Ibero-American design sets out to reconnect

MADRID -- What links Latin America back to the Iberian Peninsula? Design.
Written by Jennifer Riggins, Contributor

MADRID -- These days, it seems like the more we are digitally connected, the further we are from our cultural roots. In an effort to create the fastest, cheapest, most convenient jump on somebody else's design, sometimes the details, the history and, often, the design are getting lost.

The Madrid Association of Designers looks to re-braid some of the threads of the unraveling Ibero-American roots by encouraging culture, history and message to be integral parts of the design process. BID_12 -- the third biannual Ibero-American design competition from now until February 28 at Matadero-Madrid -- brings together designers from Portugal and Spain with those from 20 Latin American countries, plus Puerto Rico.

Association staff member Yetta Aquado says that Spain and Portugal share a newer business and cultural identity as part of the E.U., but "that current potential is unknown in Latin America," and that there is a need to create -- or recreate -- a sense of community between these nations that share a history. This competition "is a manner to get to know" each other, she says, "to put yourself in the place and perspective of origin."

The competition has five categories -- graphic, digital, fashion, spatial (exhibited only in video and photos,) and industrial/product for goods that come with a thorough plan for production and sale in the target markets. There are also winners per country. All types of design should be focused on design of origin -- whether using native materials or indigenous processes or focusing on solving a problem for marginalized locals. The idea is to promote "inclusive design," whether the consumer is disabled, disenfranchised or not.

Some of the criteria is not just to think about innovation and design, but to consider the environment, using local materials and traditional techniques, while creating something that the modern, local society would use. Some goods range from rice bowls with built-in thumb grooves to unique and sometimes bizarre fashion and jewelry to a backpack skateboard carrier. Design categories cover a broad range, including numerous branding and re-branding of ideas, like international marketing of bottled water and wine and a new logo for Haitian tourism, which integrates the island country's name into the native hibiscus flower.

This was the first year for Haiti to join the competition. Quite a few of the Haitian participants entered runway-quality fashion lines, made of traditional fabric with twists of modern shapes and peeking skin. Aquado says they are very proud to have Haiti join this year, especially since it has a culture and history somewhat unique from other participants, as well as it helps the struggling nation to draw international attention to its designers.

While some are local designers looking for European attention, others provide solutions for developing countries. One such solution is from Columbiana Diana Beatriz Sierra Lopez, who, along with the U.N. Development Programme, has designed and developed a sustainable sanitary pad. It's a sheath of durable, washable, reusable stitching with mesh in the middle and wings on the side. Women can insert toilet paper or small pieces of cloth under the mesh. Besides offering a less expensive, more sustainable, less wasteful alternative for all women, this project intends to be produced in female-run cooperatives, as part of the U.N. Millennium Promise, which looks to "empower communities to lift themselves out of extreme poverty." Sierra Lopez's design is the winner of both the top prize for Columbia and for a product that adds value to its native society.

Another impressive project, which received specific recognition by ONCE, Spain's foundation for the blind and disabled, is Cristina Orozco Cuevas' Braille blanket. Made of a common and very durable Mexican industrial jacquard fabric, it is an indestructible, but highly tangible way to teach the Braille alphabet to those who are blind or losing sight. The designer says this method makes learning the Braille language much more sociable and interactive than current methods.

BID_12 began in 2008, just at the start of the economic crisis in Spain and Portugal and awhile before it hit, to a lesser extent, the Latin American countries. It runs on odd years and now they are having parallel events in countries like Argentina in 2010 and this coming Spring in Sao Paolo. This year, designers had to pay a small entry fee because of the recortes (budget cuts,) but folks from economically disadvantaged countries may participate without a fee.

Especially in these times of  crisis, it's crucial that Spain and all countries invest in these types of design and creativity, as small and big ways to boost consumption.

Photos: Alejandra Franchina

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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