Inspiration for creative types

Creative enthusiasts will descend on Cape Town this week, hoping to glean inspiration from Africa's biggest Design Indaba. The buzzword this year is "transdisciplinary". The event has become a major international two-week festival and its scope has widened to encompass all of the creative spheres.

"Bona fide design, film, music, the culinary arts and technology will all be catered for, creating an event that is truly transdisciplinary," said founder Ravi Naidoo.

The Cape Town International Convention Centre will house the major events. The flagship Design Indaba conference will run from Wednesday to Friday, featuring international speakers who span eight decades of experience, five continents and a myriad of creative spheres.

It will be followed by Design Indaba Expo at which almost 40 000 visitors shop for the best of South African design and creative wares from a tightly curated consortium of over 300 exhibitors.

There is also the Design Indaba FilmFest, which runs for two weeks and screens 15 feature films and documentaries on creativity, most of which are premieres on the African continent.

This year a new event is also being launched — Design Indaba Music Circuit — which hosts live performances by more than 30 music artists at eight different venues in the city over three nights, from Wednesday to Friday. There are other creative offerings such as Your Street: Design Indaba's "Do Tank" initiative, which invites people to pitch ideas on how to improve their street, neighbourhood or city, with cash prizes for the winning ideas.

There is also the Educator's Indaba, the ever-popular Most Beautiful Object in South Africa competition and the Emerging Creatives programme that sees a group of 40 debut their work at Design Indaba Expo.

Speaking about the conference, Naidoo explained the thinking behind the jam-packed agenda: "Today's 21st-century problems are so complex that working in silos will never sort them out. Our most vexing problems are transdisciplinary and multidisciplinary in nature."

The conference programme reflects this by featuring people who move seamlessly between the worlds of architecture, interactive design, product design and other creative fields.

"The speakers on the programme are transdisciplinary people of the 21st-century renaissance, and the way they solve problems in their niche is applicable across industries," he said.

Another crucial element of the conference, said Naidoo, is the cityscape. "Most of our issues relate back to the urban experience. So even when it comes to the more traditional fields of design like architecture, it's not so much about building new things nowadays, it's about retroengineering existing things too, finding new utilities in the things we already have."

It is a conference on thought leadership, more than design. And across its platforms, Design Indaba swears by the mantra "A better world through creativity". It is a philosophy that underlies each element of the carefully curated programme — designed to inspire, educate, entertain and fuel economic growth in an increasingly pertinent sector.

Design gurus on the conference line-up

John Maeda
He has been dubbed the "Steve Jobs of academia". Esquire named him one of the 75 most influential people of the 21st century and his Twitter feed was one of Time's 140 best Twitter feeds of 2011. John Maeda is an artist, graphic designer, computer scientist and widely respected educator. In his current incarnation as president of the Rhode Island School of Design, Maeda is leading the movement to transform the United States's educational emphasis on Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) to Steam by adding art.

Another branch of Maeda's work looks at how design and technology can bring clarity to leadership in the era of social media.

Jeanne van Heeswijk
Based in Rotterdam but working in cities around the world, Jeanne van Heeswijk is a visual artist who creates context for interaction in public spaces. A strong sense of social involvement and collaborations with artists, designers, architects, software developers, shopkeepers, governments and citizens often characterise Van Heeswijk's cultural productions.

Much of her work is about en-abling communities and using design to address urban issues that are traditionally the mandate of social scientists or city planners. In 2012 Van Heeswijk was awarded the Curry Stone Design Prize for Social Design Pioneers.

Spoek Mathambo & friends
South African singer, rapper, producer and DJ Spoek Mathambo is at the vanguard of a new wave of African artists with his fresh take on Afrofuturism. This year he is presenting at Design Indaba Conference and also performing at the Assembly as part of the music circuit.

Mathambo's work is unlike anything made or heard before: a version of electronic music that fuses futurism with a strong sense of pride in where he comes from.

His 2010 album Mshini Wam, with which he established the genre "township tech", was a testament to the expanse of his styles and influences. In 2012 he was nominated, for the second consecutive year, for a Music of Black Origin award in the best african artists category, alongside music industry heavyweights D'banj, Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Kanye West and Rihanna.

Mathambo will be joined on stage at the Design Indaba conference by The Smarteez, The Brother Moves On and Bogosi Sekhukhuni, creatives all working at the intersection of fashion, art, music, film and design. Mathambo believes these artists, his contemporaries, represent a new form of cutting-edge, cross-disciplinary South African innovation that is accessible to the masses.

Alex Atala
A revolutionary in his own culinary right, Brazilian chef Alex Atala's work is concerned with changing the way Brazil is experienced on a plate.

Having trained in Michelin-star restaurants in Europe, Atala returned to Brazil intent on raising the profile of indigenous ingredients to gastronomic fine dining.

In 1999 he opened the D.O.M restaurant, which many felt became, simply, "what Brazil tastes like".

Atala has a real commitment to the development of sustainable farming. His own research has taken him deep into the Amazon and he emerged with an awareness of the fragility of ecosystems and the need to protect them.

Atala and D.O.M have been widely awarded, but the sensitive, sustainable and intelligent way he cultivates and harvests ingredients is what make his work particularly topical.

Masashi Kawamura
Recently named one of Fast Company's "100 Most Creative People in Business 2012" Masashi Kawamura is the founder and creative director of Party, a creative lab based in Tokyo and New York.

Driven by the belief that "new creations are born from new creative processes", Kawamura's Party explores the world of design and interaction, working on music videos, product designs and social apps, among other endeavours.

In a music video for a Japanese band, Kawamura got the band's fans from across the world to feature in the video through a webcam recording. In a similar vein Kawamura created a light animation for an interactive music video that allows fans to create their own "strobe messages" to embed in the video.

Nicholas Hlobo
Nicholas Hlobo is a South African artist, fast gaining an international reputation for his experimental use of materials.

He was the Standard Bank Young Artist for Visual Art 2009, and the Rolex Visual Arts Protégé for 2010/11, working with Anish Kapoor as his mentor. The giant flying rubber dragon he created for the Venice Biennale in 2011 was later bought for the personal collection of Jochen Zeitz, a German collector who is also the chairman and chief executive of Puma.

Although this article has been made possible by the Mail & Guardian's advertisers, content and photographs were sourced supplied and approved by Design Indaba. It forms part of a larger supplement.

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