Design

Nkuli Mlangeni-Berg is Delicately Weaving Her Name Into The International Textile Space

Recently awarded 'Best New Talent' by Monocle, Sweden-based South African textile designer Nkuli Mlangeni-Berg on her unique collaborations with other African designers and her tremendous love for weaving.

Weaving is one of the oldest practices in textile production. Expertly interlacing yarns, over a loom, to produce a variety of fabrics is something South African designer Nkuli Mlangeni-Berg knows all too well. The recent recipient of Monocle's "Best New Talent" award, Mlangeni-Berg's love for the African continent, its burgeoning textile industry and the empowerment of its artisans is at the fore. Succinctly put, she's putting African designers in the textiles realm on the map.

Born and bred in Kagiso, Krugersdorp — and now based in one of the world's elite design hubs, Sweden — Mlangeni-Berg is currently on a mission to channel back the resources at her disposal to fellow designers across the African continent. Collaboration, something she values extensively, is at the heart of her craft.

The beauty of her childhood experiences, her Zulu-Ndebele roots and love for South Africa often inspire Mlangeni-Berg's unique creations. In 2017, the designer's Sankara Rug, which referenced the popular Ndebele patterns and traditional reed dance, was named the "Most Beautiful Object in South Africa" by Design Indaba – a remarkable accomplishment for the then upcoming designer.

Mlangeni-Berg is a huge advocate of weaving the past and future together, as well as connecting the old with the contemporary. We caught up with her to discuss being a multi award-winning designer, her current projects and grand hopes for Africa's textile design space.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


What does being awarded Monocle's Best New Talent mean to you at this stage of your career?

I think more than anything, it's cool to be acknowledged on an international scale because I'm relatively new in that space. I'd mostly made moves back at home in South Africa. I view this accolade as somewhat of a nod that I'm on the right path. It's great to be seen and recognised. As you can imagine, it hasn't been a very easy year — everyone's been going through a lot. This Best New Talent award has given me the motivation to keep going.

On that note, how have you been navigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on your work?

Luckily, I've always worked virtually. The artisans I work with — at the two weaveries I'm linked to — are a small group of women in a rural setting. In terms of COVID-19 health and safety protocols, they were able to continue working. Our production wasn't affected much. In terms of buyers, I think a lot of people are a bit insecure about consuming stuff in times of uncertainty. With job losses on the rise, it hasn't been an easy time for sales. I do, however, think that things are getting better now.


Sankara Rug, "Most Beautiful Item"Still taken via Design Indaba YouTube video.


Let's talk about the Ndebele pattern in your work. What about it struck you so much that it became a key design feature in your rugs?

The Ndebele pattern featured prominently in the first collection. However, we have since evolved and are trying out different things. Both my maternal grandmother and great-grandmother are Ndebele. At home, we speak a combination of Ndebele and Zulu. I guess the project was about paying homage to growing up surrounded by the Ndebele culture, but never really giving it much recognition until it started making waves internationally. I think it also says a lot about our appreciation of ourselves, who we are and how we take these things for granted when we're younger.

I took so many things for granted and, now, when I look back I'm like, "Oh, wow! Why didn't I appreciate that when I was younger?" I could have learned so much if I had spent more time with my Ndebele grandmother instead of thinking, "Oh, what the hell is that?" The initial collection was my graduate project and, then, I was curious about working with a concept that originated from the African continent.

Some of Nkuli Mlangeni-Berg's work. Image supplied.

In terms of your design studio and collaborative platform The Ninevites, what led you to set it up? Do you think there are enough design sites and studios like yours — in South Africa at least?

There are a few. There's Thabiso Mjo of Mash T. Designs. There's also The Herd, and a few other people who are doing really cool stuff. The Ninevites was initially set up as my hobby project. I wanted to dabble in fashion in a way that I preferred and found comfortable. The Ninevites' founding principle was for it to be an alternative space where I could do the things I liked. It has since evolved and is now employing people and is recognised on an international scale.

In South Africa specifically, we've got a good number of fashion designers being recognised on international platforms — so, I'd say we're doing well on that front. When it comes to interior design, however, we're still not there yet. More and more people are breaking into interior design but, sadly, it's still not a big space for Black people.

