True Matter: a conversation with Steeven Macal

  • Interview
  • Object
  • Research

Dutch Invertuals Academy:
together we explore what Truly Matters

  • by Dutch Invertuals

True Matter is the theme of an intensive 6-weeks online program that challenges designers from all over the world to explore their local context on a quest to find what truly matters to them. Through their research and unique perspectives, they raised a range of globally relevant and urgent topics, discussed in the weekly meetings with the tutors and the lectures. 

Guadaluopian designer Steeven Macal, who joined the first edition of Dutch Invertuals Academy, explored how centuries of slavery and colonial ideology have impacted the people of the Caribbeans. His project “Black Skin, White Masks” is built from a mixture of molasses and coal that refers to the Congolese Mask (Mas a Kongo), a typical costume once worn at the Guadeloupean carnival to mock incoming slaves.

“A blackface, portrayed by black people themselves, the sad result of a colonial brainwash.”

Steeven Macal

During the Academy, you experimented with a bio based material made of molasses and coal. How did the process of mapping and exploring your local surroundings lead you to explore this material in particular?

I felt the desire, rather than directly focusing on the local resources available in Guadeloupe, to delve into the fundamental questions that shape the cultural and historical landscape of my island. There are so many topics and issues related to the historical context of the Caribbean countries that I preferred to embrace these as the starting point for my work. It was while looking at old postcards that I felt the urge to work on the impact of colonialism on contemporary Guadeloupian society. The material I created draws inspiration from a carnival costume that we use today in our folklore to celebrate our African roots, but whose origin is far less glorious.

Can you tell us about your process and how you got to the final result?

While working with this material, straddling a past filled with shame and a present marked by celebration, I wanted to make a social phenomenon tangible, to materialize it into an object that would encourage discussion. This required transforming this sticky and messy material into a solid object.

It was also essential to anchor the object in Antillean culture and make it identifiable to people who share this culture, allowing me to materialize my discourse and make it the voice of an entire population. That’s why I chose the “tiban,” which is an emblematic object found in almost every Guadeloupean household and is also associated with storytelling. Antillean culture is an oral tradition, with storytellers typically beginning their tales by inviting the audience to take a seat and gather around.

What wider global issue does your research touch upon?

This project examined colorism and the mechanisms that have facilitated its development within Caribbean communities of color. It’s an issue commonly encountered in communities of color, so while it focuses on Caribbean colorism, this project can resonate with color communities worldwide.

How did the Academy help you discover what truly matters to you as a designer?

The Academy allowed me to focus on topics specific to my local environment, whether they are political, cultural, or environmental. In doing so, I could delve into the temporality of these issues by questioning the historical mechanisms that led to this contemporary environment.

What is the most interesting thing you learned during the 6-week program?

During Dutch Invertuals Academy, I’ve learned to be more intuitive in my thinking and also more engaged. I believe the most beautiful stories we can tell are the ones that relate to us and in which we feel deeply involved. As a designer, we have the ability to explore complex issues from our local environment and share them with the world, so we must do that in the most deliberate, generous, and sincere way possible.