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Op-Ed: Influence and Cultural Heritage by Atang Tshikare

Africa has 54 different countries and at the bottom tip lies South Africa. In this country we have 11 official languages, a few unofficial and a plethora of dialects. So, you can only imagine the amount of cultural variations in a metro like Johannesburg - multiple layers overflowing and generating new subcultures. These cultures coexist symbiotically and spawn new ways of thinking that create new customs, perpetually birthing overlapping viewpoints.

When you look at the scope of possibility with new creations within this thinking then the influence of cultural heritage is exponential. The history of our culture has evolved into an abundant wealth of personalities which for the most part is still to be documented in one form or the other.

History can also create new crusades from old mistakes; hence I say many cultural revolutions are sparked by art movements. In Germany, graffiti rose after the fall of the Berlin wall. Initially it was rebellious and occasionally political but now it has spread far and wide, visible in anything from advertisements to the most revered art institutes with Banksy being its most notable embodiment.

From the toppling of Cecil Rhodes statue at the Cape Town University came the “Africanize” movement which galvanized a proud South African culture of expression. New perspectives create cross cultures which move across spiritual, physical and visual borders as a form of overlapping communication. This process is ever evolving but at the base is knowledge of self and heritage. When those fall away then there is no identity, one thing looks like a copy of another and any attempt of creativity is ultimately lifeless.

In the past few years I have endeavored to strengthen my cultural knowledge with the help of my wife Tlalane, who is doing her PhD in Sociolinguistics. She is specializing in Indigenous Knowledge Systems and she conducts the research which informs my creations and its narrative. So, when I create pieces it is a form of self-expression and self-preservation of my culture with information as an academic element that strengthens the design feature. To have optimum self-knowledge I need inner reflection in a holistic approach and as a designer I use multi-sensory creations to enhance the tactile nature of my work.

I have worked with weavers from Lesotho, where people pride themselves in hand woven goods. Their manufacturing techniques, materials, value systems are their way of living with a culture that has been passed down for generations. Even Vernacular architecture is a norm. By collaborating I have entered a new way of thinking which is vastly different from what is found in “developed” countries.

The value is great because the techniques are not easily replicated anywhere else, which creates a new desired design language, making the difference acceptable through collaboration. So, all culture is important because it informs us on different ways we can live, create, and enjoy our differences, helping us to expand our field of view therefore expanding our understanding of style, material, use and appreciation.

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