As collaborations gain popularity in today’s creative circles, local partnerships show the impact that such pairings can have on global design. In our June 2017 #HLDesignIssue we profiled three of our favourite dream teams – including the brilliantly colourful Afreaks series by The Haas Brothers and Monkeybiz.
When LA-based Niki and Simon Haas of The Haas Brothers visited Cape Town in 2014, they came across the quirky beaded animals of non-profit organisation Monkeybiz. Even more impressive than the pieces’ skilful construction were the creators behind them. ‘Being hyper meticulous in our own material application, we could relate to the focus in Monkeybiz’s process,’ Niki says. ‘We also recognised that the beading was undervalued in its current application.’ Fast-forward three-and-a-half years and 16 of these beaders are now known as the Monkeybiz Haas Sisters and form part of the Afreaks project, a design collaboration.
The Afreaks series, made up of mountains, mushrooms and make-believe animal-like characters, is designed by the twin brothers in LA, emailed to Monkeybiz in Cape Town and brought to life by South African artisans, with the characters ‘dressed’ by the Sisters’ beading skills. Says Monkeybiz manager Kate Carlyle, ‘There has been an awakening of creativity in our team. New ideas and methods have emerged, some of which were initially mistakes but are now seen as techniques.’ She talks of how the women, who had been beading at home and bringing ad hoc pieces in to Monkeybiz to sell, are now valued as world-class artists, receiving an almost permanent salary from the project. Niki adds, ‘Collaborating with Monkeybiz has opened our eyes to what can be achieved when individuals are empowered with the responsibility of expression.’
Afreaks showed for the first time at GUILD Design Fair 2015 in Cape Town, and the full series exhibited at Design Miami later that year. In 2016, the body of work formed part of Beauty-Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial at New York’s Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, the opening of which was attended by some of the Monkeybiz Haas Sisters, who were visiting New York for the first time. If the opening night itself wasn’t a career highlight for the team, then being photographed amid their exhibition with Beyoncé and Jay Z definitely was.