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Huis Kombuis Design and Craft Memory Project

The Huis Kombuis Design and Craft Memory Project was launched in March 2006. It was conceived as a transformative space where memory is performed and creatively re-appropriated through reviving traditional home based crafts like embroidery, sewing and appliqué work. December 2006 saw the launch of an exhibition which showcased the handmade products of the project participants. These workshops have since become part of a broader institutional practice that continually provides a platform where creative exchange can make claims for the future by using design craft, storytelling and performance as a medium of imaginative communication.

The conceptual framework was organised around a more complex set of dynamics that involved our understanding of how memory is perceived as a creative tool to mobilise collective storytelling. The topic was drawn from interpretative responses of the workshop participants who coined the term Huis Kombuis (literally translated as Home Kitchen), and identified this central space as the hearth of the home – a space from which traditional and cultural practice was nurtured. This idea became the common point of departure from which a series of thematic narratives could be revived through storytelling and crafted into handmade designs.

The workshops allow for the forgotten voices, fragile memories and skills of elderly, retired homemakers, as well as unemployed ex-resident women who formerly worked as seamstresses in the clothing industry, to be acknowledged and made visible. Through prioritising their stories as key to product development, Huis Kombuis attempts to present narrativised versions of the participants’ lives in a specific context and time, utilising a number of reflexive lenses to , ultimately tell a story of loss, memory and symbolic reconstruction. These interpretations were skillfully developed into functional product designs that embodied their stories and resulted in the ‘reincarnation’ of a District Six aesthetic. A hand embroidered range consisting of aprons, oven mittens, tea-cosies, tablecloths and recipe tea towels was produced. The project is on-going and has developed more ambitious designs that are referenced through the personal stories of the participants and the archival collection of the Museum.