During the bidding phase of Cape Town's World Design Capital 2014 campaign, we often emphasised that the design Cape Town needed was not high-end stuff and pretty objects, but creative problem solving. But what role can beautiful objects play in transforming lives?
Textile designer Jane Solomon, at the request of the Cape Craft and Design Institute, recently worked with women from the Saartjie Baartman Centre to transform their dining area. The one-stop centre in Manenberg caters for women and children who experience domestic and/or sexual violence. Besides a 24-hour emergency shelter, the centre also provides short and medium term residential care, childcare services, counselling, mental health support, and legal and economic empowerment services. About 18 women and 20-25 children are housed in the main shelter section with another nine women and 20 children living in the second stage housing section.
Due to limited resources, the main section had an underequipped and uninviting dining area. Synnov Skorge, director of the Saartjie Baartman Centre, says: “The women come here under extreme, emergency circumstances. Our funding covers the basic needs, but we wanted a welcoming, comfortable dining space where the women could enjoy their meals with their children and reconstruct their families.”
In an effort to enable and inspire, Jane worked with 10 women from the centre over four days. She applied her “body mapping” approach, which she developed 10 years ago as a form of memory work for people living with HIV.
After discussing the atmosphere the women wanted to create – calm, serene, welcoming, uplifting and warm – they each created personal colour palettes. These were put together to create a colour palette for the dining room.
The women then recalled quotes or texts – songs, religious texts, family sayings – that had helped them through difficult times. Using the colour palette, these were written on circles and cut out. Additional circular mandalas were created to express challenges, hopes, experiences and more. These paper circles – or flowers – were scanned and professionally printed as the “Flowers for Saartjie” wallpaper. (A portion of which was produced free of charge by ArtLab.)
“The wallpaper is both attractive and profound because of the messages about [the women’s] experiences,” says Synnov. “It is a testimony to their lives and where they are going, about the strength they have shown.”
Jane Solomon concurs, citing some of the feedback she received from the women:
"The workshop was inspirational. It made me feel good about myself. It was nice to give my opinion – it made me feel helpful again.
"The fact is it totally boosted the way I feel right now. It made me realise that there is a way you can share and express your feelings through art.
Thanks to a paint donation from Plascon, the remainder of the dining room was painted a “Petite and Perfect” pinky peach and the kitchen area a “Happy Day” orange. The community-based service club, Rotary, installed dining furniture to complete the transformation. Woven cotton and linen curtains with a brick-red border added the final touch.
For more about the Saartje Baartman Centre, start by visiting their website: www.saartjiebaartmancentre.org.za