“Each year Design Indaba engages people with the question of what constitutes beauty. While some may think of beauty as an aspect of personal taste and others know it on sight, beauty becomes far more profound when attributes such as cultural significance, sustainability, artisanal craft, usability or even a sense humour are thrown into the mix.”

With that said Design Indaba, the biggest design conference, holds a “competition” that allows people to vote on the South African designs they have curated  as being worthy of THE MOST BEAUTIFUL OBJECT IN SOUTH AFRICA title.

When I signed up for this year’s conference there were three things I was super excited about, listening to the amazing speakers, interacting with designers and artists from all over the world and seeing the 10 designs nominated as the most beautiful objects. So it isn’t surprising that on the first day of the conference, during the first break, I dashed over to the area the designs were being exhibited to marvel in all their glory.

So there I was in the area designated for this display and nothing had been set up yet.

There’s a scene in the 1957 American romance film, An Affair to Remember, where Terry and Nickie, who were both in relationships with other people, agree to reunite at the top of the Empire State Building in six months’ time if they have succeeded in ending their relationships and starting new careers. On the day of their rendezvous, Terry, hurrying to reach the Empire State Building, is struck down by a car while crossing a street. Gravely injured, she is rushed to the hospital. Meanwhile, Nickie, waiting for her at the observation deck at the top of the building, is unaware of the accident and, after many hours, leaves at midnight, believing she has rejected him.

If you’re wondering what this story has to do with anything, well as I stood there in a room with no beautiful objects I knew exactly how Nickie felt; Disappointed, Heartbroken, Dejected. But I was not going to give up, so at lunch time and in the evening, after the day’s speakers were done, I came back and still found nothing. Fortunately, as was the case with Nickie and Terry who end up together at the end of the movie, I came back the next day and they were all there perfectly displayed.

With that said, here are the 10 designs that were nominated and of them the one that was voted for, by the public, as THE MOST BEAUTIFUL OBJECT IN SOUTH AFRICA (let the record show that it was actually my favourite piece)


Nominated by Entrepreneur and Multimedia Visual Artist, Trevor Stuurman, the MVELO DESK by interior and furniture designer SIYANDA MBELE was my second runner’s up piece, and a close second at that.

“I’m not interested in creating things that have only aesthetic value. My biggest concern is whether the design is conceptually-driven. Would people understand it? Does it tell a story and it capture something?…Beauty for me is whether the object/furniture/interior is authentic and it’s not trying to be”

The Mvelo desk which means ‘nature‘, is testament of this as it isn’t just merely a beautiful desk, but it speaks to his Zulu heritage.

The diamond and chevron shapes on its drawers aren’t just patterns for aesthetics sake but actually represent femininity (represented by the diamonds) and masculinity (the chevron shapes) the Zulu way.

Siyanda’s look at femininity and masculinity in this piece is in relation to how adults become married to their careers, forever bound to a desk in one form or another. According to him, it is an unspoken law of nature that the career-minded person becomes betrothed to their work life. Whether this is a positive or negative relationship is for the viewer to reflect on.

So as the viewer what do YOU think, is it positive or negative? I think being “married” to ones career is important as long as you’re willing to be “polygamous” and also invest in other factors in your life that matter like relationships with family and friends and most importantly yourself.


In the spirit of designs that are not merely aesthetic pieces, the “Girl Seeks Girl” dress carries a powerful message of gender expectations in South Africa celebrating the strength of the modern woman in today’s socio-political climate. Nominated by fashion editor Asanda Sizani , the flair-sleeved dress was designed by the South African fashion designer, photographer and stylist Thebe Magugu.

“Now is the time for women to come together. South Africa has the most progressive Constitution in the world, but it continues to fail women on a daily basis, that’s why the whole collection is peppered with references to homemaking and domesticity.”

Even if one isn’t aware of the statement the designer was trying to make the dress in itself is already a visual statement from its engineered scuba fabric to the bold female illustration of a girl crying on another girl. the visual of these two women coming together was so appealing to Asanda and she wants people to know more about this dress because she knows that whoever wears it is going to make a statement.

My birthday is still a couple of months away so if you require an excuse to just be a wonderful person and get me this wonderful dress, you can always say we’re celebrating world ‘people named Jordan’ day because honestly I really really would love to own one.


This handmade sculpture, that’s about one and a half foot in stature, by South African artist Justine Mahoney, was nominated by interior design guru Aidan Bennetts who discovered it on instagram. It is a static sculpture of clay cast in gold, whose joints are rounded like large bubbles grouped together and its space-age smooth texture is offset with gritty imperfections that were left behind deliberately. As a fan of everything cartoon based, especially Disney, I love its disc-like ears that serve as a nod to Mickey Mouse and their purpose is “to help the cyborg pick up code from wifi fallout”. I have no idea what that means but they are still super cute, right?

