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Culture

Madonna cannot tell me what to do

 

In the year Design Indaba celebrates 21 years, perhaps it is time to reflect on how Ravi Naidoo has turned the platform into the most significant annual gathering in global design. Perhaps one of the most striking things about Design Indaba is that it has managed to belong to creatives, rather than the suits who fund the creative industries. Crucially, it has not become simply a showcase of success, but has consistently featured speakers who critique both design and society. At a time when global corporations are both more powerful and everywhere, it is important that forums like Design Indaba remain not just independent, but substantively critical of corporate shortcomings.

 

In a country that spends vast fortunes on spectacular launches of initiatives that soon fizzle out, what’s remarkable about Design Indaba is how quietly and patiently Ravi built it. You only need glance at the Design Indaba alumni to see that it has attracted the very best names from across the creative industries since its founding.

 

The 2015 edition of Design Indaba will have the likes of Dan Wieden, co-founder of the agency Widen-Kennedy which created Nike’s “Just Do It” tagline. Shubhankar Ray, the brand pioneer will also be at the conference. Previous speakers have included Joy McKinney, DJ Stout, Marcello Serpa, Ije Nwokorie, William Kentridge, David Goldblatt, David Adjaye, Porky Hefer, Koto Bolofo, Brian Eno, and Lindsay Kinkade. The roster of MCs includes the likes of Designer Michael Bierut, who is both incredibly funny and deeply knowledgeable.

“It’s our job to get out there and fight for great ideas; it’s creative people that will make the change,” says Sir John Hegarty, one of the major voices that have insisted on challenging the status quo during memorable presentations at Design Indaba. In other words, Koto Bolofo’s  “Madonna cannot tell me what to do” is more than a statement of defiance, but a reminder that creatives should stand their ground.  It is fitting that Koto Bolofo’s words at Design Indaba should help us reimagine the role of the creative at a time when it is clients who call the shots. It also reinforces thae role that creativity is playing in changing the world.

Naidoo Ravi

There’s a reason why it’s worth celebrating Design Indaba’s philosophy of highlighting the significant socio-economic problems the world faces. Design does not occur in a vaccum, and Design Indaba alumni Alfredo Brillembourg reminds us that great design begins with solving social problems. “If you want to solve housing problems, don’t build housing, build services” says Brillembourg, the founder of Urban Think Tank.

 

In his book There’s A Tsotsi In The Board Room, Muzi Kuzwayo writes, “Obsession with success has led many organisations into trouble. This is because it encourages people to only talk about the good news. The bad news will not be known until it is too late” Design Indaba’s mission, “A better world through creativity” reflects a grasp of the problems our world faces, and the potential for creativity to fix what’s broken. Muzi has spoken at Design Indaba, and like Ravi, he trained as a scientist before finding his calling in the creative industry. In a world of catchy slogans, Design Indaba has been careful to use its tagline as a call to action. Throughout its literature and pages, both online and offline, Design Indaba insists on linking its mission to tangible action. “We can all use creativity to make the world a better place” sounds all the more credible because Design Indaba is involved in concrete action to improve housing, energy, the environment, recycling and other sustainable campaigns that go beyond the cliches of Corporate Social Responsibility.

 

If Design Indaba was simply about showcasing what’s pretty, sexy and even popular, it would long ago have lost its power to consistently pull in the hottest minds in design and creativity from across the globe. Global competition is fierce, what with events such as TED and others luring the best speakers to their platforms. Ravi and his core team have managed to keep Design Indaba fresh each year by knowing exactly what is pushing design and creative boundaries at any one moment. But perhaps the key success of Design Indaba lies in its ability to draw creative leaders from across the globe and use them to ignite deep conversations that influence the trajectory of global creative work.

 

It has been a real joy to watch Design Indaba grow from a small event in South Africa to become one of the key events on the global creative calender. It is thanks to Ravi’s vision that each year Cape Town receives thousands of visitors who know that they will connect with sharp thinkers in the world of design, film, music, architecture, and the other creative industries. The Design Indaba has contributed a staggering amount to the economy, and through projects like the Design Indaba Expo has created jobs and launched some of the hottest talent in global design. Both the film festival and the musical performances during Design Indaba add to the layers of authenticity associated with Design Indaba.

 

I have always marveled at Ravi’s insistence to travel across the world to invite personally each of the speakers that come to Cape Town to take part in Design Indaba. Now that the debacle of Cape Town’s designation as World Design Capital is behind us, it’s time to consider the parasite nature of so many bureaucrats. Cape Town’s stint as World Design Capital shows how carpetbaggers will always ride on the infrastructure that’s been built by the likes of Ravi through Design Indaba.

 

Design Indaba has clearly found the elusive formula for success. But it is its sense of itself as more than just a conference, but a multifaceted platform intent on using creativity to improve the world that lifts it above the event category. It is this broader mission that has turned Design indaba into a veritable institution within the global creative landscape. From the Africa is Now exhibition, to the Design Indaba Do Tank platform, as well as the online Designindaba.com the platforms available to the creative community remain fresh, relevant and compelling each year.

