The land I come from
The most common question in London, after "What's your name?" is "Where do you come from?". And then you usually you have a variation of "How long have you been here?" (that implies, when are you planning to leave?), "Why did you move here?" (like, why should this be your business?), and my favourite, which I still don't understand "Where do you live?" (that means, how much do you get per year?).
The thing is that I am an immigrant. I am a Londoner from Italy, and I have never felt so Italian like in London. There is something in this city that keeps on reminding me where I come from, and at the same time, why I don't belong to my hometown, Turin, anymore.
According to the United Nation, a migrant is “A person who moves to a country other than that of his or her usual residence for a period of at least a year (12 months), so that the country of destination effectively becomes his or her new country of usual residence.” Students are included in international migration statistics in line with this internationally agreed definition.
Historically, Art and travel are intricately related: the Grand Tour used to be one of the rites of passage for artists and intellectuals during the 17th Century, a personal path to explore the common European Classical legacy and to develop a deeper personal consciousness.
Attending Central Saint Martins I understood how fluid the concept of migration is: it doesn't regard only passport or visas, but ideas, skills and outcomes. Giving an example, my tutors used to remind me how to challenge a project in an Italian way or to remember how my Italianess was affecting my choice of colours, shapes and textures, as well as in my way of talking (loud), eating (a lot), and being unnecessarily passionate (well, that's the ultimate Italian thing).
The interesting thing about migration is that it challenges basic political concepts such as borders, is a political and economic understanding of Us/Them Concept, while design can discuss the resulting cultural complexities. We focus on the problems of globalisation and migration, and design offers the chance to look at those topics from a different angle. As designers, I think we should always ask ourselves how we are influenced by our backgrounds, and why being from a certain part of the world makes any difference in generating ideas.
During the last Degree Show of MA Design Ceramic, Furniture and Jewellery course I have met three talented designers, who explore the cultural bonds and development of the migration.
Dorr’, a collection of 22k gold jewellery by Sundus Talpur. Inspired by the textiles of South Asia and the stories of the past they carry, the works explore how the richness of gold jewellery grounds such embodied narratives in contemporary design and current lifestyles.
Reflecting centuries of migration, trade, political, of courtly and agrarian influence, ‘Dorr’ encapsulates fragments of the historic richness of textiles found in Pakistan and of Talpur’s native heritage. Hand embroidered and hand woven textiles, some including a direct legacy of the sixteenth century Mughal Courts, were crafted for the project by artisans in the province of Sindh. Talpur’s designs explore the graphical vocabulary and physicality of the textile. Each jewellery element contains the ‘fired out’ details of hand-weave and embroidery.
‘Dorr’ re-connects diaspora communities, echoing a sense of belonging whilst offering an opportunity to give back to their home community. At the heart of this collection is a socially engaged economic model, where each piece credits the makers and designers, with a percentage of the selling price returning to the artisans.
‘Ancestry’ by Ellis Mhairi Cameron stems from an interest in how our identities are influenced by our specific locations, environments and topography and how this forms social heritage. Cameron explores the theory of topophilia, the definition for a sense of place, with fragmented rock textures used to convey a sense of landscapes from the Scottish Highlands. The work also takes inspiration from the architecture of medieval Scottish buildings, of castles and ruined houses. Collaging subtle textures and forms Cameron sets out to remake lost or imagined jewels from history for contemporary lives. Seeking clients amongst the Scot diasporas in the Americas, Australasia and across the globe, the jewels offer new treasures.
For furniture designer Janee Leung the driving force of this project is returning high craft Chinoiserie wood carving rich with symbolism, back to the centre of Chinese society to create a distinctive bridge that reconnects East and Western cultures.
Recognising the influence of a booming economy and exposed to ideas of Western culture, the ‘new’ Chinese generations have created a strong, economic focused society, whilst retaining traditional family orientations. Homes are becoming smaller and many traditional interior features, shrines, formal rooms, carved thrones are disappearing. This dynamic cultural has created a different perception of traditional wood carved furniture and consequently communities of craftsmanship and their historical knowledge are becoming lost to China.
Inspired by the Chinoiserie, a wholly European style whose inspiration is entirely Oriental, Liang has created a new modular approach to Chinoiserie decoration, remaking the possibilities of elaborate chairs, whilst developing a systematic approach offering a bespoke, personalised process for new generations of high end furniture buyers in China and beyond.