Cultural Design

Culture provides the catalyst for Designer to create services and products that are fit for their context but also innovative and culturally sensitive.

Our role as designers hinges on integrating the socio-cultural factors that leads to the final outcome. Now more than ever, we need to be aware of the impact of culture.

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Contemporary Zimbabwean Design

Contemporary Zimbabwean Design

This week’s readings were both inspirational and quite depressing. Starvation taught me art, was a particularly gruesome read for me. Here we are faced with the destruction of the environment because of mad policies and even stupider people in power, who misuse their given authority. People are left to pick up the pieces and make the best of what is available to them. Would I poach trees so I could put dinner on the table for my family? Absolutely! The depth of human inventiveness is amazing.

Throughout the readings, the community comes together and looks after each other. This is evident in the communal stands, where sellers sell items from their neighbouring stalls on behalf of an absent seller and make sure the sum of money paid is received by the absent party.  It was interesting to learn that the carving shapes are morphing from more traditional items such as masks, religious figures and feminine plates and utensils to items which have a wider appeal to tourists. Here again we see globalisation as a destructive force eating away at a people’s culture. Last week the papers were about the Shona people as well, and this paper certainly looked at different elements within their culture.

I particularly found the short discussion on the current shift in gender roles interesting. The author’s premature conclusions that by earning money women would increase their economic and social capital, doesn’t take into account that even in the west, women are doing majority of the housework and now have to work full-time as well. Today, a highly educated female in a good job, will be earning 10-20% below their male counterparts. The most important aesthetics of power which were explored are Globalisation (tourists), local politics, economic decline, and environment awareness. It was also interesting to see that the local people were very much aware about optimising their resources by creating smaller figurines.

The second source, involved us with Saki’s work and the importance of authenticity, a topic we have been dealing with on and off for the last few weeks. I have mixed feelings about Authenticity. Being a 1.5 generation migrant, I operate in between 2 spaces, both of which are equally authentic to me. Saki’s work is in my opinion first rate, the fact that he is encouraging for students to create this space for themselves which is in alignment with the context they operate in, is beyond admirable but also necessary to create a distinct and just voice.

I am not sure how much of my work is an authentic representation of myself within the hybrid cultural space I occupy. Maybe that is the reason I am in such a hurry to leave design. In design, I have never been given (by myself or others) the permission to equally explore my own mixed cultural aesthetics.  In conclusion, I am brought back to things that are left unsaid or unexplained. How important is it to explore these things? How ethical is it to go delving deep into silent spaces? How ethical is it to ignore them and go on, as if they don’t exist?

These readings remind me of the oriental subject in Edward Said’s work. The reasons for what I find beautiful, the intricacies of Persian art, architecture and the poetry. Here the aesthetics of power are the local context, authenticity and cultural heritage and I find myself placed squarely in the space where I couldn’t agree more with Saki’s sentiments:

Why should the sterile and bloodless corporate “Swiss” style work for a Mozambican designer whose existence and environment will never mimic industrialized Europe? And why on earth should a designer from the Moslem-influenced Sudan produce work that has nothing to do with his experience – struggling, unsuccessfully, to produce work that looks “European”? It is madness. But there we were, with the rest of my team of trainers: donning our western glasses and, like the design elitists we’ve become, trashing these people’s work!


  1. Fadiman, M. (2008).” Starvation Taught Me Art”:  Tree Poaching, Gender and Cultural Shifts in Wood Curio Carving in Zimbabwe [Electronic Version]. Ethnobotany Research & Applications, 6, 335-346 from
  2. Jepchumba. (2009). Saki Mafundikwa. African Digital Art September. Retrieved from

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