Marta Velasco is a walking Wikipedia. Ask her about denim and its industrial uses – she’ll give you an encyclopedic list of its abilities off the top of her head. Perhaps mention Namibia’s complex history and German colonization, and she’ll take you on a visual journey through its core as she does in her latest project, Windhoek. The textiles designer uses her multidisciplinary skills to merge reality and fiction, and in Windhoek, she explores Namibia’s multicultural roots and recycling traditions to add a new fictional tribe to its heritage. Through its striking paint-like quality, she transports us to the southern deserts.
What is your first memory of textiles?
I was studying graphic design in Barcelona, and then I did a school exchange in my third year, where I could choose any class I wanted; I went for fashion and textiles.
In Windhoek, you explore the Namibian culture. What was so particularly striking about Namibia compared to other African nationals like Uganda or Nigeria?
I bought a book about an African tribe in my second year at Central Saint Martins, just before I left for summer. In the book, the desert was the backdrop, and the black, slim people were dressed as German colonial military — it was really weird. The uncanny thing is that my brother gave me a trip to Namibia as a birthday present, and we were supposed to go there together. I decided to make my project about Namibia and to do all my research there, but had passport problems at the airport when I was all set to go, and couldn’t embark on the flight…
Did you do your entire project without going there in the end?
Yes, I did it because I was so frustrated. It was at the end of the research period so I just did it anyway.
Namibia is really multicultural, with 11 different ethnic groups. How did you manage to represent such a diverse country?
I chose two tribes: Herero and Himba. It’s not first-hand research, as I obviously didn’t go there, but rather an invention from London.
You’ve studied in a lot of places; do you think that it has influenced your work, or have you always been interested in other cultures?
It’s something that I’ve always been interested in, and it’s also something I dislike about Barcelona: it’s lacking diversity.
There’s a very painterly quality to your collection. Can you tell us a bit more about the techniques and materials you used?
The materials I used determined the textures. I used this thick, blue insolation material, which was recycled denim. It gave a very odd texture to the screen prints, as it’s hard to get perfect flat prints on that material.
When you were looking at these recycled materials, what was the most interesting one you found?
The recycled denim. I wanted a material that provided a lot of volume, so I researched materials that are used inside the walls for acoustic or thermal insulation. I contacted many companies to purchase these materials, but as they were strictly used for construction, the companies didn’t want to sell it to me for a cheaper price…
Parts of your textiles resemble abstract art. Do you think your work reflects art at all?
I always look at Picasso and Basquiat for the freedom they have; the colour, and how they use it. Both of them are very related to Africa, so they were the two artists that I referred to quite a lot.
How has your work been received?
During one of the exhibitions, someone told me that it looks like graphic design. I found it quite weird at first, but he was right. Anyone who isn’t connected to art or fashion would think about the graphics and visual aspect of project Windhoek.
See more of Marta’s work on velascovelasco.com