The concept of Umcebo Design was born out of a long history of working with marginalised people of varying abilities around the idea that art and craft can be elevated to a new level of creativity and, at the same time, generate valuable income for participants.
Robin Opperman started the concept experimentally in the 90's while working as an Art Teacher at Ningizimu School for the Severely Mentally Handicapped. The idea of roping in community support for art and craft projects in all shapes and forms with a view to generating income and gaining exposure for the art programme became the seed idea for what was to become "Umcebo Trust".
Robin moved on from the school to run the newly formed Umcebo Trust full-time in the early 2000's. This was an experimental model to see if art and craft could be self-sustaining and support a small core of full-time crafters and a wider community of "outreach" crafters. While the "Trust" achieved much success and especially a lot of attention and publicity; it became evident that the current global economic down-turn would ultimately lead to Umcebo Trust closing down due to lack of funding and overhead pressures.
This was not the end though; not being willing to walk away from the idea, Robin transformed Umcebo Trust into Umcebo Design. The art and craft concept remained the same, but the modus operandi become more "business-like" and "lean". Robin now operates with a small core group of artists / crafters / consultants who bring their unique skills to the party. Most of the craftwork and commission work is done by Robin and his core group; but where possible and viable, work is out-sourced to local community crafters who are able to make good money for themselves on a commission basis. Umcebo Design continues to produce unique art and craft pieces and works closely with other craft-centred organisations in the Durban area.
Robin has been involved in the arts and crafts in one form or another his whole adult life. Inspite of this, his formal qualification is that of a Mathematics teacher!
After Graduating from the University of Natal with a Social Science Degree and a Post Grad Diploma in Applied Social Sciences; Robin left the country for a period of four and a half years. This was the late 80's and a time of political turmoil in South Africa. He was granted Refugee status in Zimbabwe and during his time there he started the annual "Refugee Day Art Exhibition". Additionally, he produced his own art and sculpture - some of which was accepted into the annual Baringa exhibition at the Harare National Gallery.
With political change in the air in 1990, Robin returned to Durban where he worked as a Maths teacher and furthered his studies to achieve his HDE.
When he realised that Maths teaching was not his calling, he volunteered at Ningizimu School for the Severely Mentally Handicapped as an Art Teacher (since they did not have one at the time). The school principle, Constance Ngubane, instantly recognised Robins drive and vision and motivated for a permanent teaching post at the school for him. The rest is history (as they say...).
Robin uses a combination of recycled / reclaimed materials, wire, beads, crystals, fabric and basically anything he can lay his hands on to create craft decor items inspired by mostly flora and fauna themes. Robin's strength is his vision and ability to take a crazy idea and make it happen. He has considerable crafting skills himself (which he is continually developing), but he also knows when to bring in other crafters and artist who have a unique skill or artistic voice that he wishes to tap. In every sense of the word, creations from Umcebo Design are "hand-made" and the outcome of genuine and generous artistic collaboration.
Robin sees Umcebo Design as a conduit for like-minded artists and crafters to meet, connect and motivate one another around new, innovative and ambitious projects.
Ujala (Jackie) Sewpersad
Jackie is a qualified Art Teacher who met Robin Opperman (Creative Director - Umcebo Design) through the Refugee Social Services in Durban. Both Robin and Jackie were called in by Yasmin Rajah (Director RSS) to facilitate workshops for RSS clients. Over several workshop programmes Jackie and Robin developed an understanding for each others approach to art and craft and realised that there was much synergy and opportunity to explore ways for Jackie to integrate her artistic skills with that of Robin's and Umcebo Design.
Jackie works closely with Robin and any other artists / crafters involved in current projects. She is especially active in product development. She is a fountain of ideas and is constantly experimenting with new concepts and new materials.
Exhibitions at the KZNSA