“Fashion and craft are a reflection of society.” Christine Gitau tells us more behind Afrika Handmade Symposium

Do you recall us telling you about the Afrika Handmade symposium? This 2 day symposium was focusing on contemporary craft and design in Kenya and took place on 2nd and 3rd October 2014 at the Jacaranda Hotel in Westlands.

There has been the emergence of a new craft – a contemporary genre that challenges the narrow definition associated with the market scenario. This genre employs skilled craftsmanship- combining distinctly African elements with modern design trends to create items that are innovative, unique and that answer to global market demands.  Afrika Handmade aimed to put this exciting new genre on a pedestal.

“The core mission of Craft Afrika is information sharing and knowledge and skills transfer. From there, we program all these other activities.”

We had the opportunity to sit down with the founder, enterprise coach and mentor at Craft Afrika, Christine Gitau to tell us a more in depth background and the story behind Craft Afrika and the Afrika Handmade Symposium.  Christine Gitau is a crafter; having done pottery she experienced difficulties in making a living noting that people are not willing to pay the price of premium. Having realized the gap in the narrative, that is where her journey into Craft Afrika and the Afrika Handmade symposium began. “The lack of structured flow of information,” she states, is the core problem. “The core mission of Craft Afrika is information sharing and knowledge and skills transfer. From there, we program all these other activities.”

She further states that with providing all this information, the natural question that follows is ‘what next?’ “So it follows organically that you have to have a market component. Within that space of information sharing, you create networks and collaborations and from there, market opportunities. It’s a very organic process and we want it to stay that way.”

Perhaps you were like us and wonder what the correlation is between craft and fashion. For Christine, she states “there is fashion in craft such as fashion accessories so they do bleed into each other.” The one problem, Christine points out, is that fashion has been sexified and craft gets the pity looks. “Craft is not sexy and that is what we wanted to dub the symposium initially…’Handmade is sexy’…perhaps we should have gone with it.”

Perhaps, she continues, there need not be a distinction between craft and fashion. There is the element of heritage (timeless pieces) both in fashion and in craft. Take for example, she states, the Chanel jacket. “No matter how, when, where you wear it, it will always be a classic piece,” remarks Christine. She further comments that if you go the National Archives, there is heritage but not necessarily craft. The problem now is that “we want to create quick pieces because they are selling without going through the design process and aesthetics to make a quick buck.”

Take a look below at the Chanel Jacket and its heritage.

Let’s talk about Magdalene Odundo, she states further, who is the only Kenyan to be highly awarded for her contribution to craft and art. “She is par excellence, you can’t even imagine it was handmade. That is craft and heritage and it will outlive her.”

Magdalene’s work may be found in museum and private collections worldwide. She is Professor of Ceramics at the University for the Creative Arts, Farnham, England. Awarded the African Art Recognition Award by Detroit Art Institute in 2008. She was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) at the 2008 Birthday Honours. Magdalene Odundo is currently represented by Anthony Slayter-Ralph gallery housing her outstanding work.

"Fashion and craft are a reflection of society.” Christine Gitau tells us more behind Afrika Handmade Symposium
Magdalene Odundo
"Fashion and craft are a reflection of society.” Christine Gitau tells us more behind Afrika Handmade Symposium
Magdalene Odundo’s stunning pottery.

Christine’s parting shot is that “yes there is a need to pay the bills but there is also a need to create timeless pieces then you can trace a people’s history and current culture. Fashion and craft are a reflection of society.”

In the end, “everyone seems happy” says Christine, as she reviews Day 1 of the Symposium. Intended to be a regional event, next year, Christine intends to take this symposium to Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi. We certainly applaud this initiave and look forward to much more.

For more information:

Website: Craft Afrika  

Telephone: +254 732 982226

Email: craft@craftafrika.org

Facebook: Craft Afrika

Twitter: @CraftAfrika

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