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The little work of art bringing light to Africa

Published at: 23 June 2015

Olafur Oliasson is a name more synonymous with groundbreaking environmental art installations than product design (you might remember his famous 2012 exhibition of actual Arctic glacier chunks) but his Little Sun solar lamp is fast becoming more famous than the man himself.


Photo by Maddalena Valeri


Little Sun founders Frederik Ottesen and Olafur Eliasson

When the happy yellow plastic flower is left in the sun for five hours, it will provide ten hours' worth of soft light on the low level and five hours worth of light at the highest setting – 10 times more light than using a kerosene lamp, and at a tenth of the cost. The lights unique combination of beautiful design and functionality is partnered with the latest in solar technology – the SunPower solar cell, widely lauded as the world’s most efficient solar cell.


Photo by Studio Olafur Eliason

Explaining why he had developed a social project, the Berlin-based Danish artist said in an interview with the Guardian: "Art is always interested in society in all kinds of abstract ways, though this has a very explicit social component. The art world sometimes lives in a closed-off world of art institutions, but I still think there's a lot of work to show that art can deal with social issues very directly."

The fact that the lamp had been designed by an artist was important, he said. "People want beautiful things in their lives; they want something that they can use with pride … everyone wants something that's not just about functionality but also spirituality."

Eliasson insists that the lamps are sturdy and should not break: "You can drop it from a third-floor window and it still works. You can put it through the washing machine – I don't recommend it, but we've tried it – and it still works." He told the Guardian.


Photo by Aminata Nimaga


Photo by Susanne Ewenstein

Little Sun’s distribution in South Africa is handled by Little Sun’s regional representative Susanne Ewenstein. Ewenstein explains the project: “Our sales networks consist of gardeners, child minders, and cleaners selling Little Sun solar-powered lamps in their communities. Our initiative provides basic product and sales training. We also work closely with the employers of our sales network members. In most cases they provide the initial investment to purchase stock and are quickly repaid once lamps are sold. Johannesburg’s large Zimbabwean and Malawian immigrant communities have shown a particularly high interest in the Little Sun lamps. They buy the lights for their families back home who often live in remote, off-grid areas.”

Photo Studio Olafur Eliason

Susanne Ewenstein, can be reached via email at susanne@littlesun.com

Additionally Little Sun is available at STEVENSON art galleries in Cape Town and Johannesburg.

For more go to www.littlesun.com

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