybee by promoting the use of natural hives not suited to the harvesting of honey. Seeing my eyebrows asking why wouldn’t one want to harvest honey, no doubt an all too familiar question, she explained, no doubt for the umpteenth time, that making honey from fynbos flowers was hard work and the bees needed their honey to keep their community healthy. Bees are THE metaphor for productivity, their glorious golden honey the reward which I enjoyed without thinking that harvesting honey was not in the bee’s best interest!
Now after 4 years of research and creativity Jenny’s insightful and inspirational Bee Line art – celebrating the lives of wild bees is being exhibited at the 196 Victoria Road gallery in Woodstock. The exhibition runs till 31 May – treat yourself to a different experience of bees. Using wood as a medium to reinforce her connection with the web of life, Jenny depicted bees working, living and just being. Detailed pen and ink drawings of proteas had delicate bee signatures. 500 cement bees pouring out of a sculpture of an alien woman and forming a heart. A large mural of bee illustrations meticulously burnt onto individual and carefully selected pieces of beautiful wood. But the pivotal piece was a contemplative circle of large bees sculptured from wood. Each an individual, but each also a member of a sophisticated community.
After being introduced by Sonia Mountford, friend and founder of EATegrity, Jenny spoke with quiet passion about how the fine scale of fynbos had changed her focus as a sculptor and artist. Her growing awareness of the role of bees as a keystone species in Nature drives her conservation efforts through Ujubee and inspires her art. Bee Line will run until 31May. Each Wednesday, May 10, 17, 24 and 31, Jenny will give a talk at 18h00 on an aspect of bees. These talks titled WILD LIVING; STORIES FROM THE WILD and SEXING THE WILD include photographic stories, while WILD SOUND focuses on the sounds that bees make.
I left feeling enthralled by our wild Cape bees and inspired by Jenny and Ujubee. I am going to finally build an Insect Inn for whichever solitary bees and wasps would like a home in my garden.
Kim Kruyshaar May 2017