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The V&A gets ready to unveil the new festive décor“Between the Mountain and the Sea”in December 2023

The V&A Waterfront’s Joy from Africa to the World festive campaign is a proof point of how the combination of innovation in African arts, crafts and design coupled with a purpose-led shared value business approach can achieve sustainable success.

Continuing the momentum created over a five-year journey of collaboration and creativity, this year promises to deliver a variety of large-scale, visual show pieces and installations. Each of these installations has been conceptualised to shine a spotlight on the importance of preserving traditional handcraft and merging it with circularity and contemporary design. Featuring bursts of colour and intricate detail, every part of this project is firmly rooted in sustainability – a core value of the V&A Waterfront’s way of doing business.

This year over 20 teams of local crafters, designers and artists have been at work to step up the creative ante on previous years, bringing to life this year’s theme: Between the Mountain and the Sea, which pays homage to the Mother City and its beautiful landscapes, iconic landmarks and the unique culture that make it the world-renowned destination that it is.

Tinyiko Mageza, Executive Manager: Marketing at the V&A Waterfront, explains: “Our sustainabilityjourney began at the end of 2017 with our public announcement that the Waterfront would do all it could to eliminate plastic waste from our property.”

“Using that environmentally sustainable microscope we questioned the need for mass-produced festive decorations that all look the same, imported, and end up as waste in landfill sites. This was unconscionable especially as we have such rich creative talent to draw from right on our shores. Now Joy from Africa channels investment towards independent artisans, small local art, craft and design businesses and creative communities. This collective of partners in turn help us create far more sustainable, unique and compelling festive displays that reflect our heritage and support the mission to restore the relevance of African craft; often passed down through the generations.”

Since the start of the initiative in 2019, the V&A has been able to invest in craft and product development from more than 70 businesses, some of them tenants and therefore part of the Waterfront neighbourhood, but also from communities in Cape Town, the rest of the country as well as the continent. Displays get reused or repurposed each year and newer creations are added to the mix – in the spirit of making the circle bigger. In some cases, displays are recycled and reimagined to create entirely new creations so nothing is ever wasted.

Artists, illustrators and crafters from Langa, Imizamo Yethu, Mitchell’s Plain, Khayelitsha and Philippi, and from as far afield as the Karoo, the Eastern Cape, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Senegal have over the years been commissioned to work with local, sustainable materials to create art installations that get exhibited across the V&A Waterfront precinct – from the mall, to markets and the exterior spaces between the buildings.

Platform Creative is the agency that curates the installations, working with a network of designers, makers, manufacturers and artists. The mission is to mentor and support local creative industries while championing sustainability, encouraging conscious procurement and maintaining a socially motivated drive to build circular economies.

Cathy O’Clery, the company’s Creative Director said: “There’s an extra level of ingenuity and fresh talent from young designers that has come through this year. We are seeing a determined shift to sustainability among younger generations. It’s been wonderful to see how creative young people are engaging with the materials, learning from each other and collaborating with the creative brief in efficient ways with sustainability at the heart of it. 

This year’s creative theme “Between the Mountain and the Sea” was inspired by Cape Town’s unique sense of place, biodiversity and environment.

O’Clery explains: “The V&A is positioned between the Table Mountain and the Atlantic Ocean. The artworks this year is a celebration of Cape Town; which is constantly voted as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and the unique position of the V&A Waterfront as a main attraction.

“What inspires me about Joy from Africa to the World, is that we set ourselves new challenges in design and creative thinking with diverse teams of metal workers, to designers, to weavers, woodworkers, beaders, to illustrators – all working together and learning from each other.”

Every year many visitors return to see old favourites such as the giant Christmas tree, the Hot Air Balloon, the giant books which this year will be hosted by Book Dash, and will also have the opportunity to see newer work on display such as the Cape Wheel and Cable Car collaboration with local designers, Ashanti Design and Monkeybiz.

Audrey Abraham, has been working with Joy from Africa to the World since the beginning; working with Embrace Collective as well as from Wola Nani. Abraham will be making 30 baubles this year recycled from 210 baubles used in previous years.

Regine le Roux is from Re.Bag.Re.Use, an organisation where 15 ladies have been commissioned to work on Joy from Africa to the World.  “Re.Bag.Re.Use started off as a hobby that has snowballed into this incredible initiative. The initiative supports the community and also keeps the environment clean. When a Re.Bag.Re.Use product is sold, not only does it pay a lady that cuts or crochets the products, but a percentage is also donated to the Neighbourhood Old Age Home (NOAH) and the SPCA.  We are incredibly grateful to be part of this amazing initiative, it means a lot that the ladies’ talent will be shared with all the visitors at the Waterfront,” said Le Roux.

Naledi Modupi an illustrator from Mo Art Studio, has been tasked with creating an illustration featuring dancers that highlights the performers of Cape Town. The illustration commissioned will be displayed for the Fashion Link installation. “These dancers exude a sense of diversity, fashion-forwardness, and style. Aiming to capture the vibrancy and colourfulness of Cape Town through my unique artistic style. The objects were creatively inspired by the vibrant culture of the people of South Africa, particularly Cape Town. I aimed to stay true to my artistic purpose, which is to highlight and celebrate the beauty and confidence of women.”

“Since its inception, the award-winning Joy from Africa to the World collaboration has been intentional about ensuring that every partner and individual on the project is credited and invited to see their work showcased at the V&A – something that rarely happens as their craft is often shipped off to private homes, exhibitions, museums often abroad. Beyond the socio-economic impact, the pride everyone feels when they see the finished installations and the imprint they have left on each of the showpieces once they are stitched together, is what really makes this project even more special” Says Tinyiko