Thursday, June 16, 2011

Indigenous designs South Africa; isitayela esisha /new style

Various spoon design option (conventions) realised in Rhino
 by Keith Henning (Industrial Designer). 
A few months ago I did a blog entry titled Hon's Ultimate coffee experience. It featured products I designed, including one of my espresso coffee cups and one or two of my spoons. However I never provided the context and or the design development of the various products. This entry and future posts provide insight into my design ideas and concepts (project proposals); the various prototypes and creative drawings, including CAD renderings and manufacturing options.
Cup and saucer design with spoon -
inspired by a Zulu indigenous design.

A number of factors led to the design development of the product proposals. In 2002 I was made design coordinator for an R&D project linked to the beneficiation of local precious metals, sponsored by DACST (SA’s Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology). The Hollow Gold Project, an Innovation funded program, introduced me to Jewellery Design and Manufacture. The idea behind it, without going into too much detail, was to focus on Indigenous knowledge and hospitality rituals in the context of design and development. We worked with Italian Designers in the development of new and applied Jewellery manufacturing technology, associated with the research-funded program (a consortium made up of representatives from the University, Government and a cutting edge technology based company).
Cup design with various handles inspired by headrests
 including spoons inspired by a Zulu indigenous design.
Being the co-founder of South Africa’s Crafts Council, I had the opportunity to coordinate one of our major national Craft Competitions for a number of years - the FNB Vita Crafts Now Competition. I also served on the committee of the Johannesburg Art Gallery. The committee was ultimately responsible for developing and maintaining its permanent collections; purchasing art and craft on a national level. These projects amongst others provided me with an opportunity to keep abreast with the development of crafts, rural and urban on a national level. 
Zulu spoon handle Detail (wood) - crafts person unknown.
Reference for contemporary design development.

The joint activities also provided insight into historically significant craftworks within the context of a redress of South Africa’s Cultural Heritage – the post colonial/apartheid era (New South Africa). It is important to note that due to the apartheid homeland policy, indigenous crafts people produced work mainly for local consumption – community based, specific to their regions (homelands).  Local and international tourists therefore very rarely ventured into these regions. 
Manufactured equivalent of Zulu spoon - handle (Detail)
Craft development remained authentic in the true sense of the word, as artifacts were made for purpose, within the context of rural hospitality rituals – untouched by collectors and tourist’s demands and preferences. Local museums therefore had to extend their collection to incorporate indigenous crafts, to be more representative of our diverse cultures. Various academics and collectors worked closely with companies and banks to sponsor the purchasing of major international collections, to boost the redress program.
Bowl design of spoon (detail)
Fine examples of
Indigenous Zulu

Funding was and has become an even greater problem, as the artifacts become almost priceless and available resources far a few between. Wits University was particularly active on the JAG committee, due to their credible research record and accomplished academic team and more importantly their close partners with Standard bank. Individuals like Anitra Nettleton, Karel Nel and the late Alan Crump in association with Christopher Till, the director of JAG, made significant contributions on many levels. Their research contributions and subsequent exhibitions like Art and Ambiguity was the beginning of a new era.  Karel Nel’s knowledge, dedication and personal commitment to the preservation of our indigenous cultural heritage on home soil has found favour with major sponsors and funding institutions ensuring timeous interventions. 
Various sizes designed based on function.
Various design style options -  location of detail.

 At the time I was dean of the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture and therefore one of  the Directors of BusiTech, a company setup to generate valuable income for the tertiary academic institution. Two deans, as part of training and development, were selected to attend an executive development programme as offered at the University of Stellenbosch. This meant the submission of assignments for the various subjects (Strategic, Marketing and Finance to mention a few) one such assignment I submitted was specific to IT. 
Design Styles incorporating spoon design conventions
Manufacturing options also included plastic (basalt black)
The project I proposed (innovative ways to utilize IT in a business environment) focused on the scanning of all Artifacts in JAG Collection. Due to limited space these products are in storage (security was also a major factor). There was a need to scan the products for record purposes; spinoffs would be marketing and communication products (mainly educational). The end products would include three-dimensional visual documentation of the products on an in-house database (website access in the future), available to visitors to the museums (access to the entire collection). DVD’s could be sold and or made available to key stakeholders especially schools, academics (for research purposes) and mainly researchers.
Espresso cup and spoons.
photographs above and below - Angus Cambell
Industrial Designer and academic UJ.
 a national Identity of local Crafts – historically significant archetypes

