Triennale Design Museum Milan: Made in Slums – Mathare Nairobi

Industrial design as any fool know is a prime example of the North’s cultural superiority. Nurtured by science and encouraged by wealth traditional crafts moved ever more towards industrial production to meet the ever more complex wishes of society until the creation of goods for mass production became an industry in its own right.

That this is absolute tosh was made perfectly clear by Charles & Ray Eames in their 1958  “India Report” in which they describe a burgeoning industrial production culture in India.

And indeed going twenty five years further back Charlotte Perriand discovered a rich, if primitive, seam of industrial design in inter-war Japan.

Amero-European Industrial Design, the situation discovered by the Eames’ in India and the world observed by Perriand in Japan were and are largely the result of an organic development from craft to industrial production through social and cultural changes. An organic development supported and encouraged by government and central institutions

Until December 8th the Triennale Design Museum Milan is presenting an exhibition that portrays another route from handicraft to controlled mass production. Need.

Organised by the Milan based NGO Liveinslums, “Made in Slums – Mathare Nairobi” presents a collection of objects produced and sold in Mathare, Nairobi’s 2nd largest slum.

Ranging from everyday items such as cooking pots or brushes and pans over practical objects such as mousetraps and chicken feeders and onto more “market specific” objects including a clothes display stand and market vendor trolley “Made in Slums – Mathare Nairobi” is as much a documentation of the people of Mathare and their situation as it is a collection of objects.

Something that makes it all the more interesting.

During DMY Berlin 2013 the Berlin based Belgian curator and journalist Max Borka organised the exhibition “Refugium” which explored Berlin design. One of Max Borka’s central theories is that Berlin’s creative and design tradition is a consequence of the fact that the city is permanently in crisis. And from these crises arises a certain necessity of action which characterises the way designers and architects think and ultimately approach their work.

Similar aspects can also be seen in many of the objects on display at “Made in Slums – Mathare Nairobi” With no realistic possibilities of acquiring “brand name” products the craftsmen and women of Mathare have created their own market with its own “brands” of products largely created from industrial waste. And poetically proved in doing so that we don’t need all the TV advertised market leader products. Or our northern industrial design of which we are all so proud.

In addition to the objects themselves Made in Slums – Mathare Nairobi also features a collection of photos and a documentary film on the slum workshops, all of which combines to help the visitor understand the context of the objects.

And as already said, the people of Mathare. And their situation.

And before anyone gets any ideas, there is nothing patronising in the exhibition. Liveinslums do what their name suggests and work with Mathare residents on numerous projects. The exhibition arose from observations made during the daily routine and was made possible by the positive response of the Triennale Design Museum to the idea. This is no Victorian exhibition of “native crafts”…..

Although we moan perpetually about the number of shows on display in Milan during design week, it is a bit of a shame that Made in Slums isn’t being shown in April, as it presents a view of what design is, can be and should be that stands diametrically to the majority of the corporate sponsored guff that occupies the hallowed halls of the Triennal during design week.

It would be interesting to see if the majority of our colleagues recognised that…..

Should you however find yourself in Milan his autumn we can thoroughly recommend a visit.

Made in Slums – Mathare Nairobi runs at the Triennale Design Museum Milan until Sunday December 8th 2013. All exhibition object information cards are in Italian and English. More details on can be found at

And more details on Liveinslums, their work and projects can be found at

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