Over the last few weeks, I’ve been obsessing over the craftsmanship, artistry, and creativity that goes into crafting the stunning furniture and design pieces that can be found at Salone del Mobile in Milan. Unfortunately this year I couldn’t attend in person but social media, blogs, and design media do such a great job at covering the event, that it can almost feel like I was there, on the cobbled streets of Milan taking it all in. As I relished over the enviable works of art, and in search of African designers at the prestigious exhibition, I found myself occasionally getting distracted by installations like the Louis Vuitton Objets Nomades because of how much some of the pieces reminded me of African handcrafts. My mind kept bringing me back to inspiration. The question started as a simple musing… “I wonder what inspired this design?”, to some deep thoughts that wondered “is this design showing appreciation or is it downright appropriation?”, which left me wanting to know – where does inspiration end, and appropriation begin?
At this point, I was confronted with the Loewe installation. I have to note here that I absolutely love their “Weave, Restore, Renew” concept, and it’s no secret that I love everything to do with basketry, so naturally, it caught my eye. Without giving it too much thought, upon seeing the Corozas installation, I immediately drew a parallel to the costumes worn in the Zangbeto parade in Benin, where traditional voodoo guardians of the night, police the streets of Porto-Novo to maintain law and order and cleanse communities of evil. Their costumes are a collection of artistically crafted thatch made from raffia, straw, and other materials, which is strikingly similar to the Galician corozas installation. With the questions around inspiration playing in the back of my mind, I thought it best to dig a little deeper before blowing the appropriation whistle.
First of all, let’s discuss the definition of cultural appropriation as it pertains to the design world. An article written by Capella Kincheloe rings all the right bells in the blog post entitled “Interior Design & Cultural Appropriation”, where she comes straight out of the gate with the rise in the trend of African “Kuba, Mudcloth, and Juju hats” in a way that is rarely addressed. She rightly mentions that people “didn’t know or didn’t care about the origin or cultures behind what was simply considered an interior design trend.” In the same way that design clients like the fluffy feathers of a Juju hat and how stunning it looks on a feature wall, very few know that they are Cameroonian royal ceremonial hats. More than knowing what the hat is used for, there is also a responsibility to ensure that the artisans who crafted the pieces were fairly compensated and that no one was exploited in the process of making your “trendy” or “ethnic” home decor. The biggest takeaway that came from Capella’s post is that “Cultures and people are not something to be distilled into consumable, marketable, and palatable objects.”
So it was only right that I do my due diligence about the Loewe basketry’s inspiration. In my research, I found that Loewe does indeed attribute their design to a culture, which pleased me to no end, given that we specialize in culturally inspired Interior designs at SIKA. What surprised me, however, was that they referenced the Galician culture of Spain as the inspiration. The dramatic record scratch in my head was almost audible… “SPAIN?” I questioned – don’t they mean the Zangbeto of Benin, Africa?
According to The National Geographic, “some anthropologists estimate that voodoo’s roots in Benin—formerly Dahomey—West Africa may go back 6,000 years.” And with details regarding the origin of corozas (Ancient Galician rainwear which inspired Álvaro Leiro’s Loewe Frayed Raffia bucket bag )being very vague, I could only establish that the corozas date back thousands of years. Given this lack of clarity, we have to rely on other, more researched facts to conclude on this matter. History informs us that Ancient cultures migrated North from their African origins, and we also know that Spain was invaded by the Romans, Arabs, and Moors, who inevitably brought their traditions and craftsmanship from their conquests and influences which involved interaction with various people’s of Africa. So in my mind there is a connection between the Zangbeto and the corozas, however, to cry appropriation would be a far reach. The Galicians have honed their craft from a period where there was no call for attribution, and from this entanglement of cultures, a modern-day fashion accessory was designed.
Is it fair then to infer that the Zangbeto costumes inspired the Galician raincoats, which inspired the Loewe bags? Either way, it is such a nuanced discussion that goes beyond the number of characters that a blog post allows, so my sign-off is that there is beauty to all of the crafts, and if one inspires another while helping to preserve and honor the source, I can’t be mad at that at all.
So on that note,
Happy Friday Design Lovers!