The weaving process in action. Image supplied.

Do you have plans of making the art and textile industries accessible to other young people who currently view it as intimidating or classist?

Together with six other South African designers, we've started a collective called South African Designers and Artisans Imbizo. Oftentimes, we wait on big institutions to help make things happen for us. We've decided to flip the script and, now, want to do things on our own. I am hosting an exhibition, here in Sweden, at the end of May where all those designers from our collective will be showcasing their work. The exhibition will be part of a bigger design event called Southern Sweden Design Days. Their work will also be retailed, in Sweden, for a month. We're in the process of figuring out a lot of things, but the main aim is to reach a place where we have ownership of our work, help promote designers and artisans internationally and ensure everyone gets paid what they're worth — sans any exploitation.

There's another project that I recently did through my studio, a magazine called Lesela. Lesela, a Sesotho/Setswana word meaning fabric, is about profiling textile artists from the African continent. It was done through a project called Telling Tales, which involves three African textile designers — myself included. I worked with an all-female creative team, in South Africa, which included Lebogang Tlhako (Sista Bozza), Alexis Rose and Noncedo Gxekwa – all photographers. Collaboration is the essence of my studio. In all my projects, I always try to collaborate with really awesome people from Africa. I'm now Sweden-based and have access to resources that I'd like to channel back to the continent.

'Lesela' magazine. Image supplied.

You've obviously done a lot of collaborative work. Are there still any African designers that you're keen to work with, or whose work you admire?

Oh, of course. I love Zohra Opoku's work in Ghana. I absolutely admire and love Malawian artist Billie Zangewa's work. I would love to spend time with the women in KwaZulu Natal (KZN) who make the textiles and clothing for the Shembe Church. One of my other dreams would be to return home for a few months and spend time interning with basket weavers and beaders in rural parts of KZN. I'd also love to visit Senegal. There are some really cool projects coming out of there. There's an amazing young woman by the name ofJohanna Bramble who runs a Dakar-based hand weaving studio. I hope to someday get a nice grant so I can travel across Africa for a year, just interning.

On the subject of remaining your authentic self, while also being on a predominantly Eurocentric international stage, what keeps you grounded?

I have so much respect and love for where I come from — remembering how I grew up helps with this. South Africa's history is quite challenging. It's crazy and so wild that we are a deeply scarred nation with so many amazing people. On the one hand, you're like, "Oh my God, I love this country so much!" And on the other you have scourges like crime, corruption and gender-based violence that make you go, "Oh my, this country is so sad and messed up!" However, there's something to be said about South Africa's sense of community and the people. I think about where I come from, the streets of Kagiso, my grandmother's home, my people, downtown Joburg, the love and the hate — I carry that with me wherever I go.

Popular
Photo by: Screenshot from The Daily Show'

"My Time is Up:" Trevor Noah Talks About Leaving 'The Daily Show' After 7 Years

The South African comedian announced that he would be leaving the Comedy Central series after his seven-year tenure.

Trevor Noah announced that he will be leaving The Daily Show after seven years.

In his statement Noah described his experience hosting the show as "absolutely amazing."

“It’s been absolutely amazing. It’s something that I never expected,” Noah said. “I found myself thinking throughout the time of everything we’ve gone through. The Trump presidency, the pandemic, just the journey, more pandemic and I realize that after the seven years, my time is up.”

Following the departure of Jon Stewart from the show in 2015, the South African comedian became the show's host, and has since interviewed the likes of Barack Obama, Burna Boy, Davido and a host of other notable public figures. The 38-year-old has also used his platform to elevate African artistry and elevate the African experience. Noah alluded to the idea that his decision to leave the show was inspired partly by his interest in returning to stand up comedy and exploring his skillset that way. Noah also thanked his viewers for giving him an opportunity when he first came on the American scene as a comedian who very few knew about.

“I spent two years in my apartment, not on the road, and when I got back out there, I realized there’s another part of my life out there that I want to carry on exploring. I miss learning other languages. I miss going to other countries and putting on shows,” said Noah.

Noah also referred to the show as "one of the greatest joys" of his life, and has credited the show for helping him hone his creative muscle.

