Swedish interior design brand Svenskt Tenn recently launched Her(e) itage, a new Afro-Nordic design collaboration. The exhibition and design collaboration are in partnership with the cultural platform Southnord, which works to uplift Afro-Nordic artists, curators, and organisations across the Nordic region.
For the Her(e) itage collection, artists and designers Damien Ajavon, Nkuli Mlangeni-Berg, Lincoln Kayiwa, and Theresa Traore Dahlberg have created works that move between textile, glass, and pewter, with craftsmanship and ancient, traditional techniques as a foundation. We spoke to Mlangeni-Berg about the collaboration.
What initiated your collaboration with Svenskt Tenn? The CEO of Svenskt Tenn reached out to me before Covid about an idea they had of working with African designers, but because of the pandemic it was not possible to do it then. So, when the SouthNord festival was initiated we thought it would be a great idea to explore it again and that’s how the collaboration came about.
What are the main aspects of traditional textile design that inspired your new collection and how do they align with your personal heritage? When working on the graphics I wanted to collaborate with African artists, so I reached out to Algerian artist Walid Bouchouchi because I had seen his work on Instagram and fell in love with it. We worked with fonotypes as inspiration and symbolism and tried to combine his style and The Ninevites style. Some of the fonotypes are based on African symbolism and others are just made up, and the result was something simple but bold.
Do you think that traditional SA textile design aesthetic that is often bold and colourful has a place in minimalistic Nordic design?
I think the SA design aesthetic has a place anywhere in the world. And there are a lot of incredible designers doing it on an international platform.
What were the challenges and highlights you experienced during this collaboration?
Highlights were working with such an incredible establishment that has such a big reputation in the world of design internationally. I learnt a lot from the team about craftsmanship and the fact that I got to produce the pieces in SA with the artisans that I have been working with for years was awesome. A challenge was that at some point I thought we were not going to make deadlines because of load-shedding at the weavery, but it all worked out in the end.
What did you learn and experience that serves as a take away for future collaborations?
I take away with me the importance of making a mark in the international design world and taking our stories to the world. I also learnt about the ins and outs of working with a luxury brand and the attention to detail from the start to finish of production.
Are there any Nordic cultural influences and design aesthetics that resonates with our own in some way or another?
I think with Svenskt Tenn one of the things I appreciate is the fact that they are not afraid of colour. I think a lot of Nordic design can be very sterile and grey, but Svenskt is very colourful and bold and that resonates a lot with me because my work is also bold and colourful.