WOW | Designs On You


Marie Ange Sylvain-Holmgre, the Founder of Image Ark, a communication and design agency was born in Haiti. The 65 years old film-maker is a communication specialist by profession and an art lover and creator at heart.
She has lived around the world with diplomat parents and has worked for 30 years at the United Nations as a film maker and reporter in various duty stations globally reporting on issue such as civil unrest, environment and social concerns especially for children in difficult situations.

It has been six years since she has made Nepal her home. The multi professional woman with a keen eye on minimalism and perfection founded Image Ark in 2012. WOW talks to the beautiful Marie Ange Sylvain- about her journey in design.

Text by: Anushka Shrestha
wow photo file © Gokul Shrees

What do aesthetics mean to you?

This is a vast subject but beauty is at the heart of reflections on aesthetics. For me aesthetics is how I relate to beauty, how I interact with art and what I consider beautiful. It is the various criteria that I apply to recognise beauty around me and to define my taste. Aesthetic values are influenced by our culture, background, education and trends, but somehow human beings are attracted to the same things: visual balance, symmetry, harmony.

In our work, we are always trying to increase the aesthetic value of the products we design because they create pleasant emotions. When something is visually attractive, we are more forgiving of its lack of function. We are more willing to interact with it.

My aesthetic values are formed through experiences of diverse cultures and personal observations but I guess growing up in Paris is a main influence on me. I have always been attracted to imperfection and impermanence. Things that change and don’t last and allow constant new beginnings. Life.

Can you tell us about Image Ark…

We are a communication agency with a small team of very talented young Nepalese designers, artists and writers. We work on communication strategies and branding for institutions dealing with development issues and for companies. We try to produce original, meaningful and contemporary communication tools with graphic design, illustration, product design, photography, film production and web design. We use design and art as a communication tool, to connect dots and lines to weave the story of a brand or to pass a message. We all sit in the same small room so it is a pretty lively beehive in the heart of Patan’s historical area.

What are some of the things that inspire your design sensibilities?

I think artists find inspiration everywhere. We are inspired by something we see, something we hear or feel. We are inspired by nature, the best designer. Who would not be inspired by this place where we are now, Old Patan surrounded by art, craft and history. We study our environment to understand how people communicate, we test our work on the people who live around us and take advice from them.

Tell us about your brand, Pia.

Pia was created in August 2017 as a brand of high end handcrafted home decor products and accessories. The main intention was to see whether suggesting contemporary designs to artisans would help them stay in the country and make a good living by practicing their ancestral crafts of which they are masters. For this, we had to raise the bar in terms of fabrication and change the perception of handicraft in the local and international audience.

Pia wants to be multicultural brand that promotes harmony in diversity. We design objects influenced by one or several cultures in the world and execute them with techniques that belong to other cultures.

For me there is much beauty in “message” and diversity, in juxtaposing elements, textures and materials that do not necessarily belong together but somehow create a harmony. This is how I understand the world and this is where I find truth.

Could you also share something about ‘Bottles to Beads’ project?

Bottles to Beads is a project that trains women from remote areas especially mountain villages to produce glass beads out of discarded glass like bottles and windows. We train the women and they go back to their villages to try to start their own bead workshop. The beauty of this project is the almost zero investment, the raw material is free and the kiln is a mud kiln that women make themselves. It is a very labour intensive work but so rewarding.

We make something beautiful out of broken glass. Weclean the environment from harmful glass, it gives women an income and a skill.

Who are the greatest influences in your work?

I can think of many people but I am just going to answer the first thought that comes to my mind. My mother, who taught me what beauty really means. Maya Angelou, the writer and Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet – they influence my thoughts. On a purely aesthetic point of view, in photography: Gregory Colbert, Maple Thorpe, Henri Carier Bresson, Sebasiao Salgado. In film, Kurosawa for his aesthetics and also because of his unique way of storytelling.

To be honest, I am inspired by many artists and film makers around the world, contemporary or not, at one time or another. I keep discovering talented designers thanks to my team. Still some visuals touch me more profoundly than others. The naive paintings of Haiti, Ndebele geometric patterns, Australia’s aboriginal dot paintings, rock art, Nakshi Kantha embroidery in Bangladesh, the jewellry of desert nomads, sand mandalas, ceramic mending of Japan.

A project that has been especially close to your heart…

There are two. Paper Orphans: A film on child trafficking for international adoption in 2010 with Terre des Hommes and UNICEF. Thanks to the research that led to the film, thousands of children in Nepal were protected from unlawful adoptions. It was two years in the making in Nepal, France and Spain. The other one is The Wall of Wisdom which is on permanent display at the UN in Bangkok. It is an eight meter long canvas with quotes from Asian thinkers and philosophers (ancient and contemporary) against the background of fabrics and patterns from their respective countries. It is art and philosophy. This wall shows that we humans desire the same things, peace, freedom, harmony, happiness and that beyond the masks that we carry to protect ourselves. We are fundamentally good and have the power to enhance humanity. We have it in us.

Besides work what do you enjoy?

Besides work? When is that? My work allows me to do everything I love. There is art all around here. I am not working. I photograph, I film, I read, I try to draw, I create, I have long conversations with team, friends and clients, this is my life. I followed my passion, so most of the time it does not feel like work. But when I am not doing that, I am curious and adventurous and a little reckless. I photograph, I am attracted to the unknown, unplanned, unexplained, anything I have not seen, photographed, read or eaten before. I keep learning.

When and how did you make Nepal your home?

When I finally had the opportunity to choose where I wanted to live, I gave myself three options: Nepal, Nepal or Nepal. Easy!