Picture: Artist Robyn Denny and designer Laurie Wiid van Heerden, Photography by Justin Patrick
The historical relationship between Portugal and South Africa started in the late 15th century with the ‘Portuguese Age of Discovery’ when the Portuguese explored South African coasts, nominally claiming them as their own. Here, in Cape Town, some centuries later, exists a contemporary collaboration between a fine artist and a high-end designer. But, what’s the connection with Portugal?
For artist Robyn Denny of Berman Contemporary and designer Laurie Wiid van Heerden of Wiid Design, Portugal, as a source, has figured centrally in their recent work and its shared core principle of sustainable practice. In Robyn’s case, the fruits of grappling aesthetically with the legacy of colonialism is evidenced in her series of paintings and video stills – ‘Traces of Untold Stories’ (curated by Els van Mourik). Robyn’s series, which includes a video installation, was inspired by her visits to the so-called ‘Chocolate Islands’ of São Tomé and Príncipe, tiny islands off the western equatorial coast of Africa.
These former Portuguese slave colonies were responsible for producing much of the world’s cacao until the early 1900s. Today, thanks to a partnership between local government, UNESCO, the NGO Fundação Príncipe, and the driving force of another South African, Mark Shuttleworth – whose HBD holds the tourism concession – Príncipe functions as a protected biosphere reserve. In this spirit, Robyn has dedicated proceeds from sales of her limited-edition prints to support the valuable work done by Fundação Príncipe on economic and social development within the community.
As for Laurie, it was his educational sojourns to Portugal that initially inspired him. Visiting Corticeira Amorim, the world’s largest natural cork producer and distributor, and the nearby cork forests, helped form this local designer’s vision concerning the largely untapped design potential of cork. Laurie sees cork as a fully biodegradable, reusable, lightweight and durable material, which is also ideal for high-end collectable and functional design applications. Joaquim Sá, the Managing Director of Amorim Cork, South Africa, assisted Laurie when his studio started experimenting with cork in 2010.
Wiid Design’s products now regularly push the limits of this material on an international level. World firsts include the largest cork pendant light and cork cabinet. In ‘Traces of Untold Stories’, Robyn’s ink paintings, prints and video stills evoke the chocolate plantation ruins of Príncipe. It was uninhabited until the arrival of the Portuguese in 1471, who began the process of colonisation and bringing slaves from Angola and Cape Verde to work on the sugar, coffee and cacao plantations (roças). Robyn was haunted by the sense of the natural world pouring right through the decaying buildings, and the tension between collective historical loss and the potential for future renewal.
Cape Town Exhibition Intel:
Saturday 15 May, 11:00
Amorim Cork South Africa’s Joaquim Sá to open the exhibition. Join the artist, designer and curator for walkabouts between 12:00 and 14:00.
Saturday 22 May, 11:00
Curator Els Van Mourik to host a conversation between art writer Ashraf Jamal, artist Robyn Denny and designer Laurie Wiid van Heerden. Walkabouts between 12:00 and 14:00.
Text by Nicol Ritchie.