Domain: Research

Themes: Inclusive Design, Culture and Participation

Inclusive arts and crafts design: empowering people with disability to contribute to their community in Southern Africa

Project Overview

Many countries in Southern Africa are still supported by overseas economic aid to offset need in the poorest communities. Within these poorest of communities, those living with a physical or cognitive impairment are often the most vulnerable.

In collaboration with the Southern Africa Federation of the Disabled (SAFOD) designers and craftspeople from Loughborough and Aston Universities, Community Interest Company Workshop 305 and the Crafts Council came together to network knowledge exchange laid the foundations of a bridge between communities and people living with disability within those communities, to enable dialogue and exchange of knowledge, through culture and heritage, expressed as artefacts. Initially, this exchange was between three Countries in Southern Africa and the UK partners.

Artists and Craftspeople from Botswana, Malawi and South Africa were invited to visit London UK to meet with other people with disabilities doing arts and crafts, as well professional designers and craftspeople and a representative of the Crafts Council. They also were shown workshop facilities, ways of funding inclusive crafts in the UK. They also visited the New Designers student exhibition to see the latest craft and design artefacts and thinking. The visiting artists and craftspeople also took part in a workshop to discuss priority areas where they needed assistance and a webinar where some pathways for development were presented and discussed.

Sarah Anton and Shadrek Ndlovu smiling and weaving on a loom
Empowering people with disabilities to develop sustainable inclusive crafts enterprise through knowledge exchange. (In the photo: Sarah Anton, Director Workshop 305, and Shadrek Ndlovu blind weaver and artisan bread-maker)

The Impact

The network event was successful in raising awareness of inclusive arts and crafts in Southern Africa, connecting with several artists and crafts people at different levels of arts and crafts, from recent graduates to experienced practitioners and tutors.

The most significant achievements from the award include:

  • Connections made in the United Kingdom and Southern Africa.
  • Identification of common needs and aspirations for United Kingdom and Southern African Artists and Craftspeople.
  • The opportunity for further knowledge exchange between the UK and SA arts and craftspeople relating to inclusive heritage craft skills and expression of cultural heritage through artefacts.
  • A better understanding of preferred communication formats for people in Southern Africa.

The Outcome

The event highlighted a number of points and challenges:

  • The needs of disabled artists and crafts people are very similar in the UK and Southern Africa, for able-bodied and disabled alike;
  • The need to identify a market for their artefacts that will pay a fair price for their work;
  • Making it easier to produce artefacts;
  • Training of new disabled artists and craftspeople;
  • Celebrating the quality of ideas and concepts produced, as well as the heritage crafts used to create products and works of art;
  • Ways of reframing society's viewpoint of them (as 'no-person' disabled and in some cases because they are female), viewing their work more inclusively; and,
  • Exploiting the many opportunities to share knowledge, skills and ideas through dialogue using different communication formats and technologies.

The network event highlighted the expertise of the craftspeople Shadreck Ndlovu, from Botswana, and Rita Malangeni from South Africa, who were representing their region. The envisaged need to help with coping strategies was not required as they had already developed effective coping strategies for the available resources within their community. They also demonstrated their capability in running their own businesses within their national and local Government structures.

Although Mussa Chiwaula, Batik painter, was using cultural references in his work it was clear that there was an opportunity to demonstrate to most craftspeople in southern Africa, such as Rita and Shadreck, how to exploit their rich cultural heritage. Currently, they use their heritage craft skills in a way closer to that of a commercial product designer and don't always include their local cultural references in their designs.

The findings are currently being taken forward. Follow-on funding has already been applied to start to build capability and capacity within SAFOD to deliver more support to their membership of around 50,000 members across ten Countries. The Southern Africa Assistive Technology Expo (SAATE) event associatged with the follow-on funding has been postponed to 2022, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, a webinar of invited International speakers who will present different pathways to sustainable inclusive businesses will take place in late September 2021.

A 'Crafts abilities' website and associated Facebook page continue the discussion via specific groups on social media. Videos from the initial network event are available through the website and show the skill of Rita Malangeni, a one-handed crotchet and knitting expert.