05 December 2019
It was and still is the dark continent, but when we talk about Africa these days, we unfailingly talk about a multicoloured continent. A great jigsaw puzzle of culture, rituals, people, traditions, languages (2,200) and tongues. Perhaps the addition, in terms of garnering attention from non-Africans, is design.
In 2015 the Vitra Design Museum celebrated it with a large influential exhibition, while two years later, in the field of architecture, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC designed by the Ghanaian David Adjaye was named Design of the Year. Again in 2017, the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris hosted the great Art/Afrique: le Nouvel Atelier exhibition. Lastly, in 2018, the theme of SaloneSatellite was dedicated to the Southern World, with the multimedia exhibition AFRICA & LATIN AMERICA Rising Design / Design Emergente. The African section was curated by Moroccan designer Hicham Lahlou, one of the most influential figures on Africa’s creative and intellectual scene, and co-author of African Generation, the Power of Design, along with Mugendi K. M’Rithaa, industrial designer, educator and researcher at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.
The book is published in both English and French by Langages du Sud, a French publisher set up through its founder’s love for Morocco, with a preface by Cher Potter, a researcher at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum and UAL. It is a journey of initiation through Africa and the creative worlds of some fifty designers who amply reflect the reality of African design, its multiple cultures, its new powers of expression, its extraordinary resources and its incredible potential. Some of the designers are inspired by everyday objects, which they then turn into powerful works of art or into objects for alternative use. Their design is also distinguished by their close collaboration with local artisans, so that design and act of solidarity become synonymous, bringing creativity, industry and craftsmanship together. Designers who embrace the contemporary blend design with digital, thus opening themselves up to an ever-increasing community.
Strength and power, dynamism and effervescence, single and plural value are what make up the DNA of the African design world and what emerges from the book, which valorises every single exponent as well as the creative power of the continent as a whole.
Leafing through the 216 beautiful pages, we come across studies into bead artefacts by the Ghanaian Sir David Adjaye, subsequently applied to the construction of real-life buildings, the sensual minimalism of Egyptian archistar Karim Rashid, original textiles by the Senegalese Johanna Bramble and Aissa Dione, which integrate the Manjak tradition into fabrics for haute couture and furnishing, design pieces by Charles Job, who made his debut at SaloneSatellite in 2002 ,and designers such as Lani Adeoye, who will take part in 2020. Then there are those, like the last two designers, who were present at SaloneSatellite 2018 by virtue of the multimedia exhibition: Ifeanyi Oganwu, Dzeta, Audrey Forson, Faty Li, People of the Sun, Jean-Servais Somain, Jomo Tariku and Vakay. The book also includes more recent arrivals, such as Tosin Oshinowo, a shining example of the creative renaissance of the upcoming generations.
Through these textiles and furnishings, ceramics and glass, pieces in metal and graphic design, industrial products and craftsman-made objects, the dual identity of the African world is laid bare: on one hand there is the reworking of traditional materials and on the other the imagining of alternative future scenarios demonstrating – unequivocally – just how much modern design has been informed by artisan tradition and just how much modern design is a combination of craftsmanship and critical innovation.
Hicham Lahlou - Mugendi K. M’Rithaa
Génération Africaine, la force du design
African Generation, the Power of Design
Langages du Sud
Top: Yinka Ilori, A large chair doesn't mak a king - © Andrew Meredith
Left: Tosin Oshinowo, portrait - © Emmanuel Oyekele
Right: Reform Studio, Re stool - © Reform studio