Designer Porky Hefer creates fun creatures which you can sit on, sleep in and generally give in to the childish delight of seeing magical beasts brought to life
Having spent 16 years of his life as a creative director in the advertising industry in Cape Town, South Africa, and New York, USA, Porky Hefer threw in the towel when he realised that the higher he climbed, the less he created personally. In 2007, he founded the creative consultancy Animal Farm and then, five years ago, he launched Porky Hefer Design.
Hefer focuses on conceptual precepts, which manifest in three-dimensional forms — from public sculpture to product and furniture design. He embraces Africa and the skills that are readily available indigenously, rather than trying to emulate foreign processes, and sees beauty in the functional, the ordinary and discarded, challenging our relationships with these everyday objects and inspiring us to look again.
Last November, he staged his first solo exhibition at Southern Guild Gallery in Cape Town: called Monstera Deliciosa, Volume I, Hefer's collection celebrated old-school craft-consciousness with a twist designed to appeal to a modern audience. Sponsored by leather merchant Woodhead's, the monumental show premiered the designer's fantastical underwater animal-inspired hanging seating environments, transforming the double-volume gallery space into a magnificent faux waterscape.
From a crocodile in avocado leather to a puffer fish woven with Kooboo cane, these creatures invite the onlooker to embark on an intriguing journey of discovery. "My pieces get people to think about nature and its fragility, and make them consider how to protect it," says Hefer. "They're also about protecting local crafts so that these traditions don't die out."
The six pieces featured in Monstera Deliciosa, Volume I were created using unique local artisanal skills that include weaving, stitching and splicing. "No one is playing with these skills in this way," explains Hefer. "People are latching on to technology, but this evolves so quickly that it's hard to benefit from it, because by the time you master a technological aspect it's already dead."
He highlights the importance of reviving and utilising traditional crafts instead, and names Cape Town cane craftsman Ismael Bey, with whom he has been working closely on his weaving projects, as a modern-day example. "Ismael has trained weavers at the Cape Town Society for the Blind, where I've had a lot of my designs produced. In this way, I use his traditional knowledge and weaving skills and subvert these into nontraditional forms, making them more relevant. We have such skilled human beings in [South Africa], using techniques not found anywhere else in the world."