This brings me to an important point; very few individuals at the time had a comprehensive knowledge and understanding of a national identity of local crafts. The international tourists had no reference to spot a local craft product, let alone make an informed decision when purchasing a South African indigenous craft product. Local flea markets were flooded with products from neighboring countries as far up the continent as Nigeria. Due to sanctions and the cultural boycott (during apartheid) the production of local crafts remained underdeveloped and mainly for local consumption on a regional scale – mainly batch production, a small number per month. The past ten years has seen crafts skills focused on one-of-a kind-ware to ensure the value remains significant in terms of demand. To speak of production then and now is wrought with all sorts of problems. It is in this context that I proposed the project and business proposition to the University and Gallery.
Books such as The Art of Southeast Africa written by Sandra Klopper and Karl Nel published in 2002 addressed many of these issues, but more importantly showcased the incredible design skills and style of master crafts-people in this region. It once again inspired me to design and manufacture products based on work in our collections (cultural heritage), refined and restyled for contemporary use – meeting present lifestyles and consumer demands. Various individuals at the time accused me of plagiarism and copying. What they did not know and understand that it was part of a greater incentive that was of mutual benefit to the cash strapped museums and galleries. 
Even the exploited crafts people based in rural areas, far out of reach of their markets and unable to batch produce their products would have benefited from the program. They would have had access to viable manufacturing techniques and processes, and to tap into the expanding local and international tourist markets (gallery-shops based at museums) we would create for them. This idea first came to me when I spent time in Paris at the Cite. The PEI Glass pyramid extensions of the Louvre included shops selling perfect reproductions of work in their collections, generating valuable income for the museums, whilst imprinting on the minds of the tourist the memory of the artifact on display in the museum.

The business concept and idea behind the designed products were.

Snuff Kerrie as cited in the art of southeast Africa page 102
The Brand / Name.

isitayela esisha (new style)

Dictionary explanation English – Zulu / Zulu English
 Style (stail) 1. n. (i) (instr.for / writing)
Insimbi yokuloba. (ii) (mode0 indlela,
U(lu)hlobo, umkhuba (2), inhlobo*isitayela;
s. dress : umbinco (2) old style – isitayela esidala;
new style – isitayela esisha.

Stylish (‘stailif) a – ngumkhuba omusha, -
Nobugwili, * isitayela, - ntalayo.

Snuff spoons, Nothern Nguni/Zulu as cited
 in the art of southeast Africa page 147. 

The Design Vision
The development of African designed products; referencing indigenous artefacts and hospitality rituals seen in the context of contemporary lifestyle concepts.

The development, manufacturing, packaging and marketing of a range of products appropriating the designs of indigenous artefacts. The original artefacts referenced, form part of major Art Gallery and Museum collections including the Brenthurst Collection of Southern African Art, on loan to the Johannesburg Art Gallery (JAG). These collections are of major cultural historical significance.
Objects that have over time been removed from their original context, because of the working of certain historical factors, were rescued and they have become” treasures saved from a destructive history, relics of a vanishing world…objects to be kept, remembered, and treasured” (Clifford 1988: 231).
Staffs Nguni as cited in the
 art of southeast Africa page 142.

 The artefacts are selected for direct reproduction and or refined as contemporary designs for local and international export markets. They are mainly sold through gallery and museum shops. Each and every piece chosen has “its roots in cultural contexts in which art was congruent with life, and in which artistry was integrated with utility”(Davidson 1991: 18).

The research based, income-generating venture was therefore to reaffirm by means of innovative mechanisms (the design, labeling and packaging) the recontextualisation of the chosen artefact. Indigenous knowledge and cultural information is disseminated by means of these appropriated indigenous artefacts.

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