When Social Design turns into Action in the Amazon Rainforest

AGT Yawanawa working

Marcelo Rosenbaum and the “We Transform” Project

By: Dave Anderson

Photos by: Lucas Moura &Thiago Calazans

Deep inside the Amazon rainforest, a group of city slickers with drawing notepads in their hands was warmly received by the Yawanawá tribe, an indigenous people with the population of about 600 in the Brazilian state of Acre.

Historically, outsiders have been nothing but bad news to the Yawanawá. Early contacts with explorers and missionaries led to spreading of diseases, such as common cold to which they had no immunity, resulting in many deaths. Over time, cattle ranchers, farmers, mining, river damming and timber extraction continued with the encroachment on their land and continuous deforestation. Being that the Yawanawá are dependent on and live from the rainforest, its destruction has had a devastating effect on their community and has driven them to near extinction.

Rosenbaum yawanawa cacique

Sustainability Through Social Design

This time, however, the outsiders the Yawanawá were gathered around were different. It was a group of designers led by Marcelo Rosenbaum, a famous architect and designer from Sao Paulo, and they were there to help the Yawanawá develop a new model of sustainability that would allow them to protect the rainforest and engage with the outside world on their own terms, without losing their cultural and spiritual identity.

   Rosembaum art lighting

Working together with the local community, they designed patterns of geometric artwork based on figurative drawings of animals and elements of nature present in the traditional Yawanawá handicraft. Using these new patterns, nine lamp models were created and built from glass beads, inspired by the legends, myths and dreams of Yawanawá culture. During this process, 80 people were trained in artisanship and 16 in entrepreneurial business management – that way, once the designers leave, the locals can start and run their own companies and continue production without depending on outside help.

AGT Fashion Collection

AGT – We Transform Project 

Mr. Rosenbaum’s brainchild, A Gente Transforma (We Transform), is a project that outlines the future of social design, where members of the design community join hands with the social sector in an attempt to improve the lives of people in extreme need through meaningful, lasting changes made to systems and products. With its focus on the creation of handcrafted products, the project reconnects Brazilians with their culture and opens new paths for Brazilian design.

AGT Working Together

Just a year earlier, another We Transform (AGT) project took place in the Brazilian Northeast and it involved the local government, national institutions, design students from all over Brazil, established designers and architects. In an arid, poverty-stricken town of Várzea Queimada, Piauí, a team of 47 people worked with the community to develop two product lines intended to generate a new source of income for the town.

Mr. Rosenbaum, who leads Rosenbaum Design Studio and is the curator of The Design Club at The Museum of Modern Art in São Paulo, believes that design could be used as a tool to reconnect communities to their age-old traditions, to facilitate new ways to generate income and to engender economic sustainability.

Rosembaum AGT Collection Exibition

As a result of the We Transform (AGT) project in Piauí, the Association of Women of Varzea Queimada was incorporated and 60 artisans were trained. Also, two buildings were built to serve as workshops, where the locals are currently producing a series of trays, containers, masks and carpets from carnauba, a palm tree fiber typical of the region, using traditional weaving techniques.

For those who would like to purchase the handmade products created through We Transform (AGT) can contact the Rosenbaum Design Studio. http://www.rosenbaum.com.br

Dave anderson Dave Anderson is a freelance writer reporting from South America on business, science and  technology

White square

 Chatting with Marcelo Rosenbaum

Read the full text of our exclusive interview with Marcelo Rosenbaum

22 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. I simply want to mention I’m beginner to blogging and truly enjoyed you’re web site. Where I can find the pieces from this art collection in USA?

  2. *Oh my goodness! an amazing article dude. Thank you However I am experiencing issue with ur rss . Don’t know why Unable to subscribe to it. Is there anyone getting identical rss problem? Anyone who knows kindly respond. Thnkx

  3. I’m really impressed with your writing skills as well as with the layout on your weblog. Is this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself? Either way keep up the excellent quality writing, it’s rare to see a nice blog like this one today.

  4. Do you mind if I quote a couple of your articles as long as I provide credit and sources back to your blog?
    My website is in the Art & Design niche and my users would genuinely benefit from some of the information you provide here. Please let me know if this okay with you. Thank you!

  5. Hi, I´m Marla. I´m a fellow journalist. How can I contact the native community in the Amazon? I would like to interview them. Thanks for your help. Best

  6. You should have a bottom link this page to the Social Design artist, that would facilitate who wants to buy the Amazon crafts.

  7. It’s a pity you don’t have a donate button! I’d definitely donate to this Social Design Project, I would love to own one of their pieces. How can I purchase it? thx

  8. Finally, someone is think how to work with the Amazon natives in their own terms instead of dictating to them what to do. This kind of work bring real sustainability to the forest and its communities.

  9. This is very interesting, You are a very skilled blogger.
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  10. Stalu Design, Demark · Edit

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  13. Social Design is finally getting the attention it deserves. It is very important to think about what we buy, where it came from and how it is produced.

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  15. LDC Designer Studio · Edit

    Genuine social engagement remains a peripheral niche in the field of design, we are only in the infancy of the “social design” movement . We are slowing improving our concept, pushing forward design thinking as an avenue for enabling social change and poverty alleviation

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