Thabisa Mjo has done it again with an incredible new collaborative project that focuses on telephone wire weaving. The acclaimed local designer’s latest collection is called Alfred’s Lights, and is a line of striking telephone wire pendants.
Mjo worked closely with Elizabeth Joubert of interior design studio, Tin Lab, together with renowned master weaver, Alfred Ntuli – who is known for weaving geometric patterns with telephone wire, and a range of other collaborators to bring the collection to life.
Mjo, the founder of Johannesburg-based studio Mash. T Design, has always been adamant that hers is a practice of African storytelling through design. Over the last few years, as her business has grown, she has increasingly sought out collaborations with artisans who use techniques that are quintessentially South African. “For me, arts and crafts, and anything handmade, represent luxury, and my aim is to merge these traditional production methods with forward-thinking design,” she explains.
In this instance, telephone wire weaving is a longstanding local artisan practice rooted in the 1960’s, when Zulu night watchmen started weaving scraps of telephone wire around their traditional sticks. The practice became popular among Zulu communities, and today there is great innovation and creativity in the use of this medium.
“We were so grateful that bab’ Alfred agreed to work with us, as these designs saw quite a deviation from his usual work. Not only are these pendants on a larger scale, but they also bring in more pattern than his usual, restrained aesthetic. Alfred not only rose to the challenge, but exceeded it. As usual, nothing we do is ever just a single person’s efforts. From the management team at Bambizulu, who connected us with bab’ Alfred, to the artisans at African Art Centre, who helped produce the pendants, and our collaborator, Elizabeth Joubert, whose idea it was to create a telephone wire pendant, the final product is a community effort – a result of everyone’s hearts and skills coming together,” says Mjo.
Notably, Mjo is the first local designer to have her work form part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris, France. The renowned museum acquired two of her pieces – the now iconic Tutu 2.0 lamp and an eye-catching Mjojo cabinet. Both pieces came to the museum’s attention because they were part of an exhibition of Mjo’s work at the Bonne Espérance Gallery, located in the centre of Paris, in 2019.
In fact, it is the landmark Tutu 2.0 lamp that rocketed Mjo to success. Because of this design, she jointly won the first-ever Nando’s Hot Young Designer (HYD) talent search. Her success is an excellent case study for the need and relevance of the HYD competition, which aims to support and promote local designers over the long-term, in addition to functioning as a launching pad for their careers.
Mjo’s products are featured in Nando’s restaurants across the globe. In 2019, she curated an exhibition of her own and other designer pieces at Milan Design Week, an initiative that was sponsored by Nando’s and mentored by Clout/SA Programme Creative Director, Tracy Lynch.
To help usher in a new generation of local stars, the HYD competition is about to head into its fourth iteration, with a new Call for Entry to be announced early in 2022. The aim is to uncover the next Mjo and pave the way for other pieces and collections to be born.