Say hello to Studio Clash, the Swiss design outfit run by displaced peoples

Immigrants and asylum seekers get together to bring a new design studio with high aspirations.

Sometimes a t-shirt can be more than just a t-shirt, and symbolic of the efforts of a group of people working together to ensure no voices are lost in the creative field. Case in point - Studio Clash, the brainchild of Swiss/German designer Jan Knopp. Whilst his day job sees the operation of Basel-based agency Studio Piet, Jan has recently established a month-long design studio helped run by a group of immigrants and asylum-seeking creatives now living in the city. 

The result has been a dozen specially designed t-shirts aiming to raise both money and awareness for creative displaced persons in Basel and helping to create a permanent network for these underrepresented voices.

"Three years ago I drove home by taxi and the driver turned out to be a former agency owner from Tehran," recounts Jan when talking with DA. "After he had to give up everything at home, he had not managed to gain a foothold in the market again (and) had to earn money as soon as possible. That's how he became a taxi driver. And stayed so.

"This was the first time I thought about and realised how much potential and untapped creativity lies in front of us," Jan continues. "I then met more like him, whether in the service of a bar, a caterer or a doorman. At some point, also triggered by the success of the rightwing in Germany and Europe, I decided to become active. Not through demonstrations on the street, but with what I can do and what I want to do for change."

Studio Clash is the end result, launching in September and holding a charity party this month to raise funds from the tees and help keep the studio as a permanent fixture in Basel. The results are good, but things are never plain sailing with projects like this.

"Unfortunately, neither the city nor the state nor cultural foundations support us," Jan explains. "They all find the topic very relevant, but it doesn't fit into any promotional drawer. So we do it ourselves. That in turn gives us the freedom, together with our team, to do everything we want, create and need."

Finding the talent involved also hard work; "it was more difficult than expected to win the trust of people with a migration background," Jan notes. But with a lot of discussion, meetings and support from the communities, the project came together, featuring creatives from a variety of backgrounds: Afghan photographers, Chinese fashion designers and Syrian painters, all of whom helped set up Clash and commissioned the resulting t-shirt designs from Basel-based artists around the unifying theme of 'strangeness.'


"'United in Strangeness' is the theme everyone got behind. We have political statements like 'Black Women Art Director' by the Basel design studio Claudiabasel or the Peace sign made out of barbed-wire as designed by Sucuk and Bratwurst.

"(There are also) more entertaining motifs like the coffee machine design (below) by photographer Diana Pfammatter. Each work stands for itself, and above all it is a statement of the broad support of the project by creative people."

Jan is confident such support is here to stay.

"We have the chance and the will to set up a permanent representation and to continue Studio Clash as a place of possibilities, which we run ourselves. The outcome is open. Hopefully the team will stay together, grow and develop.

"Together with Fluxdock, a company that will help us with the financing, we will continue to try to get the city to support us financially. We are convinced that integration can only succeed if immigrants can be 'whole' persons here.

"Everything is always new (with this project)," Jan concludes. "And that's the exciting thing about it. True to our motto: Everything starts now.

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