Skip to content

On the CUSP series: Meet Murray King and Binky Newman

The duo at Design Afrika delved into basketry and how to integrate it into other materials.

Bookmark article to read later

By Piet Smedy | October 23, 2022 | Art

Design Afrika's founding mission was to revitalise the ancient skill of basket weaving in Africa. The founders share, ‘We have been doing this for 27 years. It became apparent that the weavers' skills needed to be elevated to an art form to preserve and sustain their expertise. So, we produce woven sculptures. However, we then felt that to keep the art of weaving relevant, we needed to produce pieces, that were both sculptural and functional.’

The duo explains, ‘Functional design and art are produced by highly creative and talented people - it is impossible to define one without the other. Both require knowledge of materials and their possibilities and limits, and how they can be transformed into something that is beautiful to look at. While a piece of design has a different end goal - to be functional - one can employ the same processes that go into conceptualising and bringing to life a piece of art.’

Design Afrika’s submissions for the CUSP exhibitions, Image: Karl Rogers

Our goal is to illustrate how weaving with organic materials can be developed into an art form. We feel that we have a responsibility to preserve the ancient knowledge and techniques that, in the modern world, are at risk of being forgotten.

Natural fibres are a striking design element and material, Image: Karl Rogers

As with working in any medium, the fibre materials that we use in basketry present particular constraints that need to be overcome. To accommodate these challenges, the designers need to dig deep to find creative solutions that push the limit of the material.

In the end, it is the material that dictates the design process, which is ever-evolving and organic. Across the globe, basketry came about to perform specific functions but became a vehicle for important cultural and historical knowledge. We may not have the same need for baskets as our ancestors did, but we can still weave our stories into objects that have relevance today.

In the design sector, the artisanal and handmade are under threat owing to the lack of material recognition for the skilled artisan. Elevating their craft to design status through incorporating a design element assures sustainability.

What was unique with CUSP was that it allowed us to ignore all the usual product development steps and go straight into the experimental stage. It gave us the chance to have fun with our creativity without restraint.

We work with organic materials such as palm fibre, mountain grass and sedge river reed to make our baskets, but we have been wanting for some time to combine "found" wood with our weaving techniques.

CUSP was the perfect opportunity to experiment and develop this idea.

This article originally appeared in the September 2022 issue of House and Garden SA