Towards Global Histories of Design: Postcolonial Perspectives

The 2013 DHS Conference program booklet.

In September 2013, I participated for the first time at a design conference, taking part in the 2013 Design History Society Annual Conference “Towards Global Histories of Design: Postcolonial Perspectives”.  It was truly an honor to be among such talented academics and historians, and I was thrilled to be able to present in such a fantastic context as the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, India. Beyond the fantastic exchanges I had with all those who participated and attended, I was also able to present the continuation of the research I started developing with my masters thesis at D-Crit, presenting on contemporary social design projects and particularly Marcelo Rosenbaum’s A Gente Transforma initiative. An excerpt of my paper can be read after the jump.

The Social Network: Marcelo Rosenbaum’s “A Gente Transforma” project and the future of social design


Marcelo Rosenbaum has understood that design can be merely a vehicle and not the end product. That design doesn’t need to perversely glorify poverty and use it to sell goods. The AGT project inverts these impulses, reconnecting with Brazil’s autochthonous culture, and using design as a tool to connect it to the country’s elites and ever expanding C-class, which, since 2003 has risen to represent over 85 million people, just over half of the Brazilian population.

Using the Brazilian market of interior decoration as a privileged outlet — which generates over RS 60 billion yearly —, and assuming a role of connector, attained from his 20 year career and derived social status, Rosenbaum is setting in motion what can become large-scale change in the design culture of an entire country. By making AGT an object of desire through a carefully crafted communication campaign, Rosenbaum is thinking big, targeting both the A and B classes — launching the AGT collection at the Milan Furniture Fair and garnering wide media attention, not only international but most of all, and most effectively, on a national level — as well as the C class  who model their aspirations in the A and B classes, and see in Rosenbaum an icon, largely due to his TV program.

Simultaneously, the AGT project can have a wider, deeper impact, as it actively advocates an alternative to a welfare, charity system that has been culturally established by years of colonialism and political decisions, by working in a long-term scope — 30 years — with small communities, seeking to shed light on cultural traditions that have been forgotten and derided throughout the years. Rosenbaum is also working with these communities’ aspirations. As he states, “the moment in which these communities recognize and identify with their abilities, recognizing them as a source of income, we’ve created a creative economy. AGT is not charity — it’s an exchange. We’re going there to engage in an exchange, to learn. And the product is not an asset to make the project, but a value that helps develop the community. And that is fair.” By encouraging sustainable autonomy through making, AGT tries to give back some agency to these communities, paving the way for an awareness, and celebration, of local culture, in an effort that is reminiscent of Lina Bo Bardi’s earlier quest, not only for beauty, but for freedom.