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Month July 2013

4 Corners: An Interview with Marlon Darbeau

This month we head to the birthplace of steelpan and calypso music, Trinidad and Tobago. This vibrant melting pot of the Caribbean is home to a rich and diverse community of cultures primarily influenced through colonization and immigration.

It is also a culture steeped in the Arts. With many celebrated sons and daughters such as Nobel Prize-winning authors V.S. Naipaul and Derek Walcott; theatrical talents such as Tony Award winners Geoffrey Holder and Heather Headley; and the fantastic, globally-renowned, carnival costume designer Peter Minshall.

And in design terms, it’s no surprise that the practical crafts that are self-evident in the culture that surrounds the art of  ‘The Mas’ tradition of carnival should influence the work of Trinidad & Tobago’s professional designers.

One such creative is multi-disciplinary designer Marlon Darbeau, whose own family background of ‘making things’ informs both his professional and personal work. A man of action, let’s hear it in his own words…

Marlon Darbeau, creative director and designerMarlon Darbeau

Source: Kibwe Brathwaite

What’s your background?

I was born and have lived and worked in Trinidad & Tobago all my life. I attended John Donaldson Technical Institute and I am a graduate of the College of Science Technology and Applied Arts of Trinidad and Tobago. I worked for about five years as a graphic designer at MDC Signs followed by three years freelancing. I then spent six years at CMB Advertising, before becoming creative director of Abovegroup, now AbovegroupOgilvy. I come from a family tradition of making things in a workshop at home. In the last six to seven years I have become very interested in how those traditions intersect with my practice as a graphic designer, and in using this convergence to formulate ways of making my work. This convergence has lead to the creation of self-initiated projects, most notably ‘Peera’ a reinterpretation of a traditional small bench, which has been exhibited at the Museum of Art & Design NY The Global Africa Project.The Peera bench

The Peera bench

How did you get started in design?

I actually started off soon after school, taking a course in fabric design which led to a few years of hand-painting T-shirts; really fun times. When I was around 19 and enrolled part time at John Donaldson Technical Institute, a friend stopped by my home where I had a small studio space in my father’s metal workshop. He happened to mention that the sign company where he had been working as a salesman needed a graphic designer. With no computer experience and my portfolio filled with drawings and paintings I interviewed for the job and got it. My training at school at the time did not involve any software tools so I enrolled in a short course to get my Adobe Illustrator skills so it was really on the job training. This is before plotters were introduced locally, so you outputted your artwork via a desktop printer then projected the image on to large paper on the studio wall, and then you would produce actual-size drawings for the production team. The great thing about being a designer in a signage workshop is that you are very much part of the manufacturing process. This has been a major influence on my practice as it taught me about the process of making ideas tangible.Alice Yard identity

Alice Yard identity

What challenges did you face in getting into the industry and achieving your ambitions?

I will say the most difficult thing in Trinidad & Tobago as a graphic designer is developing your own visual language. Unlike other places where you can see clear articulations of design styles, we have a sort of sameness. Operating in an industry with no professional design association can be hard. Where there is no collective agenda to improve design as a professional craft, designers, clients and the public don’t fully benefit, it’s a sort of hit and miss. I was not interested in doing things the way others were doing it, I believe design is a professional craft and I really wanted to develop a way of thinking and expressing ideas through client and personal work. That is very challenging when you are operating in an industry where the role of design has not been formally considered; it takes a lot to avoid being sucked into advertising despondency and economic necessity.

Who are your greatest inspirations and influences?

