Ancestral Designs Recalibrated

Medina Mukhayer
Multiculturalism Ancestry

Design history is often tunnel visioned with European developments and the majority of these narratives are either focused on and/or written by men. When you do not see a reflection of yourself in the industry you are in, there are two paths you can take, either becoming disenfranchised from the designs of your origins, allowing homogenised norms to dictate. Or intercept the discourse and create new narratives that represent an alternative lineage.

This was what I found and new representations is what I created. This project is about the women who coil baskets in Sudan. I travelled to Sudan and found women who weave, who taught me how to weave. I filmed the process to allow others who did not have access to this knowledge a chance to gain the skill. To understand from the perspective of those within the industry, I interviewed the women who weave, the women who sold the goods in the market and a man who’s family business had been selling the materials since 1820. There remained a devotion to the materiality, the palm leaf fibres, as there had been for thousands of years before.

These objects have been deeply rooted in Sudan’s history, but to the new generation of city dwelling women, with modern aspirations and attuned tastes towards western aesthetics, it repositioned these objects as relics of the culture.

I set up a workshop to allow the opportunity for women to learn how to weave, to re-enact the movements of their ancestors, accompanied with a writing practise, to ensure that women are written into the fabric of history. We reminisced about the memories of our grandmothers that were embodied in these maternal processes. The writing workshop made marks on a Toub, an item of clothing worn by their mothers and grandmothers, to imprint it with their own voices.

I combined the writings produced in the workshop with images of Sudanese women that had been given by Sudanese women, to enrich the visuals with words to form a tapestry of new history.

Reflecting on the material culture at this cross section, with the traditional designs and the influx of mass-produced plastic goods, I wanted to produce a piece that would embody this moment in time, to speak of the friction between the modes of making. I made a replica of a water carrier long used in Sudan, with which I made mould. The cast would be made in Jesmonite, a polymer based resin.

The direction of the project was never about designing for originality. All pretence was crumpled by my naive curiosity. Strict preservation of these indigenous designs and techniques was never really an option for the diaspora. I needed to learn my grandmother’s ways and I did. The tangential themes of multiculturalism and representation approached me. The weavers are custodians of an ancient knowledge and their designs have stood the test of time. These women deserve the same respect as any modern designer respected in their industry︎