Having trained in design at the Cape Town Inscape Design School following her studies in Cinema, Thabisa Mjo has risen to noticeable status as a South African designer. With a strong social and feminist conscience, Thabisa is a shining example of the young South African design generation.
In her bid to enter the highly exclusive interior design market, Thabisa entered the 2015 Nando’s Hot Young Designer competition. Nando’s was looking for emerging designers to design pendant lights, with the winning fixtures to be installed in both local and international Nando’s restaurants. About her participation in this contest, Thabisa says: “I had never designed anything before, but as a small business owner, I had learned the importance of being adaptable, the value of never second-guessing yourself when you are convinced of your idea and to just ‘go for it’ ”.
Thabisa designed the Tutu 2.0 lamp, 10kg, and entirely handmade. “This piece is inspired by the Xibelani skirts worn by Xitsonga women”, she explains. “When I first saw the Xibelani skirts, they reminded me of African tutus, hence the name Tutu 2.0”.
Tutu 2.0’s victory in the competition allowed the designer to produce 50 of these lamps in different materials and colours. Tutu 2.0 is part of the Pieces of Me collection, inspired by the people and things Thabisa loves and admires.
The lamp is now installed in restaurants around the world, from Cape Town to Malaysia, from Washington to London.
With Mash.T Design Studio, a Johannesburg-based interior design and architecture studio of which Thabisa Mjo is a founding member, the designer is developing a colourful and intrepid world that blends traditional craftsmanship with contemporary aesthetics.
Another of her creations, the Mjojo cabinet, takes its shape from the water tanks, locally known as “Jojo Tanks”, located near traditional and contemporary homes across South Africa. The scales on the cabinet are a metaphor for the scales of the fish that inhabit the large lakes. The name of this cabinet combines the artist’s family name “Mjo” with the name given to the tanks.
The Tutu 2.0 lamp, inspired by the skirts worn by the Tsonga women, was awarded the 2018 Design Indaba prize for the most beautiful object in South Africa.
In 2019, Thabisa received the South African Designer of the Year award at 100% Design SA. Today, both designs have been purchased by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, a museum dedicated to the exhibition and preservation of decorative arts. Mjo’s work will be part of an upcoming exhibition celebrating design pieces shaped by personal stories.
An intimate and personal vision of design
Cloé Pitiot, curator of modern and contemporary design at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, and Marianne Brabant, assistant curator of modern and contemporary design, explain: “The museum has been acquiring design pieces from the international scene for a number of years now, and the South African design scene seemed to us to be a must-see in terms of African design. Thabisa Mjo’s work is remarkable on many levels: she blends design and craft; she integrates the concerns of our contemporary world with its roots and traditions in her projects. Her personal and intimate vision of design, her social values all contribute to her avant-garde pieces. For all these reasons, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris wanted to acquire her pieces”.
The Tutu 2.0 pendant light and the Mjojo cabinet were on display from 19 November 2020 to 11 May 2021 in the Parisian exhibition “Un Printemps Incertain” – inspired by Virgina Woolf’s 1937 novel The Years.