ELLIE KATES-DA SILVA
When we think or listen or speak, our minds are a flipbook of pictures—visual memories of the moments we have logged away. These pictures mostly remain locked up inside our maze of brain chambers and only manifest as words. Sometimes, however, we unlock those colors, shapes, contrasts and textures and create. For as long as I can remember, I have been able to release my imagination and channel it into drawings, paintings and, most recently, designs. Words, stories, even mathematical equations have always come to me with visual accompaniment. The natural world has always been a tapestry of pattern and possibility.
When I arrived in Rwanda nearly eight years ago, I was greeted by a more brilliant burst of color and life than I had ever seen—rolling hills covered in bright green banana trees, women dressed head to toe in every color, matatu buses decorated with pop stars and Bible verses. Rwandan women sat on grass mats, legs outstretched with banana or sisal leaf fibers wrapped around their toes, babies strapped to their backs and worked—weaving baskets for hours and hours. They were artisans and they were artists. Everyday, they transformed dried leaves and grasses into intricate decorative works of art. The only problem was that they all made the same work of art the same way.
When I started designing products in Rwanda, my intention was never to change the way things had always been done. On the contrary, maintaining the integrity of the existing artisanal skill and experience was always most important. I spent three years living, working and designing in Rwanda, and most of that time I too was a woman on a grass mat, working in collaboration with all the others. The designs I created were inspired by the beauty of Rwanda and were meant to utilize traditional skills and natural talents to make new, innovative product—products that would both diversify the Rwandan handicraft market and appeal to a global client base.
To this day, whenever I sit down to sketch a new piece, I close my eyes and am transported down a dirt road and into small room filled with laughter and energy. Thats where my heart and the inspiration for every design resides.