The Khoi-San, the First-Nations’ people of South Africa, were dispossessed of their lands and subjected to a cultural genocide, first by colonialism and then by Apartheid. Labeled ‘colored’ during the Apartheid era, the Khoi-San were victims of cultural annihilation in which they lost their social and spiritual institutions that held their identity. The systematic and deliberate erasure of their culture has led to collective historical trauma. Today, the Khoi-San are battling gangsterism, drug abuse and fetal alcohol syndrome, endemic to the community.
Natural Justice, an international NGO of lawyers for community and environment has for several years assisted the Khoi-San in their legal struggle to assert secure rights to their land and heritage. However, legal and material support has been insufficient in healing this historical trauma. The absence of positive community role models or heroes has disillusioned the Khoi-San youth, creating a need for cultural and spiritual healing. From this need the Heroes Project was born and is a collaborative work to reinvigorate the spirit of the community and enable them to address their contemporary issues.
The project, housed at the Law+Environment+Design Laboratory, brings into the forefront the key role design plays in enabling communities; through creative and critical thinking, design and open innovation, to catalyze and activate imaginations for positive change. The Heroes Project was conceived from mythologist Joseph Campbell’s ideas of the ‘hero’s journey’. Based on this monomyth, the project seeks to create a series of graphic narratives that contemporize Khoi-San folklore and mythology to reconnect them with the youth. The project is a unique interdisciplinary collaboration among designers, lawyers and artists to conceptualize creative interventions for socio-political change.
It is not merely designing graphic narratives, but engaging with the deep knowledge of experts, participation with community, and imagine the possibilities of this project beyond these graphic narratives.