Reading Guide

I am Katherina Slee, a creative problem solver, maker and storyteller. I was born and raised in South Africa and have recently relocated to the Netherlands to do this masters. My grandfather was born here and as such my decision was very deliberate. My multicultural heritage is something that I have been exploring through design over the past few years. I want to use my heritage as a lens through which to look into new sustainable possibilities within the world of making.

I have a considered approach to design and really aim to celebrate and ethically represent cultural heritage. With my research I want to explore ways in which indigenous technologies and knowledge can be brought into the ‘modern’ world and vice versa.

Why do I think this is important?

I come from a continent that is so rich in diversity, but it also unfortunately has a history that is tainted in negative assumptions. I am a firm believer that the diverse culture, stories and traditions should be shared to provide a counter-narrative to those assumptions. I do however realise that I come from a place of privilege and some stories are not mine to tell, but to rather offer a way of sharing them. I want to use my privilege as a tool for equality. With a mission that whatever I make, I leave the people involved better off and qualified to continue their legacy on their own.

In third world countries many indigenous techniques and ways of making have been lost due to the demand to replicate ‘modern’ techniques and make products that fulfil an international market. Not only does this remove the artisan from the process, but it has a vastly negative effect on local production and growth.

To be circular I think starting with the cultural and social aspects of sustainability is the core and therefore also the core of my research. We are also living in a time in which it is becoming exceedingly clear how important it is to ethically represent, encourage and empower marginalised and displaced communities.

I have noticed that apart from those who are geographically displaced from their homes, there is currently a universal displacement from normalcy. We are all confined to our homes and we are redefining what these spaces mean to us. I see this as an opportunity to look into making things that on one hand creates a cultural and societal dialogue, but that also encourages a different way of interacting with the objects around us.

Research Question

How can I share the inherent circularity of indigenous technologies and ways of making in order to co-create ‘modern’ sustainable textile design and production?

To answer this question I have identified three ways of making that I will be taking into consideration throughout my research, namely weaving, dyeing and embroidery.

In collaboration with my network in Mozambique, I want to create methodologies that can be easily replicated or adapted in more rural settings in order to allow these communities to develop knowledge. Through co-creation and ‘co-research’, the participants can take ownership of the new methodology by reinterpreting it with their own culture, lives, personalities and geographical opportunities.

Throughout the reframing of my research question, I have identified sub questions to clearly define the experts as well as other participants that I will need to connect with in a local Dutch context. I also aim to facilitate in creating access to share the stories of my participants and experts on both continents.

Sub Questions

How have indigenous ways of making adapted into the the world of industrialised production? (I will look at ways that weaving, dyeing and embroidery have developed and industrialised in the Netherlands)

How have artisans adapted indigenous ways of making to stay relevant and be more sustainable? (Attending online symposia and talks to identify local players)

What is cultural and social sustainability? And what does it mean to my research?

Can we create ‘low tech’ or rural mechanical tools that can sophisticate the three ways of making I have identified, still empowering the artisan?

What mechanical developments can be replicated in a rural setting without forcing a foreign and damaging process or idea? 

What local organic materials and resources are currently used in making?

What ‘waste’ materials can be incorporated into this process?

How do I intend to answer these questions?

In my approach I will use several iterative methods and processes in order to streamline and gain insights. With my participants on the ground in Mozambique I aim to mirror what I will be doing in The Netherlands. I still need to identify a viable organisation or group of people to work with here. I will run two lines of practical enquiry into the materials and methods used and see where there are opportunities for cross-pollination.

I always make sure to stay informed on trends and seek to be inspired by things and people that I notice around me. Now that I have a new geographical context, this has become a great source of contextualising.

I aim to use generative sessions, such as weekly catchups, workshops and cultural probes to gain insight into my experts, artisans and facilitators and their processes. Knowledge and skills transfer is always linked to storytelling in an African context and is very much a part of my research and design process. I will look into natural materials and established processes for my identified ways of making.

Research Trails:

From what is mentioned above, the themes I want to delve into are quite clear. I know that with researching by doing I can expect the unexpected and a few changes along the way, but as it stand right now, these are the trails that I want to go down.

How indigenous technologies and knowledge links to sustainability – (Ethics and representation).

The importance of storytelling in terms of cultural sustainability and growth – (Inclusive design).

What universal methods can be replicated and adapted to rural settings – (Ways of making and modern methods of production).

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