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Afreaks: A new series of works by The Haas Brothers and The Haas Sisters

21 October 2015

Designer: The Haas Brothers

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On view in "Beauty -- Cooper Hewitt National Design Triennial"
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, February 12 - August 21, 2016

R & Company is thrilled to announce the arrival of Afreaks, a series of sculptural furniture and objects designed and produced by The Haas Brothers and The Haas Sisters, in South Africa and Los Angeles, 2014-2015.

The Afreaks series is comprised of fantastical beaded works co-created by Niki and Simon Haas, known as The Haas Brothers, with The Haas Sisters, a group of women from South African townships. Each design is a collaborative effort between the Brothers and Sisters, from sketching to sculpting to stitching. The resulting design objects are extraordinarily expressive forms that embody the history of indigenous beading cultures as well as the Haas' unique design aesthetic.

The Afreaks project started out as a kind of design pen-pal exchange. In 2014, The Haas Brothers saw the work that the beaders had made for Monkeybiz (a nonprofit organization that employs South African women as beadwork artisans) at Design Indaba while in Cape Town to exhibit with R & Company for the World Design Capital events. Niki and Simon were in awe of the beaders' artistry, the incredible forms and colors of their beaded objects. They found echoes of the same anthropomorphic playfulness they'd explored in their own Beast series. Monkeybiz proposed a collaborative project with the women artists, and Trevyn and Julian McGowan from Southern Guild Gallery helped coordinate the details on the ground in Cape Town. Sketches were emailed, a trip to work with the women was booked and an extraordinary relationship developed. As the work progressed, the group of beaders began to refer to themselves as The Haas Sisters, a name that reflects the spirit of joy and genuine connection felt on both sides.

The Haas Brothers and The Haas Sisters project is a natural extension of Simon and Niki Haas' commitment to open a dialogue about social concerns through art and design. While past projects have focused on gender and sexuality, this new venture illuminates issues of creativity and authorship as they relate to privilege. Additionally, the project furthers the deep spirit of collaboration that is a vital part of twins Simon and Niki's work. The Haas Sisters collaborated not only with The Haas Brothers, but with one another, working on large pieces in a communal studio -- a departure from their solo work on the small-scale beaded toys typical of Monkeybiz. The studio is a locus of community, joy, and mutual support, and both The Haas Brothers and The Haas Sisters have called the experience life-changing.

Of the project, Simon Haas says, "South Africa showed us that beauty comes in many forms, and the beauty we witnessed from The Haas Sisters of Khayelitsha has impacted our view of the world more deeply than anything else we've experienced. We embarked on this project understanding it as a journey rather than a means to produce a product, so these objects serve as records of the most beautiful meeting of minds we could have asked for than as objects with any concrete function. We present the beauty that is the spirit of joy that humans, no matter their circumstance, are capable of producing. We are designing a new vernacular for this classic craft with the understanding that a person's creativity is their most valuable resource."

The experiences that Niki and Simon Haas had in their travels to South Africa to create the works alongside the beaders were profoundly moving for them. They were exposed to the reality that limited access to basic needs makes it harder for artists to express themselves freely, unafraid of the financial ramifications of their self-expression. In response, The Haas Brothers' continued dialogue with The Haas Sisters will be further developed by sustainable philanthropic efforts coordinated through R & Company and a partner 501(c)(3). By giving back financially and responding to their needs, the gallery and The Haas Brothers hope to create a conduit for their collaborators that will promote their creative freedom and the realization of goals. The publication that accompanies the project, The Haas Volume 2: Afreaks -- co-published by R & Company and Damiani -- contains extraordinarily moving and personal texts and images that articulate the project's message of hope about the power of design as an agent for change and a tool to promote greater social equality.

The works were previewed at the 2015 Guild Fair in Cape Town and will make their North American debut in R & Company's booth at this year's Design Miami. Shortly thereafter they will be included in the exhibition, Beauty -- Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial, curated by Andrea Lipps and Ellen Lupton. The exhibition opens in New York at the Cooper Hewitt on February 12, 2016 and closes on August 21, 2016.

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