Siyanda Mbele on the preservation of Africa and her art.

South Africa

Siyanda Mbele is a South African artist who specialises in interior and furniture design. Born in Umlazi, theyoung designer first fell in love withthe arts at 11 years old.

The designer is invading homes withfunctional furniture that uniquelyreflects different aspects of Africanculture. To him, these designs are about more than aesthetics. They’re his way of encouraging a connection to, and documentation of, aspects of our culture in thespaces we live in everyday.

He loves the creative industry because it gives him full control ofhow to interpret an idea.

“It’s a rewardingly frustrating process. Joy comes when the idea becomes tangible and the design applicationserves a function.”

“Design is extremely important as it affects all 5 senses. It’s all around us. Without design, the world would bea bigger mess than it is now. Lives are improved and saved throughgood design. Design and art origi- nates in Africa. The earliest traces, from written literature, through to Egypt being at the forefront of artand design [start here].”

“It’s unfortunate that in other parts of Africa, authentic literature was notdocumented or preserved. It’s im- portant for us to use art and designas a tool to restore, preserve, update and develop our culture in a way that suits us as Africans”, he says.When he began his studies, his relationship with interior design wasa love-hate one. In fact, he musesthat this bittersweet relation still exists today.

“At first, I thought it’s just designingand didn’t realise the full depth of how technical it is, or the amount of administration and management ofpeople and projects that comes with interior design.”

“Phinda is a Zulu word for ‘again’, [and] when I was asked what’s the most consistent thing about my business, I realised there’s a constant repetition that’s geared towardsdevelopment. There’s growth of the business; I grow as a person and business owner, the designs and design services [I offer] have grown and so, the word ‘Pinda’ was and is still fitting to encapsulate all the different aspects of myself and the business.”

His designs are are inspired byAfrican cultures and the various aspects that encapsulate them. From ritual to ceremonies, practices and symbolisms that form different cultural patterns.

By incorporating these symbolisms into his designs, he believes this is a way to restore and preserve our cultures in away that is both aesthetically pleasing and functional.

“We have been sold the idea that ourcultures are too much, or not good enough compared to our Western [counterparts]. Because of Apartheid,spaces we navigate don’t reflect the people living in them. [Incorporating] our culture [into designs gives a way]to restore and educate, because our symbolisms carry meaning and they’renot just patterns.”

His process is a methodical one, where the designs are informed by research and histories that areotherwise overlooked.

“The beauty [in it] is that there’s always elders who explain why and how cultural practices are performed. Sometimes there’s different ways of doing the same thing, which may or may not yield [the] desired result. Thiscan spark a debate or conversationthat elaborates on the purpose [of the piece]. We then infuse [our] cultureand design [into the] object or spaceby creating analogies based onfindings.”

His analogy, of course, comes in the form of a physical masterpiece.
When it comes to art Siyanda believes, “spirituality is grace. It’s not something that is physical, and is controlled by a force bigger than me. Culture is identity and a way of life. Art and design are visual and physical representations of the mind; heritage is generational wealth [and not limited to the financial]. [These things] co-exist in my hierarchy. The hierarchy changes depending on how I feel, what I want do, where I want to be and the next chapter in my life or business.”

“It’s very important for us to keep the culture alive or it will be sold back to us at twice the price.”

He states that as creatives, “we can’t only expect government to be theonly system. Behind brands are people and as people we should find our common interest and aid each other elevate to the next level.”

He leaves us with a parting thought that many seem to ponder on – how can businesses better support the arts and creative industries?

“By creating more platforms to showcase work, business workshops, mentorships and commissioning freelance work for creatives even if businesses have in-house designers,”he says.

“My designs have changed the narrative that makes African interior designs relevant and it’s clear there’s more to African designs than zebra skins.”

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