I feel very fortunate to have met some really great people over the last 18 years, all of whom have been so influential. From Val Ramcharan, my design lecturer at John Donaldson who pushed me to explore and develop my design sensibilities. Graphic designer Richard Rawlins who basically said to me one day ‘ start making all those ideas you have in your sketch book don’t keep them locked away’ which lead to my first one man show ’EnRoute…of bridges and barriers’ an expression of design being used for more than just selling things, it was attempt to address social concerns. Back in 2008 while working with the likes of Richard Rawlins, Dave Williams, Daryn Boodan, Rodell Warner and Damian Libert, we became an informal but very active collective, each person having their individual creative ambitions yet were able to come together to develop our own practices while affecting our visual landscape, that was a significant moment in my life. The architect Sean Leonard, who has been a mentor and friend. The work of Stefan Sagmeister, Steve Ouditt and Christopher Cozier.Work for 12 The Band

Work for 12 The Band

What is the project you are most proud of?

‘Verb’, a multifunctional object I created and showed in New Orleans in 2009, is very close to my heart as I created that project while trying to design a symbol for myself. The object is a physical manifestation of the graphic I created, symbolising a dance between intent and intuition. Another project is Peera as it really solidified my way of working through process, resulting in my conviction to design BY MAKING.Verb multifunctional sculpture/furniture

Verb multifunctional sculpture/furniture

What would be your dream job or project?

I will love to design the identity for a football team as well as design and produce a project directly inspired by the mailboxes my dad manufactures.

Please name some people in your field that you believe deserve credit or recognition.

I think Gareth Jenkins and Alex Smailes deserve a lot of credit for what their company Abovegroup (studio with a focus on design and branding) did here at home. Most designers go to work for advertising agencies, which is fine, but there are so many who would love the opportunity to practice design in a particular way which the agency model does not facilitate, and these guys created a model that gave designers the opportunity to focus on design outside of campaigns. Their process opened a conversation about the improvement of design as a professional practice and lead to the transformation of some of Trinidad & Tobago’s small, medium and large organizations.

What’s your best piece of advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?

’’Design is work.’ Don’t be afraid to explore it’s possibilities, care about what you do, work at your craft and be honest.

What’s next for you?

I am working on two new projects, a commission and a self-initiated project, really exciting.

You can see more of Marlon Darbeau’s work at www.marlondarbeau.com.Dishout salad servers

Dishout salad servers

Network

THE U.S:

Harlem Postcards commissions artists to photograph Harlem, and turns their unique depictions of the neighborhood into free, limited-edition postcards. Launched in 2002, this project was created to provide alternative, multifaceted views of Harlem, representing its complex and diverse history, and capturing the community in a critical moment of growth and change. Exhibition runs until 27 October 2013 at Studio Museum of Harlem, 144 West 125th Street, New York, New York. See more at:http://www.studiomuseum.org/exhibition/harlem-postcards-tenth-anniversary

Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion on view at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) from June 27 through September 8, 2013, will feature more than 100 costumes by celebrated and original designers including Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo, and Yohji Yamamoto as well as younger designers influenced by popular culture and the dynamic street life of Tokyo. For more information, go to www.seattleartmuseum.org

THE CARIBBEAN:

Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival 2013 Founded in 2006, the trinidad+tobago film festival (ttff) is an annual celebration of films from and about Trinidad & Tobago, the Caribbean and its diaspora. The Festival also screens films curated from contemporary world cinema. In addition, the ttff seeks to facilitate the growth of the Caribbean film industry by hosting workshops, panel discussions, seminars, conferences and networking opportunities. Date: 17 September – 1 October 2013. For more information visithttp://www.ttfilmfestival.com

Carifesta XI A Caribbean festival of arts and culture showcasing the excellence of the region’s peoples. This year has the distinction of premiering a new logo for the festival. Runs from 16 – 25 August in Suriname. For more information visit Carifesta XI website

EUROPE:

Origins of the Afro Comb:
6,000 years of culture, politics and identity
The 6,000-year history of the Afro Comb, its extraordinary impact on cultures worldwide, and community stories relating to hair today are being explored in this new exhibition Fitzwilliam Museum: Gallery 13 (Mellon) & 8 (Octagon) Trumpington Street,
Cambridge CB2 1RB. Free Entry. Exhibition runs from 2 July – 3 November 2013. 
For more information visit http://www.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/whatson/exhibitions/article.html?3840

AFRICA:

Cape Town Fashion Week. From 8 – 10 August 2013.Hosted at Cape Town International Convention Centre. Convention Square 1 Lower Long Street Cape Town. South Africa. For more information on South Africa’s premiere film event visit African Fashion international website

4 Corners: An Interview with Lulu Kitololo

This month we focus on my hometown, London. As the first generation offspring of African-Caribbean parents born in the mid Sixties, I did not always find it easy to embrace my ‘Britishness’.

