Guest blog by Tapiwa Matsinde, Designer, Creative Consultant, Blogger and Author of Contemporary Design Africa
An emerging industry, design from Africa, is drawing increased global attention, and with it the success stories of women across the continent taking leading roles in the industry's development; from women-run cooperatives bringing together several hundred women, to university graduates taking their futures into their own hands by creating jobs for themselves and others.
Born out of Africa's renowned classical craft heritages, the continent's dynamic contemporary design landscape has seen women taking on disciplines that were culturally once the preserve of men, and vice-versa. These shifts have given rise to women such as Josephine Forson, founder of Tekura (Ghana); Galerie Arte's Joëlle le Bussy who is championing 100% Made in Senegal; and Katy Taplin of Dokter and Misses (South Africa), who is leading the way in developing new, award-winning aesthetics in the area of furniture design. In the field of textiles, fast disappearing ancient weaving and dyeing techniques traditionally practiced by men, are today being revived and modernized by highly respected women textile designers including Aissa Dione (Senegal); Aida Duplessis (Mali); and Mariem Besbes(Tunisia).
Design in Africa is also actively linked to social change in areas such as economic empowerment through job creation, skills sharing, and education. Basketry for example has traditionally been, and still remains a mainly female craft. For many women it is often a means of generating an income during farming's low seasons. And now, thanks in part to a focus on creative development by innovative women-led organizations like The New Basket Workshop (South Africa/Zimbabwe); ZENZULU™ (South Africa), and Gone Rural and Tintsaba (Swaziland), the enhancement of existing skills is taking contemporary African basketry to new heights and bringing the work to wider audiences.
The success of design studios and organizations like those mentioned also help shine the spotlight on often nameless craftswomen without whose skills the production of the exquisite, high-end products characterizing the industry's output and gracing the shelves of some of the world's most prestigious retailers and department stores would not be possible. Their skills are incorporated into the exceptional levels of handcraftsmanship Africa is renowned for, skills that in comparison to the more sterile output that comes with industrialized processes have resulted in words such as ‘caring’, ‘soulful’ ‘authentic’ and ‘fresh’ being used to describe the impact design from Africa is having on the global industry.
In the West where there tends to be greater appreciation for design’s role within society, it is interesting to note a growing shift from designers towards incorporating more artisanal aspects into their work, as consumers increasingly seek products that not only look good but ones that also tell a story, and reflect the imprint of human touch.
There is still much more to be done to increase the visibility of, and encourage more, women in the industry, but as design from Africa continues to gain traction on the global stage, Africa's leading women designers and makers are showing just what can be achieved. And, instead of viewing these women from the single lens of pity, poverty and hardship that media coverage continually forces upon us, let us actively support them, applauding their incredible talents and recognizing their rightful place on the world stage alongside their peers.
Tapiwa Matsinde is a British-born designer, creative business consultant, blogger and writer of Zimbabwean heritage. She has worked as a graphic designer and a brand guardian in corporate communications for leading international organizations. Tapiwa created the blog Atelier Fifty-Five, as a platform to celebrate and promote design from and inspired by Africa. She has written features about, and interviewed some of the Africa’s leading designers and makers. Tapiwa’s first book; Contemporary Design Africa was published on 25 May 2015 by leading art book publishers Thames & Hudson, and profiles approximately 51 designers and makers working on the African continent and beyond. Contact or follow Tapiwa and Atelier Fifty-Five WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | PINTEREST | EMAIL firstname.lastname@example.org