Phansi, through the eyes of a design curator

Left: Painted Zulu walking sticks at the Phansi Museum. Right: Clout Cafe at 100% Design Joburg, designed by Studio Leelynch and incorporating pieces all by South African designers.

The process of design curation is strongly linked to an obsessive pursuit of beauty and relevant content, coupled with a deep need to reveal and share stories in a visual expression that creates new perspectives.

Visiting places and spaces outside of my hometown becomes a journey of discovery and it was on a recent trip to Durban that the Phansi revealed itself. More of a cultural centre than a museum, it’s a moving experience to see such a concentration of craft displayed in unorthodox installations. The hanging collection of life-size dolls is layered in a mind-blowing beaded, woven, threaded, patterned and patchworked collage of meaning and crafted making.

In this room there are no glass barriers, this magnificent and intricate world of ancient visual stories reaches out to you and allows you to feel part of something giant.

The collection of cultural dress is deeply familiar and at the same time unknown. Experiencing this crafted visual expression of our complex society is emotional, it amplifies the wealth of the past and its relevance now as we search for meaningful ways to express our South African identity.

These beautiful pieces of functional attire hold universes of knowledge, they speak of cultural constructs which are informing the expression of a new generation of South African designers looking to share aspects of their identity, which in many instances, has been neglected or forgotten.

Left: Woven telephone wire basket at the Phansi Museum. Right: An installation of hanging chairs by Studio Leelynch for the announcement of the winner of Nando’s HYD 2018, featuring chairs by Naturalis, with printed patterns by all ten HYD finalists.

The emerging aesthetic of contemporary SA design is not a conventional process of sharing a nation’s history but rather a creative opportunity for designers to delve deeper into aspects of identity, to resurrect and amplify the crafted poetry of our past. It’s an opportunity to tell the beautiful stories we need to remember now so that we can all see the future differently.

– Tracy Lynch

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