What inspired you to start creating recycled metal mobiles?
About a year ago I had a dream that I could hear noises in the backyard where the night watchmen were. When I went to investigate, I saw they were holding a beautiful metal mobile. I asked them if they’d made it and they smiled and said yes, and I told them, ‘you’re going to be rich’. The following day I told the guards about my dream and they were so excited.
At that time I was sculpting with clay, and I would ask the guards to come to the table to show them how to sculpt. Then one day a friend came to see me with a picture, asking me to build a mobile. I said ‘I can’t build mobiles!’ But the more I thought about it, the more excited I became about working with metal so I started using the local metal workers, and when a couple of them came here to work full-time on making mobiles, I found the work got better and better.
When I heard the clanking in the workshop, it suddenly registered that this was the dream I’d had. I’d forgotten all about it! That was how we started.
What is your artistic background?
I studied fashion technology in Australia (where I am from), then studied gemmology and worked as a jewellery valuer for a number of years. When I had my daughter, I started my own children’s wear label, then I sold the business when we bought a really old house and I discovered I loved renovating and decorating. And so I started buying and selling old houses, doing them up and selling them on.
When my husband was offered a job in South Africa, we went with three suitcases for three months, and after that they asked us if we would stay on. Just over ten years later we’re still in Africa, we haven’t gone back! While I was in South Africa I worked as an interior decorator up until the time we came to Senegal. We’ve been here now for four years.
What is it about Senegal which inspires your work?
Senegal is Africa in its raw form and Dakar has an energy that feeds the soul and imagination. The weather inspires me, I like the roughness and the multi-layered textures of the place, I like the smells, I like the people. I find all of these things really inspiring.
When I came here I saw that things were done very much in the same way, souvenirs were similar to eachother, even the market stalls were selling pretty much the same thing. I found there to be a lack of originality in the things that people were making and I wanted to show people that it’s possible to stretch the imagination beyond limitation, and that there is no limit to the imagination.
I think I have a natural ability to be able to come up with ideas and take ideas one step further and challenge things. What I found in Senegal inspired me to do things differently and try to make a difference.
How did you begin writing poetry and songs?
When I sat down to write something about the business, to explain what we were doing and why we were doing it, I found that one thing led to another and eventually my words turned into songs. Originally my business started as something of a social programme, helping people with limited means see that with a bit of imagination you can achieve whatever you want to do. Somehow this inspired me to start creating poetry and songs, as well as piece of art.
Where do you source your materials from?
Dakar has a wonderful recycling yard, downtown in the neighbourhood of Medina. I get an idea for the pieces, and then I buy the metal in sheets or in rolls of wire. I draw the design, give it to the men in the workshop with the measurements, we talk about it and discuss which is the best way to go about making it happen. Now I have an employee who draws very well and is turning into quite an artist. He will draw things in more detail if needed, and then it goes into production from there. Every piece is unique and all the metal is cut by hand from recycled material.
Where do your feelings for the colours come from?
Most of the time I don’t have a colour in mind before I start a piece, the piece itself dictates the colour scheme. I just look at it and get a feeling for how it should be. I also work with a number of professional artists, and we’ve had workshops where they’ve painted one of my mobiles or metal panels, showing my employees different techniques.
Understanding the paint and how to treat the raw metal was a feat in itself. We tried a lot of different methods but we visited a car workshop and someone there explained how to work with raw metal, all the processes of sanding that you have to go through and where to buy the best quality metal paint. All the paint we now use is the paint used on cars.
How does your workshop function?
At the moment I have seven people working for me in the workshop. Four of them are working with metal, a fifth one does painting and decoration of the metal and manages the rest of the guys, one girl does beading and sewing the capsules onto the aprons, then the other guys are putting together the coke cans and bottle tops.
We don’t have a common language between us- I don’t speak French and only one of them speaks English. But I find that they get my ideas very quickly, we have an incredible connection and there’s a wonderful energy, so there’s definitely no problem with communication.
Initially, they weren’t quite sure what I was doing and why, especially with some of the larger pieces that took a long time and never seemed to be quite right. I didn’t have a very clear idea of what I wanted to achieve so there was lots of taking things apart and putting them back together again. But once these pieces are finished they’re so proud to see something so beautiful that they’ve all had a hand in creating. It’s really teamwork. Everybody has their own set of skills but what I’m trying to do is get everybody to do different kinds of work so that they can learn different skills too.