The Interdependence II bench by Houtlander is the Most Beautiful Object in South Africa (MBOISA) 2019. Members of the public had the opportunity to anonymously vote for a total of 10 ‘nominees’ via an online process. Announced on Friday 1 March 2019 at the annual Design Indaba Conference, the love seat came out on top with 20% of the total votes. A playful twist on the traditional love seat, the choice of colour was an integral part of the design. Johannesburg-based furniture maker Houtlander explains that the hue invites the viewer to appreciate the piece as an object in motion; flowing, never static.
What is MBOISA?
Launched in 2007, MBOISA was created to celebrate the diverse creativity in the design scene. The annual event begins with Design Indaba selecting prominent industry members to nominate objects they believe embody the pillars of innovation, functionality, beauty and inspiration. The objects can be selected from a variety of fields, from fashion to art and furniture. Then it’s over to the public.
The main idea behind MBOISA is to introduce and inspire the public to interact with the best of SA Design. Furthermore, it embraces the principles of personal freedom of choice and sensibilities. Therefore, the nominated objects are then publicized and a call to action is sent out, encouraging the public to vote for their preferred piece. They aim to keep the nomination and selection process as transparent as possible, so as to encourage discussions around the different perspectives of what constitutes beauty and notable design.
“We want the public to decide what they think constitutes a “beautiful object” – and it’s not just about what something looks like, it’s also about smart functionality, or a design’s ability to enhance the quality of life for its user or effect change. In the selection process itself we want to foster a sense of appreciation, accessibility and engagement.”
Design Indaba Festival organiser Beverley Cupido
In the 12 years it’s been running, it’s apparent that the answers vary. While some will base their decision on aesthetics or texture, others will assert prominence in function the object serves or the social relevance it possesses. Take for example the inaugural MBOISA winner. It was The Condom Applicator by Roelf Mulder of XYZ Design. Designed in 2004, it spoke to the HIV and Aids crisis in South Africa.
As stated by Design Indaba Festival organiser Beverley Cupido, “We want the public to decide what they think constitutes a “beautiful object” – and it’s not just about what something looks like, it’s also about smart functionality, or a design’s ability to enhance the quality of life for its user or effect change. In the selection process itself we want to foster a sense of appreciation, accessibility and engagement.” The polls close just in time for the Design Indaba conference, where the winner is announced.
Houtlander & their Interdependence II bench
Phillip Hollander and Stephen Wilson are the furniture makers behind the relatively new venture, Houtlander. Working out of their workshop in Roodepoort, their pieces draw inspiration from South African and Scandinavian craft traditions. Interestingly, no metal fixtures of screws are used in their designs.
“We admire modernist design, respect the tried and tested methods of centuries of traditional joinery and challenge ourselves to employ modern methods to create functional pieces with a future heritage.”
Nandi Dlepu, founder of the creative studio Mamakashaka, nominated the blue love seat. Dlepu explained to Business Insider SA, “The manufacturing ability exhibited with this product is applaud worthy, I really love that it’s an abstraction of something familiar. A shakers style love seat with a twist, literally.”
The design duo believes in creating beautiful, useable furniture that are aligned with the basic human principles of inclusivity, environment and legacy. They expound, “We admire modernist design, respect the tried and tested methods of centuries of traditional joinery and challenge ourselves to employ modern methods to create functional pieces with a future heritage.”
This year marks the 12th edition of MBOISA, so if you’re new to the concept, there’s some catching up to do. But we’ll get you started with the 2015 -2018 title holders:
2018: Tutu 2.0 Pendant Light
This functional lamp was designed by Thabisa Mjo as a re-imagination of the ballerina tutu. She drew on both African and Western fashion styles to create the piece. Why ‘2.0’, you may ask. As explained by Design Indaba, ‘It’s called the Tutu 2.0 Pendant Light because according to the designer, it is an evolution of the iconic ballet outfit mingled with hallmarks of an African counterpart, the Xibelani skirt. Often worn by Tsonga women, the Xibelani skirt is known for its structural, tiered layers and colourful vertical pleats.’
2017: The Sankara Rug
Made by Textile Designer Nkuli Mlangeni, this Sankara rug is a representation of Africa’s rich history of craft, as well as, South Africa’s modernity. This rug is part of a larger series that celebrates the art of traditional textile weaving. Her aim is to inspire the younger generation to preserve the practice and prevent the culture from dying out.
2016: Xhosa-Inspired Shawl
The unisex design was made in a black and white knit yarn, the design boasts Xhosa aesthetics. Laduma Ngoxolo made the shawl from 80% wool and 20% mohair and it’s been designed to be versatile; with over 20 different ways to wear it.
The popular canopy walkway, known as the Boomslang, was designed by architect Mark Thomas and engineer Henry Fagan. It’s a 130m-long treetop walkway in Kirstenbosch and is a favourite with locals and tourists alike. Launched in time for the World Environment Day, this walkway was made to blend in with the natural surroundings. Moreover, the assembly and finishing had to negotiate around the existing trees while doing so high above ground level.
MBOISA isn’t just about the winners. There are many factors that make the concept itself alluring and of great importance. Firstly, it’s an event that highlights the country’s innovation and artistic ability. Secondly, this platform and the conversation it sparks brings large media and public exposure to the nominated items. Thirdly, it acknowledges that differences in opinions and perspectives exist, encouraging the public to be open to hearing another person’s point of view.
Fourthly, the work can be a reflection of the country cultural temperature. An avenue of expression and a marker for historical reference. And lastly, that the public gets to vote, essentially forming a new definition of beauty every year. For more of the past winner, visit the Design Indaba website here. Don’t forget to share your thoughts about the MBOISA 2019 winner in the comment section below.