Despite growing under Soviet rule from a nomadic society to becoming the largest economy in Central Asia, Kazakhstan is still heavily reliant on the export of raw materials such as crude oil. In recent years, however, there has been an increased emphasis on entrepreneurship and small businesses, and a local design scene is beginning to take hold as overseas-trained designers return to the country to form collectives and working groups.
However, these designers face several challenges: firstly, a lack of any industry body or infrastructure to support them domestically or internationally; and secondly, access to suppliers and producers to enable them to make and sell products. Most designers ideate and create their products to order, often importing materials from Russia and other neighbouring countries.
In order to grow awareness of the local design scene both within Kazakhstan and on the global stage, the British Council Kazakhstan organised the City Nomads project in partnership with the Kazakhstan Union of Artisans and the Almaty Museum Association/Central State Museum, in an effort to find Kazakh designers who are reinventing their nomadic and Soviet roots.
We were invited by the British Council along with fellow faculty from Central Saint Martins (CSM) to host a week-long workshop in Almaty to develop Kazakh designers’ approach to research, product development and innovation with materials and techniques. Participants in the workshop were given guidance in preparing their works for the final exhibition that was held as part of Expo 2017 at the National Museum in Astana.
We designed a series of tutorials to share our storytelling approach to research and design with local creatives, as well as to encourage participants to experiment with different materials and techniques in their own work. The end goal was to aid in the creation of a local design identity as well as to create awareness around the ecology of the design system. By harnessing local talent and traditional artisanal techniques, the hope is to create a new design culture that will lead Kazakhstan onto the world stage.
British Council Kazakhstan