 

One of the noticeable trends is the number of designers that insist on having fun even as they solve the most serious social problems. As the designer John Bielenberg notes “If changing the world isn’t fun then nobody is going to do it”

Ravi

Ours has become a world of deep orthodoxy and that is why it is worth repeating Canadian designer Rahim Bhimani’s quote of his professor “Question everything generally thought to be obvious.”

 

Ravi Naidoo says it best when he says ” Since 1995 Design Indaba has bet the farm on SA’s creative future. All of our projects since 1994 have been about re-imagining Africa, about giving Africa new stretch. We are optimists, we aren’t apologetic about our circumstances or South Africa. We’re not part of the crew that sits about having a whinge over a cappuccino. We have an outstanding opportunity here with the means and the ideas to make a difference.”

Ayanda

 

It’s time that South Africa took serious notice of this great ambassador of our country and his catalytic role in placing both design and the creative industries at the centre of making a better world. Ravi Naidoo would surely repeat with the great photographer Koto Bolofo in saying that “Madonna cannot tell me what to do” and with good reason

A View of Nelson Mandela Bridge

 

 

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News

Reflecting on No Shame Day

“It’s not who you are, it’s what you have” is the powerful motto of The Siwe Project that today marks its global No Shame Day. The aim of this day is to push an understanding that mental illness should not define the identity of those who have it. It’s an important campaign that I’m proud to support. This campaign has chosen storytelling and community building as powerful weapons against stigma.

I’m pleased to play a small role in promoting the work of The Siwe Project as its photographer in Southern Africa. In the Johannesburg network, I support The Siwe Project’s Mimi Selemela who first introduced me to Bassey. I would love to share with you my story of how I came to be involved with The Siwe Project (TSP) . It goes back to the day I met one Bassey Ikpi when she travelled from the US to Johannesburg for a poetry performance.

It’s not everyday that you meet someone and they go from total stranger to someone you care for in one instant. In my line of work I meet so many people but very few of them stand out. But it was different with Bassey. I was immediately struck by her zest for life, her energy and her powerful presence. She was quick to laughter, the laugh warm, hearty. When she spoke, it was in a rapid fire kind of way.  The words booming confidently and elegantly from one clearly used to commanding the stage. It was no surprise then to discover that she was a performance artist, and that she had toured as a Def Jam poet.

At her performance at Bassline in Downtown Joburg, she delivered lines of poetry that ranged from the personal to the social, and even the political. Underpinning each of her poems was a quest for justice, for fairness. The poet in her seemed to be teasing the words to make sense of a world in which those charged to protect frequently unleashed the most incredible violence on those they should shield from wanton violence.

When she performed Diallo, her poem about the young man Amadou Diallo pumped with 41 bullets by New York cops, you could hear a pin drop. ‘Where do our screams go’ Bassey asks with palpable pain as the lyrics reach a crescendo of anguish ‘We march to mourn another murder in silence’ Listening to Bassey both on and off the stage, it is clear that she’s a woman with a very clear sense of purpose.

In those first meetings with Bassey I couldn’t have guessed that this outstanding performer, this activist for social justice suffers from Bipolar II disorder. She gave so much of herself, was generous on stage, smiled broadly for the camera and derived what seemed a palpable joy from life. This reinforces the relevance of the motto of The Siwe Project, and the rallying vision behind No Shame Day, that ”It’s not who you are, it’s what you have” #noshame

This is why it is so important to support No Shame Day objective of encouraging more people to seek treatment without shame. Instead of worrying about stigma, they will realize that mental illness is a disease like any other and that it can be treated. Bassey named the project for Siwe Monsanto, whose suicide on June 29, 2011 jolted Bassey to found this not for profit mental advocacy movement.  Bassey is not only a gifted writer, but one of her gifts is her frank and transparent reflections on living with Bipolar II Disorder.

I think those of us that may not have stopped to look closely at mental illness, or even know how to deal with it in our own lives or those of loved ones can tap into The Siwe Project. Bassey and her team have gifted us this global non-profit aimed at creating awareness of mental health throughout the international black community.

On this, the first annual No Shame Day, I’ve been encouraged to see how Bassey’s goal of making this an international campaign is already reflected in the conversations taking place on the various networks. People have shared their stories, both of the illness as well as treatment and the forging of a strong sense of community.

This project is bigger than Bassey but I think she provides a very clear sense of the generosity of spirit behind its founding, and the philosophy of caring transparency that underpins it. Let’s all support this worthy cause as it seeks to improve awareness and understanding of the problems faced by those suffering from mental illness.

Let’s make today No Shame Day. I salute Bassey’s courage and her effort to reach beyond her own circumstances to create this potent global force against stigma.  and also to dispel many of the misconceptions about it. That this network already stretches from Washington DC, London, Johannesburg and Lagos, speaks to Bassey’s tenacity and ability to reach across barriers.

As Bassey tweeted today “ #NoShame is trending worldwide. Thanks to you and your willingness to face fear and share your truths. Thank you” This campaign is a trending topic globally because it has touched people in a way that matters to them & they are engaging and deepening this important conversation about mental health.

There is no doubt that in going from poet to create of The Siwe Project, Bassey has simply connected the dots between the activist and the poet with a powerful narrative rooted in social justice and fairness.

In finishing this reflective piece, it’s worth repeating the laudable motto of TSP.

‘It’s not who you are, it’s what you have’