Can beauty redeem us?

Welcome to Design Indaba Festival 2017. Here is our first official dispatch, as we begin.

Our first design dispatch, from our in house media partner, Ashley Johnson from Pentagram.

Perhaps it’s cruel to start a public Design Indaba dispatch with an anecdote from a private dinner held at a Cape Town gallery the night before the festival even begun. Or perhaps that’s why I got the invite in the first place. 

Either way, just before dessert, the artist whose work was on display took a moment to address the assembled guests - Design Indaba speakers, mostly; artists and creators themselves who would, in 72 hours or less, be displaying work and addressing crowds of their own.

Rather than interpreting her work for us, the artist posed a simple question: ‘Can beauty redeem us?’

She was speaking as a South African, of course; a citizen of a country whose history feels closer and rawer than most. But for all of its specificity and context in that moment, the question feels bigger.


Not Will. Can. Is beauty imbued with the requisite virtues and strengths to attempt the task?


A beautiful - creative, simple, powerful, authentic - response to circumstance. Maybe about aesthetic; certainly about grace. 


Suggesting that we are at some sort of nadir, or have something to atone for. Painful and painfully true. 




This is the part about hope. 

I won’t presume to answer the question, but the next three days might.

Design Indaba, is a celebration of what design is capable of. Its power to harness beauty - in all its forms - to respond to the circumstances we’ve created for ourselves. It may not solve every problem, but for the grace it offers - like sunlight on rubble - we should be grateful. 

Enjoy the festival.

This Sun on this Rubble

by South African poet Dennis Brutus 

This sun on this rubble after the rain.

Bruised though we must be

some easement we require

unarguably, though we argue against desire.

Under jackboots our bones and spirits crunch

forced into sweat-tear-sodden slush

– now glow-lipped by this sudden touch:

– sun-stripped perhaps, our bones may later sing

or spell out some malignant nemesis

Sharpevilled to spearpoints for revenging


but now our pride-dumbed mouths are wide

in wordless supplication

– are grateful for the least relief from pain

– like this sun on this debris after rain.

The welcome dinner was generously hosted by The Smith Gallery in Cape Town.