The 5th International Design Indaba
by Lauren Shantall
"An exciting speaker can have an impact on your work for years after the
event" was a position echoed by more than one delegate at this year's
International Design Indaba in Cape Town. Of course, many South Africans trotted off to the Artscape venue to catch gurus like Lewis Blackwell, Mark Farrow or Lucille Tenazas in the flesh, and little wonder at that. It's an opportunity not often available to the relatively isolated local design community - caught as it is between first world aspiration and third world means.
But the Indaba doesn't merely serve to cement Europe and America's
reputations for excellence and groundbreaking experimentation - with the
assumption that poor old South Africa is left ever one step behind, tripping
up in its efforts to emulate foreign trends. Instead, one of the very
encouraging results of instituting the event is the increasing stature of
This year there were more local speakers on the main programme than ever
before, including players like Durban's Garth Walker of i-Jusi design
journal and Cape Town's Andries Odendaal of innovative web company Wireframe - both of whom are, ironically, probably more famous outside of South Africa.
Of course, the Indaba as an international event does not need to confine
its impact and import to the local community. It brings together the world's
most outstanding practitioners and that's largely why it is so fantastic.
This year's varied programme sprawled across typography, packaging,
photography, sustainable architecture, new media design, trend prediction,
posters, installation and/or performance art, sculpture and other
disciplines - with more regard to juxtaposition than continuity.
Often, the only similarity between speakers was the level of excellence
displayed. Surprising though - with such a smorgasbord of topics and such a
gregarious concept of "design" - was that there weren't more painters,
architects, sound engineers, sculptors, writers, magazine and newspaper
editors, computer programmers etc present. But I'm not sure whether this
has to do with shortsighted marketing or pricing (the Indaba
cost R3 000 for three days).
Speaking of juxtapositions, and the character of this year's event, it would
be remiss to discuss the Indaba (co-sponsored by DACST) without mentioning
Ben Ngubane's opening speech. The Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and
Technology was eclipsed by 60 Artscape workers who unexpectedly took to the
stage with placards explaining that they would lose their jobs thanks to
DACST's proposed R6-million arts budget cut. Less visibly flustered than
organiser Ravi Naidoo, Ngubane graciously declared it to be "a democratic
country now", asked the protesters to allow him room to speak, and then
proceeded to pontificate with all the aplomb he could muster.
"The Minister vs the workers" was a theme cleverly taken up by the
organiser, who used the opportunity to orchestrate a 30-minute poster design
competition between New York's James Victore and Garth Walker the very next
day. Printed, autographed copies, courtesy of Creda Press, were made
available, and all concerned, barring the workers, seemed to walk away
Things proceeded more or less smoothly from there. The new media phreaks
like Tom Roope of Tomato, Joshua Davies of Praystation.com and Hans Bernard
of the Ubermorgen corporation (who exhibits next at The | Premises in Johannesburg - see Listings) dazzled with the kind of techno-brilliance meant to justify their irreverent attitudes. The long-established Erik Spiekerman of Metadesign impressed with extensive typographical knowledge and a wealth of experience. And so on, across a range of articulate, talented speakers.
Whether it was Lucy Orta expounding lucidly on her Refuge Wear and Nexus
Architecture worn by art biennale bums and the homeless nowhere (she also
organised a huge outdoor meal in aid of charity on the last Indaba day), or
Luba Lukova showing slides of her emotionally potent drawings and posters,
the Indaba was excellent.
It was a privilege to be present at such a thought-provoking,
boundary-hopping, interdisciplinary, sensation-seeking, sensational few
days. Forgive me if I sound like a cheerleader, but my mental pom-poms have
been waving furiously ever since. If you can afford to attend the next
International Design Indaba, then Go! Go! Go! If you can't, contemplate
getting a loan, or settling for a subscription to Design Indaba magazine. Or you could always stage your own protest.
For more on the speakers and programme visit www.designindaba.com.