Creating Design & Production Consiousness

Design in all its forms lost it’s meaning, purpose and function for the Congolese people as a result of colonialism. The education and religion which came with the colonial error played a major role in creating a societal vaccum that affected the identity and self image of the Congolese people as well as their worth. This influence on identity and self worth has been made worse by television and other media.

The impact of this – has made Congolese people to not look to themselves and their abilities for producing from within their country but instead look and purchase products from the western world for their ideal image and success. An example of this is that while we have great creators able to create shoes and other products that can compete with international markets – when Congolese people see that these products are produced in Congo – they do not buy them. Designers are forced to label their creativity as produced in Italy if they want to sell and let alone survive.

Other examples are that of the Sapeurs who’s image and way of life was born out of the belief that « being European and wearing eauropean clothing is a symbol of success » Sapeurism was thus born with a people who saw themselves as « whites in black skins ».

Companies who have contributed to this fenomenon include Vlisco whose presence in Congo and other parts of Africa has strongly shaped not only the image of what is considered ideal and beautiful for the Congolese people but also strongly influences Congolese identity. It at the same time affects the development of the textile industry as the people of Congo see Vlisco as the ideal textile to acquire and wear. This has led to small scale textile industries shutting down as they cannot complete.

Cosmetic products like ‘Perfect white’ also play a major role in effecting a distorted image of Congolese people’s culture and identity. These creams not only turn dark skin to a ‘perfect white’ skin but also affect the skin. On top of this – it is uncommon for women to have normal hair as the ideal is to have european wigs mixed with straigtened hair.
The above examples shed light to the cultural vaccum and crisis Congo is facing in reshaping it’s future. In order for us to go forward – there is a great urgency to stand still and reflect on our reality. Where did we go wrong and why? How can we begin to value our local talent and production. Is there a wealth of talent in Congo and if yes how can we stimulate and nurture it ?
Design week is therefore centered around questioning who we are and unearthing the domant Congolese talent. We begin by presenting traditional local talent to the contemporary.
In a city with more than 12 million people with incredible human potential, there is no doubt about the wealth in the diversity of talents. Through Design week we can tap into this talent and create opportunities for the growth of the Congolese local production.
Yango 2014 Design week is therefore about creating design and production consiousness.

This document was compiled from a discourse between Sithabile Mlotshwa, Curator of Yango Biennale with artists that are concerned with Cultural production and representation in Congo, including international artist representatives and Cedrick Nzolo, Designer / teacher Textile Design at Arts and Crafts Institute of Kinshasa

Special thanks goes to
Amourabinto Lukoji, Patient Fumukeya, Bibina Engene, sacry and NYO Niosta for their support to realize Yango Design Week