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Exhibition: Celebrating Contemporary African Design

Heralded as being the first exhibition of its kind in London, September 14th saw the opening of Graphic Africa a thought-provoking showcase and insight into the emergence of innovative diverse contemporary African design aesthetics and all-round creativity currently sweeping across the Continent. Highlighting that contemporary African design is offering something different and fresh to the international design market, the exhibition has generated something of a media buzz, and the impact of the exhibition not only for visitors but the designers themselves has been good to see.    [Image credit: Dokter and Misses Kassena Server taken by Tapiwa]

[Image credits: Boubacar Doumbia for Habitat, left two sourced via Stylesite and right Tapiwa]

The exhibition shows how much contemporary African design is evolving and features the work of sixteen leading designers from Southern, Eastern, and Western Africa as follows: Kitengela Glass (Kenya), Mutuba (Uganda), Sabahar (Ethiopia), Babacar M’Bodj Niang (Senegal), Imiso (South Africa), Kpando Pottery (Ghana), Hamed Ouattara (Burkina Faso), Dokter and Misses (South Africa), Adele Dejak (Kenya), Cheick Diallo (Mali), Tekura (Ghana), Boubacar Doumbia, Le Ndomo (Mali), Mutapo Pottery (Zimbabwe), Ronel Jordaan (South Africa), Gone Rural (Swaziland), Heath Nash (South Africa).

Regular readers of the blog may be familiar with most of the names as I have featured the majority of the designers on the site. Some things to note: Alongside the exhibition DNA collaborated with Habitat on a special project which saw Boubacar Doumbia of Le Ndomo in Mali work with Habitat’s senior designer Rebecca Hoyes to produce a collection of soft furnishings for the retailer. Based on Le Ndomo’s use of Bogolan techniques, the stunning collection sold out in three days and is on its third repeat order to meet demand. Known for her distinctive, glamorous jewellery and fashion accessories, Kenyan-based Adele Dejak showcased a gorgeous light pendant that echoes her statement designs, and I hope signals a move into exploring more interior products. Creating cultural connections South African company Dokter and Misses’ striking ‘Kassena Server’ takes decorative inspiration from the intricately decorated earthen architecture of the Kassena people of Burkina Faso, and is a beautiful example of blending tradition and modernity to create a highly collectable piece of contemporary design made in Africa.

In fact one of the things that struck me was the sense of family that connects the designers, DNA works to bring designers together to learn from each other, a sentiment that runs through much of the work on display, whereby several designers have collaborated on pieces. Graphic Africa was put together by Design Network Africa (DNA) a pioneering network initiated and led by the Danish Centre for Culture and Development (CKU), an organisation funded by the Danish Government, which seeks to foster culture and development programmes in identified countries. In the case of DNA, the objective is to strengthen the need for business acumen and development in the design industries of Africa, and CKU does this with the help of Source, a South African based developer and exporter of ‘Southern African design to the marketplace’. Source was founded in 2004 by Trevyn and Julian McGowan and since then the company has supplied design products to some of the world’s leading retailers, including The Conran Shop, Habitat, Anthropologie, and West Elm. Source was responsible for curating Graphic Africa.  

[Image credits: left, Marjorie Wallace Ceramic Plates; 
right, Adele Dejak Light Pendant – taken by Tapiwa]  

The exhibition showcasing contemporary African design could not have come at a better time for me. Today marks three years of African Daydreams, and although prior to the exhibition some work I had already seen in person, some I was seeing for the first time, and attending Graphic Africa helped put things into perspective for me, making me see the reason for the long hours spent researching and writing posts; and physically experiencing the design in this space gave rise to feelings I cannot put into words; it was like seeing parts of the blog come to life, a homecoming in a sense, and you can imagine my delight when on my way to the exhibition’s curator walk-through talk, popping into Anthropologie on the King’s Road and seeing a couple of Marjorie Wallace’s teapots on displaying and knowing that in a few minutes I would be talking to her in person.  

[Image credits: Graphic Africa Exhibition, top left Tekura Tables;
top right to bottom left, Babacar M’Bodj Niang Chairs – taken by Tapiwa]

The exhibition runs until the 20th October 2013, so if you are in London and have not visited yet I highly recommend it.  

Additional details:
For further information about Graphic Africa visit: www.habitat.co.uk
For further information about Design Network Africa visit: www.designnetworkafrica.org
For further information about The Danish Centre for Culture and Development (CKU) visit: www.cku.dk
For further information about Source visit: www.source-sa.com    

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