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TEDGlobal 2007

Marisa Fick-Jordan: The wonder of Zulu wire art

June 6, 2007

In this short, image-packed talk, Marisa Fick-Jordan talks about how a village of traditional Zulu wire weavers built a worldwide market for their dazzling work.

Marisa Fick-Jordan - Craft artist, product designer
South African product designer Marisa Fick-Jordan works with Zulu wire artists to develop a sustainable, worldwide market for their bold and shimmering work. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
The decorative use of wire in southern Africa
00:12
dates back hundreds of years.
00:15
But modernization actually brought communication
00:17
and a whole new material, in the form of telephone wire.
00:20
Rural to urban migration meant that newfound industrial materials
00:24
started to replace hard-to-come-by natural grasses.
00:29
So, here you can see the change
00:33
from use -- starting to use contemporary materials.
00:35
These pieces date back from the '40s to the late '50s.
00:37
In the '90s, my interest and passion for transitional art forms
00:42
led me to a new form,
00:46
which came from a squatter camp outside Durban.
00:48
And I got the opportunity to start working with this community
00:50
at that point, and started developing, really,
00:54
and mentoring them in terms of scale, in terms of the design.
00:57
And the project soon grew from five to 50 weavers in about a year.
01:03
Soon we had outgrown the scrap yards, what they could provide,
01:07
so we coerced a wire manufacturer to help us,
01:11
and not only to supply the materials on bobbins,
01:14
but to produce to our color specifications.
01:17
At the same time, I was thinking, well,
01:20
there's lots of possibility here to produce contemporary products,
01:22
away from the ethnic, a little bit more contemporary.
01:26
So I developed a whole range around -- mass-produced range --
01:30
that obviously fitted into a much higher-end decor market
01:33
that could be exported and also service our local market.
01:37
We started experimenting, as you can see, in terms of shapes,
01:41
forms. The scale became very important,
01:45
and it's become our pet project. It's successful,
01:49
it's been running for 12 years. And we supply the Conran shops,
01:53
and Donna Karan, and so it's kind of great.
01:57
This is our group, our main group of weavers.
02:00
They come on a weekly basis to Durban.
02:03
They all have bank accounts.
02:05
They've all moved back to the rural area where they came from.
02:07
It's a weekly turnaround of production.
02:09
This is the community that I originally showed you the slide of.
02:11
And that's also modernized today,
02:15
and it's supporting work for 300 weavers.
02:17
And the rest says it all.
02:21
Thank you very much.
02:24
(Applause)
02:25

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Marisa Fick-Jordan - Craft artist, product designer
South African product designer Marisa Fick-Jordan works with Zulu wire artists to develop a sustainable, worldwide market for their bold and shimmering work.

Why you should listen

Marisa Fick-Jordan is the co-author of Wired, the authoritative work on Zulu wire art. Using castoff telephone wire -- those plastic-coated copper strands you sometimes find outside switching boxes -- practitioners of this art create tightly woven pieces with bold patterning and fields of shimmering color.

Working with these talented African artists, Fick-Jordan has brought this art to the world, developing products and building a distribution network for a worldwide market. The end result: a traditional art form is preserved and developed -- and a village of weavers can earn a living through their art.

The original video is available on TED.com
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