“I’m all about representing powerful women through my art and with this particular piece I imagined a powerful woman of the Ndebele tribe who carries qualities of science fiction in her character. It acts as a symbol of our ongoing hunt for fortune and self-actualisation.She is a cyborg who wades through mine dumps in search of gold. She does not know she’s made of it. She’s from Wonderboom, Pretoria, where her people await her return with riches for her tribe. They do not know the riches they already have.”

I will be honest with all of ya’ll my love of this sculpture was not a ‘love at first sight’ kind of thing. It took a while before I warmed up to it and after I did my love was fully cemented when I found out the deep meaning behind it. Regardless of who you are and where you come from the meaning behind this piece resonates with all of us. It is a curse in our human race that we are so quick to look for things/attributes/value from the outside when we posses it in ourselves/community. Self actualisation is key, it’s hard to attain but its extremely important, and I love Justine for seeing this as an important subject to touch on.

“Beauty is a direction or an aspiration that we are travelling towards”


Nominated by Sylvester Chauke the BROGUES AND HIGH TOPS by Maria McCloy are more than just funky shoes.

“For me, this is not just about (aesthetics) But rather a question of how does it all fuse together to tell a story of South Africa today. Everything I do is inspired by our continent. Wherever you put your finger on our map, there is amazing inspiration to be found. When I started making accessories it was all about Africa because that is what has always been beautiful to me. It wasn’t a conscious decision. It wasn’t something I decided in a focus group.”

Looking at these high tops it’s clear to see that Maria’s love for African culture is evident in her work and it’s no wonder why she’s on this list. On further research on these shoes I learnt that their inspiration came from a very personal place for the designer seeking it from her multicultural background. Having an English father and a Mosotho mother inspired the design by using a traditionally rudimentary work shoe from Ireland and featuring intricate Sesotho cloth patterns. With globalization the world is becoming a melting pot of cultures and it’s beautiful to see when design is a reflection of this.

There are three traits that an item should check off to really wow me. Its aesthetics (it goes without saying these high-ups are gorgeous), there being a meaning behind a piece (that’s a double check for Maria’s design) and how practical is. An item can look really good but if it isn’t practical and doesn’t serve a purpose then what’s the point of designing/having it. According to Sylvester, who nominated them, true beauty is achieved when a piece of design can maintain the cultural cues that are unique to the area, in this case South Africa, and apply them in a practical, wearable way.

As they check off all these three points its easy to understand why these shoes are on this list.

“Apartheid and colonialism made us hate ourselves and not wear our culture enough and I’m like lets wear our culture everyday. Let’s not wait till heritage day or a wedding or a special occasion, you can take a Maria McCloy shoe and wear it to the boardroom, to the club, when you’re trying to be fly or sexy, street style, when you’re being corporate. My whole brand is about African inspiration and heritage is beautiful, we’re incredibly talented and have so much colour around us so let’s utilize it everyday”



Artist Igshaan Adams’s experiences living as a creative, gay Muslim man in South Africa inspired him to create this massive wall installation. He was raised by Christian grandparents in a community racially classified as ‘coloured’ under apartheid legislature. He is an observant but liberal Muslim who occupies a precarious place in his religious community because of his homosexuality. As is the case with true artists, Igshaan uses his past as inspiration for his work which speaks to his experiences of racial, religious and sexual liminality. Path of the Upright, which was nominated by fashion designer Stefania Morland was named after a translated phrase found in the first chapter of the Quran, Path of the Upright describes mankind’s capacity for good and the lifelong pursuit for nobility.

“It represents a meaningful prayer that has provided comfort to me in times of adversity. As an artist, I think I can give a person one moment of reflection or one moment of considering a different perspective.”

As much as his message is inspiring, the art piece in itself is truly breathtaking, that you must agree with.  Mostly made out of braided synthetic ropes it is true to his style of  upcycling everyday materials to create a spectacular piece that was done by hand on a giant loom at his studio in Cape Town.


Situated in the Kewtown area of Cape Town, the Kewtown primary school recently gained a revamped library and colourful learning space. It is the result of the three-part collaboration between The Bookery (who supply books and resources for schools), Shine Literacy and See-Saw-Do, a small design collective that specialises in creating exciting experiences for children. The project started when the designers of See-Saw-Do participated in a business course at the UCT that focused on bringing NGOs together with local school principals to collaborate on projects that will have a positive impact on the learning experience of South African children.

“It serves so many purposes like the one half is the library serving the whole school and the other half is the Shine centre with the little one on one reading units. Then there’s also a staff corner because the school lacks a staff room so the teachers can relax there when they have their off periods”

South African artist, illustrator, designer and actress Suzelle DIY. nominated this library project because of its impact.

