At her core, local lady Helé de Beer is a creator with a strong desire to make things with her hands and a tendency towards the offbeat. Last year, though, a ‘happy accident’ took her from the broad role of quirky visual arts practitioner into a more niche designation we can only describe as textile illusionist.
At a particularly frustrating and unproductive time of her life, Helé started busying herself by playing with her food – arranging eats (dinosaur gummy sweets in particular) into patterns and photographing them.
Later, while studying towards her B.Tech in Textile Design, she based her core project idea on this earlier experiment and so came to be Die Smaak Van Onthou, a line of deceptive prints that feature attractive floral imagery made up from unattractive food bits (dried fruit, eggs, cold meat and more).
In part, this intriguing range was inspired by Helé’s appreciation of all things outlandish. ‘I love turning things upside down and seeing how bizarre I can make them,’ she says. But because she is also a very reflective person who finds memories fascinating, the concept is primarily founded on the theme of nostalgia (hence the term ‘Onthou’ – ‘remember’ in English – in the title).
From afar, the flower motifs speak of the Sunday school dresses that Helé’s gran used to make for her and her sister, and the close-up food displays are all made up of snacks that played a significant role in her childhood and are central to her Afrikaans background. Both therefore reference a specific cultural context and era and beg onlookers to think more deeply about the meaning attributed to certain cultural customs and items.
‘By substituting florals with food, I invite the viewer to look closer and to question the importance of objects (in this case, the Sunday school dress),’ explains Helé.
Her designs have been very well received by the critical public and have even resulted in her being chosen as one of the 40 Design Indaba Emerging Creatives of 2016.
With capital being limited for now, she’s selling her creations as fine art paper prints, but her ultimate goal is to create fashion ranges from the textiles (including button-up shirts and suits for men and semi-formal cocktail dresses for ladies).
As for what else we can expect from this local talent in the future, well, we’ll just have to wait and see what other happy accidents lie ahead for Helé. As she says, ‘who knows what else will flow out of the FUNtasties Design Studio.’
Meet Helé and view her work at the Design Indaba Emerging Creatives exhibition, running from 17 to 21 February at the Watershed Mezzanine, V&A Waterfront.