August 8, 2012  |  Collection & Exhibitions
Century of the Child: Firsts for a Young Artist

Imagine you have never been to a museum. Any museum. Now imagine that you are visiting your first museum, and it’s MoMA; it’s also your first visit to New York, to the United States, and—most importantly—you are visiting to see your own art work on display. This was the experience of 16-year-old Tshepo (“Tuki”) Shivambu, who came all the way from Makuleke Village in South Africa to attend the press preview and opening reception of our new exhibition Century of the Child: Growing by Design, 1900–2000.

Tshepo (“Tuki”) Shivambu in the Century of the Child exhibition

Tuki was accompanied by his longtime friend and spiritual mother Denise Ortiz, founder and director of the nonprofit organization Sharing to Learn, which strives to empower the children of Makuleke through education, maintaining learning centers and libraries in the village and connecting the students there—via live video feed—with their peers in classrooms across the world.

One of the ways that these students connect across such long distances is through the toys that the Makuleke children make for themselves. Soccer balls made from plastic bread bags and intricately crafted cars made from scrap wire and bottle caps, for example, attest to the inherent creativity of children, who deploy their own imaginative and constructive abilities to become designers themselves. In Century of the Child these and similar toys are displayed to remind us that the relationship between children and design is not only manifest in mass-produced consumer goods; children inevitably—and sometimes of necessity—design their own childhoods.

It was a pleasure to be a part of Tuki’s first visit to MoMA and to connect with Sharing to Learn, as both a lender and a source of inspiration.