“I saw this projet and I thought WOW! These guys are using their creativity in a brilliant way. It is bright, vibrant and creative. Now we have kids who are going into the space – they are reading, they are learning, they are invigorated. Best of all, those kids feel special. They have a sense of ownership of the space and that is going to create change.”

I completely agree with Suzelle’s decision because a library is such an essential part of a school and for the kids to have one that is this beautiful, truly makes not only the space but also the project worth of this nomination.


As the name suggests, this small brushed silver with enamel paint design is inspired by a man who can’t resist a woman. The philander brooch, that looks a human face that’s been simplified with strong geometric shapes, designed and fashioned by hand by jewellery designer Carine Terreblanche was nominated by her colleague and professional sculptor, Claudette Schreuders because the piece exemplifies that jewellery can also be critical and carry a narrative all its own. Pushing the boundaries between sculpture and jewellery.

“It’s time to see jewellery as a way to express human truth. I am eager to shift perceptions about this kind of design, showing that there is more at work here than just quirky bling. These days, aesthetics alone will not cut it.”

As you can tell by now all the pieces nominated have one thing in common they are not just aesthetic designs but are thought-provoking concepts and I love it. I will be honest and say that I still would like to know more about this piece because my research hasn’t been able to uncover why Carine decided to deal with this particular subject matter.

What is her relation with a philander, is it personal or merely from observation? I’d really love to know.


Activist and former South African constitutional judge Albie Sachs nominated his business card that was designed by artist and designer Carolyn Parton who was inspired by Sachs ability to relate to the humanity in every person that he meets. The centrepiece of this black and white card with rounded edges is actually Sach’s own handwriting, which he wasn’t initially sure about using because he describes it as “uncorrected schoolboy handwriting”.

“It’s about taking pride in the little things. I’ve spent most of my life on the grand schemes to transform the whole world to make it a better place, and I’m very proud to have been involved with that, but sometimes it’s lovely to concentrate on just a tiny detail that is meaningful in itself and doesn’t have to wait for the whole world to catch up with it.”


Dear Ribane are a creative collective who create conceptual editorial, innovative clothing designs and theatrical performances made up of Manthe Ribane, Tebogo Ribane and Kokona Ribane. they create. Neo Mashingo the new creative partner for the M&C Saatchi south africa group put together a creative collective known for performing timeless narratives.  The collective has already captured the hearts of international audiences and have performed and exhibited in Amsterdam, Liberty London, Norient Musik, and Film Festical (Switzerland), Cointreau #dreamdarecreate (London)

They have a unique ability to create strong and timeless narratives through conceptual editorial, set designs, innovative clothing designs, and theatrical performances.



The second I saw this light I knew it was going to win. I can unapologetically say it was my favourite and it definitely received my vote.

Nominated by entrepreneur Thato Kgatlhanye, the Tutu 2.0 pendant lamp designed by Thabisa Mjo was a reimagining of a ballerina’s tutu, as is easy to see. Thabisa, the creative director of the interior design company Mash.T Design Studio, drew inspiration from both Western and African fashion styles to make this unique chandelier that is sure to be the centre piece of any room.

“It is an evolution of the iconic ballet outfit mingled with hallmarks of an African counterpart, the Xibelani skirt. Often worn by Tsonga women, the Xibelani skirt is known for its structural, tiered layers and colourful vertical pleats. My primary target market is always those whose cultures are represented in my designs. It’s always so incredible when someone recognises themselves in one of my objects.”

The Tutu 2.0, the 2018 most beautiful object in south Africa, was created using thin steel rods as a frame, reinforced with tightly woven strands of wool and hundreds of red and black beads. What assured me that it was definitely going to be the winner was the fact that it easily checks all the three boxes I’d mentioned earlier. It’s practical, it’s undoubtedly beautiful (can’t wait to style a space with it one day) and it’s definitely more than just an item it is an expression of Thabisa who sees herself as a storyteller rather than a designer. She is interested in evoking meaningful responses from the people whose traditions and fashions are reflected in the interior design products she creates.

So what do you think of the winning “object”? If you’re like me and you’re madly in love with it where would you have in your home? Personally I’d have it in the entryway and let it be the first thing I see when I walk in and last when leaving. Do you think any of the other pieces deserved the honor of the MOST BEAUTIFUL OBJECT IN SOUTH AFRICA 2018? Which one was it and why do you love that particular one? Leave a COMMENT BELOW and let me know.

Oh, and if you enjoyed this part of my DESIGN INDABA EXPERIENCE and you’d like to know about the other experiences I had, then be sure to check out my last posts THE SPEAKERS and EMERGING DESIGNERS and when you’re done please do SUBSCRIBE BELOW so that you dont miss out on the next post in the series.

Till then be sure to Be Inspired…Be you!


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  Jordan Awori – The Interior Decorator

 Jordan Awori The Interior Decorator