However, I’ve certainly never had any problems identifying myself as a “Londoner” – for London truly is the world within a single city.

Home to every conceivable nationality, this cosmopolitan metropolis pulses with its vibrant mix of cultures. And it is from this dynamism that the opportunity for new voices can emerge. New voices like those of Lulu Kitololo and her design company Asilia, whose work is not just resonating on these shores, but also beyond.

I have watched their work progress over the past few years with eagerness; appreciating its distinctly African roots whilst bringing a fresh modern approach and aesthetic.

It’s a design voice I really like, so let’s hear all about it from Lulu in her own words.Lulu Kitololo

Source: Jonathan Perugia

Lulu Kitololo

What’s your background?

I was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya. I was always creating things as a child – constructing shelters indoors when the weather was miserable; making trains for my dolls out of fruit cartons; experimenting with food in the kitchen; ‘refashioning’ my dresses (much to my mother’s dismay) and; of course, making images on paper. My parents were generally very encouraging of these pursuits but, being that I excelled at all subjects in school, I don’t think they – and many others – were fully prepared for the decision I made to pursue a creative profession.

I went to art school, Pratt Institute in New York, not quite sure what to specialise in and I ended up pursuing a Communications Design degree with a major in Advertising Art Direction. Thereafter, I worked for a couple of advertising agencies but something about it just wasn’t for me.

I ended up going back to school, this time to pursue a Masters in African Studies at SOAS, University of London. It was a fantastic year – learning about African politics, culture, film and literature. There were several interesting responses I experienced from people at that time including, “but you’re African, why do you need to study Africa?” and, “what are you going to do afterward?”

At the time, I had no idea what I was going to do afterward but I was very content with what I was doing and had faith that a path would reveal itself. I stumbled across a design job with a sustainability communications agency, Futerra, and it seemed a perfect opportunity to combine my creative expertise with my interest in development. I worked there for over 3 years and then left because I yearned for the freedom of self-employment. I’ve since gone into business with a friend and our creative agency, Asilia will be celebrating 3 years later this summer. It’s been an amazing journey, creating a niche for ourselves on the back of our distinctive style; our presence in both London and Nairobi and; our journey into creating products as well providing creative services. I’m very excited about what the future holds for us.Film Africa print materials

Film Africa print materials

How did you get started in design?

The skills and knowledge I gained as part of my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree have been invaluable. However, the most significant thing I learned during those 4 years was not explicitly taught and that was – how to be resourceful.

I think resourcefulness and experience are great tools for any designer. Experience is something that comes with, well, experience. From my 2nd year of university, I was taking every opportunity to gain work experience in my field. This involved seeking out internships and volunteering my design services to people I came across who were doing things I was interested in.Identity for Afri-Love - African inspired creative production

Identity for Afri-Love – African inspired creative production

What challenges did you face/overcome in getting into the industry and achieving your ambitions?

It’s really important for me to do work whose subject I’m passionate about and, starting out, I didn’t always have this opportunity. In fact, there was a point where I was about to give up on design altogether, primarily for this reason. Making the decision to be self-employed was scary, for obvious reasons, however, the prospect of having more control over the projects I would work on, was very exciting… and has been very satisfying. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve made.

