Photo by Via brands
Tradition is often understood as something old, static and stubborn–a basic factor that holds back development. Although we are familiar with the “modern” aspects of German, Japanese or Scandinavian design, contemporary design has shown a strong traditional character that distinguishes its appearance.
Indonesia has at least 600 ethnic groups, each with its own customs and character-and each with a culture and traditions formed and shaped by migration, capitalism and colonialism, according to Judi Achjadi’s extremely useful “Exquisite Indonesia”, which covers ceramics, textiles and metalworking. However, including these diverse traditions in contemporary designs remains a challenge for the creative community. Given the Indonesian encounter with colonialism, the local understanding of “modernism” tends to copying Western styles and traditions.
After a few wake-up calls due to cases of foreign “cultural theft”, Indonesians have been willing to take back their traditions and adopt them in daily life, such as “Batik Fridays”, when people sport blouses, dresses and shirts made from the venerable textile.
This underscores another problem, however: People are unaware (or might not care) that they’re wearing printed batik–something that is distinctly different from the traditional hand-dyed method and, some argue, does not deserve to be called batik.
Batik needs two things to be considered genuine: A representation of a traditional pattern and a drawing of that pattern in wax.
On contemporary textile production, the principal method of batik making has been adapted by The Netherlands-based multinational Vlisco, which makes middle-to-high-level batik products for export to African market. Using wax, and exposing artful effects through cracked wax; Vlisco makes batik by running the textile between two rolling wax stamps.
This example shows the basics needed to use tradition as a fuel for the creative process: Understanding the essential elements of tradition.
It’s a sentiment echoed by Adhi Nugraha in his doctoral thesis at Aalto University, Finland. Adhi devised the ATUMICS method–the word is an acronym for artefact, technique, utility, material, icon, concept and shape–which filters out traditions that are impossible to implement in contemporary life and replaces them with elements that embrace tradition and contemporary design.
Over the years, as more people suffer more disadvantages under globalization; traditional values are having a revival, as their ingenuity and wisdom have proven to be useful to create better lives. People are also rediscovering lost identities that enlighten lifestyles, bringing a new form of happiness, even a new luxury. This can been seen in the products below, all of which have styles that are traditionally influenced, despite their contemporary designs.
These items reflect highly crafted design, are inspired by indigenous cultures all over the world and combine traditional techniques and modern technology. Rich in details and textures created by webbing, macrame, or embroidery; the Indigen style evinces a strong indigenous character and has been designed to preserve a nature-based culture and the environment. The Indigen style also adapts modernization and new materials.
As an example, look at the Roosa Sofa Two Seater from Abie Abdillah for the VIVERE collection. Combined with metal structures – and showcasing rattan rods –the Roosa series exposes the greatness of artisanal work. The combination also yields a woven rattan mesh that seems light.
Also note the Chita Chair by Sergio J. Matos, a Brazilian designer whose contemporary furniture design has been heavily influenced by indigenous Brazilian culture. Chita is a popular fabric of Indian origin; its most important and recognizable feature is the floral pattern. Sergio has applied the floral pattern to a chair structure, creating an image of a bouquet and a poetic interpretation of Brazilian folklore.
A spirit of frugal innovation meets high technology and highly intellectual thinking with local materials and local ingenuity under this rubric. Reborn of modern vernacular design, Substantial pieces expose raw material cuts and are framed in strict lines. The style is pure luxury, as it is a product of ingenuity. High quality appears in exact lines, perfect cuts, shaped forms and smooth surfaces.
As an exemplar, take the WARM Stool by Bouillon, the second-prize winner at Salone Satellite Awards in 2016. The essential lines of this stool combine primitive functions and new applications for traditional terracotta, which has been used since ancient times.
Similarly, the Vitrif lighting collection by David Pompa, a young design studio based in Mexico and Austria, combines black pottery, copper and enamel in pure geometrical forms. Concentrating on innovating n the long tradition of artisanal Mexican handiwork, Pompa has combined craft and industrial materials to create an independent contemporary object. The collection consists of two different shades: A piece of polished copper and a piece of copper with enamel on the inner surface and a contaminated surface on the outside.
Influenced by East Asian culture and wisdom and promoting a balanced lifestyle between spiritualism and the high expectations of modern life, products under the Sagacity rubric transform tradition into happiness, warmth and dignity. It gives more space to breathe in a generic, fast global world.
This has been exemplified in the Oriental Serie, by the Beijing-based Frank Chou Design Studio, which blends Asian character with modern comforts, creating a happy medium for Eastern and Western markets. Products have multi-cultural appeal as well as a luxury feel.
It is also evident in the Luxury Towers by Studio Juju, which consists of a set of glass containers inspired by the personal ritual of dressing up. As the name suggests, Luxury Towers is meant to store precious or luxury objects such as jewellery. It features a glass bubble that floats above the table surface, creating a meditative image of a floating black stone.
Living circumstances have driven millions of people from their hometowns to places that they hope are safer and better. Whether voluntarily, like the young, educated digital nomads; or forced by dangerous situations like the refugees; these products adapt the lifestyle of non-permanent housing. The style is inspired by the cultures of the North African and Arabian Peninsula, home to nomadic Bedouin tribes.
Weaving a home is also another possibility. A Canadian architect of Jordanian descent, Abeer Seikaly, has designed an award-winning, high-tech refugee shelter that provides modern comforts such as electricity and clean showers. Inspired by the Bedouin lifestyle, this lightweight, mobile, structural fabric home could be folded up for transport and give a sense of home wherever it is.
A similar global design project comes from Younes Duret: Souk’na. Meaning “my home, my universe”, it is a modern Moroccan furnishing brand, rooted in Middle-Eastern culture and combining innovation and tradition. Its geometric decorative designs have been strongly presented, balancing Western style living areas.