Auto Didaktika. Wire models from Burundi

In the 1970s and 1980s, young model builders in Burundi created fascinating miniatures of race cars, airplanes and helicopters from wire, tin and plastic. The models they created were uch more than just ‘toys’ or bricolage.

As self-organised autodidacts, model builders learnt how to distinguish vehicle types and makes, gradually grasping the formal language and characteristic of each, and translating it into wire and plastic. They then learnt how to sell their products to affluent passers-by, tourists and expatriates. The street was their school. The cars they saw were their curriculum. Wire and plastic were the medium for expressing their own take on technological change in their society. The complex skills thus acquired on the street often became game-changing for some of them, pointing their way to adulthood and careers.

Referencing the Swiss architect and artist Edmond Remodino's collection of wire models, the exhibition ‘Auto Didactica’ examines an early phase of model building in Africa. The exhibition and accompanying publication present results from an interdisciplinary research project combining anthropological and industrial design methodologies.