Lauded local designer and winner of the Design Indaba Most Beautiful Object in South Africa award 2018 (for her Tutu 2.0 pendant), Thabisa Mjo of Mash T. Design Studio uses the medium of design to tell South Africa stories. She elevates the perception of local design to one of contemporary craft-driven excellence. Her playful use of colour and texture has made her work immediately recognizable and cemented her as one of the new garde of young designers celebrating their culture and heritage.
Best known for her now iconic beaded lights, her strong collaborative spirit has seen her create products in partnership with a range of fellow designers including master weaver Beauty Ngxongo, furniture designers Houtlander (also a former MBOISA winner) and fine art beading outfit Qaqambile Bead Studio. Collaboration epitomizes the inclusive ethos of her studio, and the South African design landscape as a whole. She is the first South African designer to have her work acquired by the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris, France and she has showcased successfully at the Milan Furniture Fair with the Sacrosanct project.
Mjo’s most recent collection, Presents from Joburg, focuses on ceramics and stems from her community-oriented approach. “The range is made up of items centred around serving, underpinned by the idea of coming together at the end of the day and sharing a meal with your chosen community. It's about treasuring those moments spent together around the table,” she explains.
The new collection also intends to make the Mash. T Design Studio range available to a larger audience. ‘We want to make Mash. T products more accessible. Not everyone can get our pendants - even though they might share our values and identify with our design language. So this is a way to get a piece of Mash. T into their hands,” says Mjo.
The expanding range will start off with seven pieces ranging from platters, vases, planters and fruit bowls, to shakers, side plates, candle holders and dip bowls. She worked with ceramicist Aleri Odendaal, in a process that saw them having to adapt to the challenges presented by COVID-19 lockdowns.
“Luckily Aleri has a full set-up in her own home, so she was able to work and experiment safely, and most of our communication actually happened over WhatsApp,” says Mjo.
The range also features work by Neliswa Sigwela of Qaqambile Bead Studio, who says that this collection has allowed her work to be seen by those who might not otherwise have encountered it.
Mjo’s dedication to promoting the work of other designers extends to rising talent. This year she serves as one of the Design Indaba Emerging Creatives curators. “It’s always exciting to have more talent entering the industry – it’s good for the creative economy. The work really gives an overview of where we are creatively right now in South Africa,” she comments. In this curatorial process she sees her role as one of consumer rather than designer. “I approached it by thinking about what informs my buying decisions,” she says.
Read more about Mjo’s curatorial role and background here.