In my personal experience, my background has never really felt like a barrier to getting into the industry and achieving my ambitions. However, as a company operating in the UK, I sometimes wonder if people’s perceptions of Asilia preclude us from winning certain projects. A lot of our work has had an African focus and my business partner and I are of Kenyan origin so, I think that some people assume that we only work on Africa-related projects. So this is the current challenge that I’m/we’re facing and the approach at the moment is to continue to focus on doing great work. I believe that we will continue to attract the kind of people that we enjoy working with.Afri-love - illustration for post on why Ghana will be the next African app powerhouse

Afri-love – illustration for post on why Ghana will be the next African app powerhouse

Who and/or What are your greatest inspirations and influences?

I’m greatly inspired by craft traditions from around the world. I always find joy in the diversity of textiles, patterns, adornments and vibrant colour combinations and I aim to capture that same excitement in my work.

Discovering Chaz Maviyane-Davies was very inspiring and in particular, his insistence that design should express the context within which it’s created, in terms of speaking to its culture and not just emulating a Western ideal.

Marian Bantjes is another big inspiration. I love the playfulness, intricacy and amazing level of craftmanship in her work, as well as her sass and confidence!Spora Stories identity

Spora Stories identity

What is the project you are most proud of?

This is such a difficult question and the answer constantly evolves. One of the projects I’m most proud of is the work we did for the Film Africa festival. It was great to have such a visual project, in terms of our work being seen all over town and, the response we’re still receiving now, from different people, is really positive.

I’m also really proud of the work we did for the African Union Campaign for Accelerated Reduction of Maternal, Newborn and Child Mortality in Africa (CARMMA). Particularly, the iconography we developed and the infographics we designed which, help to make a serious subject much more accessible to a wider audience.

What would be your dream job or project?

I think I’m living my dream job right now. Dream project? I would love to work with museums and cultural institutions like the Southbank Centre.Web design for Campaign on Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa

Web design for Campaign on Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa

Please name some people in your field that you believe deserve credit or recognition, and why.

I’ve lately come across quite a few small, independent agencies in Africa that are doing some exciting work. In Kenya (and I believe this may be true for other countries on the continent), international advertising agencies (e.g. TBWA, Ogilvy etc.) have a kind of monopoly when it comes to the communications/design industry. It’s refreshing to see these smaller, and often much more creative, shops emerging and doing well.Legal Defence Initiative prints

Legal Defence Initiative prints

What’s your best piece of advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Get as much experience as you can, start as early as you can and be creative about how you find it. There is a lot of competition in our field so don’t expect a long list of design internships and work placements for you to choose from. Think outside the box. I got one of my first opportunities by attending a networking event that had nothing to do with design, meeting a publisher and volunteering my services for his up and coming magazine.

Another important thing – never underestimate the value of experimentation and play. Some of the best ideas come from that.

What’s next for you?

Asilia is working on developing some design and digital products. Look out for our online shop and a couple of app launches in the next few months.

Network:
THE U.S:
AFRICOBRA: Art & Impact honours the Chicago artist group, AfriCOBRA (African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists). Exhibition is presented by 3 South Side institutions and runs from 26 July until 29 September 2013. For more information, go to http://www.dusablemuseum.org/events/details/africobra-the-dusable-museum-programming
THE CARIBBEAN:
Belize International Film Festival. This is the eighth edition of the festival focusing on films from the Caribbean and Central America. Date: July 11-15, 2013. For more information visit www.belizefilmfestival.com
EUROPE:
Design On Stage exhibition presents the best product innovations of the year. Red Dot Design Museum, Gelsenkirchener Straße 181
45309 Essen, Germany. Exhibition runs from 2 – 28 July 2013. For more information visit http://en.red-dot.org/5005.html
AFRICA:
Durban International Film Festival 2013. Hosted by the University of KwaZulu Natal’s Centre for Creative Arts, the Durban International Film Festival will be celebrating its 34th edition from 18 to 28 July 2013. For more information on South Africa’s premiere film event visit www.durbanfilmfest.co.za