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Studio Proba and Toni Garrn Foundation Launch Rugs to Empower Girls

Through its charitable initiative Little Proba, the bicoastal design studio has released a collection of rugs designed by schoolgirls in Ghana.

By Rachel Gallaher

Images courtesy of Studio Proba

A group of colorful, boldly patterned rugs laid out end to end.

Rugs designed through a partnership between Little Proba (a charitable initiative by Studio Proba) and the Toni Garrn Foundation.

In 2019, artist Alex Proba, founder of Studio Proba—a multidisciplinary design studio based in Portland and Brooklyn—launched Little Proba, an initiative with the aim to encourage creativity and help children in need through partnerships with charitable foundations including Save the Children and the Young Center for Children’s Immigrant Rights. Born from a series of workshops Proba led, where children’s designs were turned into colorful rugs, Little Proba became an important arm of the studio, with the participants teaching Proba as much as she was teaching them.

“One of the reasons I’ve started Little Proba was because children don’t overthink and just do it,” the artist says.

A group of young girls, each sitting at a desk in a semicircle, drawing on paper.

Girls from the workshop sketching ideas for their designs.

Last month, Little Proba released a new collection resulting from a collaboration between Little Proba and the Toni Garrn Foundation, a nonprofit that raises money and works locally in Africa to provide opportunities for young girls and their communities. It was through social media that the artist and organization were connected, but shared values—educating and supporting women and girls, belief in the power of creativity, and the importance of art—cemented the partnership.

“Toni and I are both from Germany and used to live in New York,” Proba says. “I’d been familiar with her work and foundation and somehow I was lucky enough that Toni herself was one of my followers on Instagram. The Toni Garrn Foundation is always looking for opportunities and initiatives to help their girls and when Toni saw Little Proba starting in 2020 the stars aligned.”

A dark green rectangular rug with six bright shapes in red, yellow, and blue.

The Mary Antwi rug. All rugs in the collection are hand woven in India.

Working with the Ghana chapter of the foundation, Proba taught virtual workshops to young women still in school—they were invited to create art pieces that were then transferred onto rugs and posters. Proceeds from the finished pieces go to the Toni Garrn Foundation, which will in turn use the funds to support the girls' school, benefitting the young creators. To produce the rugs, Little Proba works with weavers in India, ensuring that the weavers that are employed for this project are made up of a much higher percentage of women than the national female employment average (just 21%).

“Studio Proba is a woman-run studio, and my assistants and employees are 99% female as well,” Proba says. “The Toni Garrn Foundation supports girls in Africa and the weavers we worked with were female too. “[It’s] a full circle of female empowerment.”

A group of girls in school uniforms standing in front of brightly drawn pictures.

Ghanian schoolgirls with their rug and poster designs. All proceeds from the items sold will go to the Toni Garrn Foundation.

While there are some patterns and shapes seen repeated between rugs (a house, flowers, a comb), each rug and print is unique, named after the girl who designed it. Much like the work seen available through Studio Proba, bold color and pattern are a common thread.

“[The girls] brought their culture into each piece which is beautiful to see,” Proba says. “They all got the same brief and instructions but made it fully their own.”

Close-up of a rug featuring colorful pattern on a peach background.

Items from the Little Proba x Toni Garrn Foundation collaboration are available here.


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