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.
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.
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 – 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.
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.
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 is a freelance writer reporting from South America on business, science and technology