Thabisa Mjo, the founder of Johannesburg-based studio Mash T. Design – and the winner of Design Indaba’s Most Beautiful Object in South Africa award in 2018 – has released a vibrant line of telephone wire pendants called Alfred’s Lights.
Named after master weaver Alfred Ntuli, one of the many collaborators on the project, the lights reference an artisanal practice from the 1960s, when Zulu night watchmen would weave 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.
Ntuli, who is known for weaving geometric patterns with telephone wire, had his work cut out for him as these large-scale objects required more patterning than his usual restrained aesthetic allows for. However, he rose to the challenge and the intricately woven pendants represent African design at its finest.
Mjo and Ntuli worked closely with Elizabeth Joubert of interior design studio Tin Lab, who came up with the original concept. “As usual, nothing we do is ever just a single person’s efforts,” Mjo says. “From the management team at Bambizulu who connected us with bab’ Alfred, to the artisans at African Art Centre who helped produce the pendants, the final product is a community effort – a result of everyone’s hearts and skills coming together.”
Because Mjo is so passionate about African storytelling through design, she seeks out artisans whose techniques are rich in local narratives. “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 says. Her iconic Tutu 2.0 lamp (Design Indaba’s Most Beautiful Object in 2018) is a case in point – it was inspired by traditional Venda Xibelani skirts.
South Africans abroad will be aware of Mjo’s products in Nando’s restaurants across the globe – she was the joint winner of the inaugural Nando’s Hot Young Designer talent search in 2016. 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 Creative Director, Tracy Lynch.
Mjo is also the first local designer to have her work form part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris, France. The museum acquired the 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.
Credits: Mash T. Design