In the West African nation of Senegal, artisans style out metal discards.
Cool, urban and offbeat are all words we can aptly use to describe the artisans and creations of Soweto Village in Dakar, Senegal. To get a feel for Soweto village, imagine yourself weaving through a maze of crowded streets in noisy Dakar, trying your best to employ the spotty French you wish you’d brushed up on before landing. After you finally admit to yourself that you’re completely lost, you unexpectedly come face-to-face with a hip young Senegalese man wearing patchwork pants, his beautifully manicured dreadlocks descending from under his matching tam. He smiles in welcome, and as you eyeball a melee of funky little recycled metal Volkswagen Beetles on a table behind him, you relax. Soweto Village has found you.
The artisans’ medium of choice are bottle caps and recycled aluminum and tin from boldly printed coffee, tomato, sardine, pop and beer cans, the discards of daily life that are always in ready supply in this frenetic West African destination. Vivid colors seem central to West African advertising, and the Arabic, French, English and even Wolof phrases decorating the metal cans add even more eye appeal and cultural distinction.
When Swahili Imports first sampled the creative vision of Mbeye and Jacque, the small workshop’s artisans were focusing mainly on sporty bicycle and motorbike sculptures, constructed to include realistic details and moving parts. Since the motorbikes instantly sold like hot cakes, we branched out together to create some more bestsellers. So far, so good.
To build on our escalating wheeled vehicle craze, we brought a Vespa-style scooter sculpture into the line. From the recycled rubber on the wheels (which really roll) to the plastic windshield cut from a clear jug, every piece of the scooter is recycled. Mod revivalists must be strolling about in stores everywhere, because the reception to these cool sculptures by professional buyers at swahiliwholesale.com has been overwhelmingly positive.
We love art for art’s sake, but nothing makes us happier than art with a purpose. That’s why we worked together with Soweto to create with this year’s storage collection, which includes an umbrella holder, two sizes of buckets (complete with bales) and three sizes of decorative display cans with handles. We designed the pieces fully expecting these visually intense home décor accessories to only appeal to the niche recycling-friendly audience, but there’s something about them that’s already capturing the imagination of shoppers across the board. They’ll be available at swahilimodern.com in 2012.
Recycling and a love for growing things often go hand in hand, so we created decorative watering cans for all the gardeners out there. We’ve found the largest to be a great starting point for a cool floral arrangement, and the smallest is diminutive enough to serve as a holiday ornament. Look for these unique items in 2012, also.
As we continue to develop our relationship with Soweto Village, we keep imagining more useful and purely decorative items we can style out of recycled metal to meet the demand for tastefully designed yet consciously constructed home décor. Keep an eye on swahilimodern.com for arriving recycled creations, and always feel free to share your ideas for rubbish redemption!