“I’ve loved hosting this show, it’s been one of my greatest challenges and one of my greatest joys,” Noah said. “I’ve loved trying to find a way to make people laugh, even when the stories are particularly shitty, even on the worst days. We’ve laughed together, we’ve cried together.”

Although he did not make any comments about his last day on the show, or exactly when he would exit, he did humorously say that he would not abruptly leave without prior warning.

“Don’t worry, I’m not disappearing,” said Noah. “If I owe you money, I’ll still pay you.”

Arts + Culture
Photo by Felix Dlangamandla/Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images

'Reyka' Will Represent Africa at This Year's International Emmy Awards

It's South Africa's time to shine as the TV drama and its lead actress Kim Engelbrecht are chosen to represent the continent.

The list of nominees for this year's International Emmy Award ceremony has been released, and the tip of Africa has been assigned as this year's representation for the continent. South Africa is the only country to be included on this year's roster and received nods in three categories: TV drama Reyka earned Best Drama and Best Performance by an Actress for its star, South African sweetheart Kim Engelbrecht, and My Better World scored a nomination in the Best Kids Factual & Entertainment program.

Keep reading...Show less
Music
Photo credit: Paras Griffi

Asake Has to Add Third O2 Academy Show After Selling Out in Minutes

As he climbs up the ladder of global superstardom, Asake continues to break glass ceilings and crash websites.

Asake has been making undeniable waves with his music and mass appeal, and his recent O2 Academy ticket sales are proof of that.

The new Afrobeats sensation recently sold out London's O2 Academy venue for his upcoming UK stint. Amidst the buzz of the sold out show, the official account of the O2 Academy took to social media to share that Asake would be headlining two additional shows at the event's center. Although the original date was slated for the 11th of December, the high demand for tickets pushed organizers to add on two more dates to the 11th, and "Mr. Money With The Vibe" will also now perform on the 12th and the 15th.

Asake's career trajectory has been swift, yet packed with back to back hits and critical acclaim. The Lagos-born artist first got his major big break when Olamide signed him to YBNL. His long trail of chart-topping records have quickly earned him the attention of fans, airplay and recognition. The Afrobeats singer's success, though sudden, has helped to propel him to the upper echelon of musical acts coming out of Africa. Because of the versatility of his sound, listeners have quickly gravitated towards his content. His ascent into superstardom has also ignited intrigue and conversation, inspiring many fans to root for him, because of his initial reputation as the underdog. Although he had received some recognition in 2020 after he released his "Mr. Money" single, 2022 was the year that he would gain the admiration and respect of his peers, as well as a bevy of fans and commercial success.

Though still a newcomer, Asake has proven that he is not a typical Afrobeats artist. His unique ability to fuse different Afro-inspired sounds from Fuji to Amapiano have made him a rare talent. He has also amplified the depth of most of his songs by merging different genres and articulating them with Yoruba language and the broken English spoken in some of the most intricate parts of Lagos. Those elements perhaps, are what have made Asake one of the most marketable and likable Afrobeats artists in recent time.

Music
(YouTube)

The 8 Best Nigerian Songs of the Month (September)

Featuring Wizkid, Burna Boy, Mr Eazi, Ayra Starr and many more.

Here are the best songs to come out of the buzzing Nigerian music scene this month.

Head here for more of our Best Songs of the Month lists from Nigeria, Ghana, South African and East Africa. You can also check out our weekly,Songs You Need to Hear roundup for the best new music.

Keep reading...Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

Roye Okupe is Championing African Representation in Animation

We spoke with Roye Okupe about his studio, Iyanu getting adapted into an animated series, and storytelling for an African audience.

The 6 Best East African Songs of the Month (September)

Featuring Harmonize, Spice Diana, Maandy and more.

Meet the Team Trying to Save Ghana's Only Planetarium

The Ghana Planetarium, founded on an elderly couple's pension, is set to close later this month -- but a small group of supporters is rallying to help find it a new home.

popular.

Zimbabwean Author Tsitsi Dangarembga Found Guilty of Instigating Violence

The renowned novelist was given a suspended prison sentence for her role in staging a peaceful civil rights protest.