Exhibition Umcebo Design
The word Umcebo means “treasure” or “wealth” in isiZulu, the language of the people of kwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.
The concept of Umcebo Design in Durban, South Africa, was born out of a long history of working with marginalized people of varying abilities around the idea that art and craft can be elevated to a new level of creativity and, at the same time, generate valuable income for participants.
Robin Opperman started the concept experimentally in the 1990s while working as an Art Teacher at Ningizimu School for the Severely Mentally Handicapped. The idea of roping in community support for art and craft projects, with a view to generating income and gaining exposure for the art program, became the seed idea for what was to become "Umcebo Trust".
Robin moved on from the school to run the newly formed Umcebo Trust full-time in the early 2000s. This was an experimental model to see if art and craft could be self-sustaining and support a small core of full-time crafters and a wider community of "outreach" crafters.
Whilst the Trust achieved much success it also faced many challenges and the latest global economic down-turn ultimately lead to Umcebo Trust closing down due to lack of funding and overhead pressures.
This was not the end though; not being willing to walk away from the idea, Robin transformed Umcebo Trust into “Umcebo Design”. Robin now operates with a small core group of artists, crafters and consultants who bring their unique skills to the party. Most of the craftwork and commission work is done by Robin and his core group but where possible work is out-sourced to local community crafters who are able to make good money for themselves on a commission basis.
Umcebo Design continues to produce unique art and craft pieces and works closely with other craft-centered organizations in the Durban area.
Iwwg asked Robin about the history Umcebo’s signature Chandelier. In his words…
“We wanted to add trendy and designer recycled products that were genuinely made from recycled materials and which would allow the community to become involved in our work. The theme of “BRIDGING DIVIDES” for Cape Town, the World Design Capital 2014, seemed well suited and a great opportunity to get people to think about recycling and collecting recycled materials. Many people are often looking for opportunities to recycle and to become involved in design. Making The Chandelier allowed us to address both these aspects in a meaningful way.”
What motivated Umcebo to work with the materials chosen? Robin’s reply…
“We wanted to work with recycled materials whilst maintaining the same level of quality and design of our other products. We experimented with materials and found that the plastic from ice cream containers is made in contemporary colors and lends itself to being worked with cutters and a heat gun. We experimented with combining this material with welded armatures and cable ties and we found the look very pleasing, something that people would want to collect and have showcased in their offices and homes. There is a plentiful supply of this material which we get directly from the community who come and visit our workshop frequently to see what their plastic has been used for”.