I was asked the question Is Africa Following Or Setting Creative Trends? I found this to be a very interesting yet difficult question to answer, and having done my best to do so at the time, the question has stayed with me as I felt it was a really important one that warranted a much deeper explanation to the answer I gave, my initial feeling being that Africa is neither following nor setting trends.
Having thought that, my mind then switched slightly, leaning towards the latter that Africa is sort of setting trends and then I bounced back to my original instinct of neither, a response which I have a feeling that most people will passionately disagree with me – told you it was a difficult question!
So let me explain why I think that at the present moment Africa is neither following or setting creative trends. Starting with the first part of the question, which is easier to answer because at the moment Africa’s designers and creatives are playing by their own rules, enjoying the high level of freedom that they have to create and find their own way, and therefore are definitely not following trends. This freedom is enabled by an industry still in its infancy where rules and regulations have yet to be set, where not having to answer to a board of decision makers who tend to consider things from a commercial aspect at the expense of creative expression.
But with regards to setting creative trends, I don’t feel that Africa is quite there; yet. And that is not a bad thing. I say that because I don’t think we should be concerned with setting trends, mainly for the reason that trends are fickle, they come and go and what is happening across Africa is not a trend! It is a shaping of the present, setting the foundations for the future, working towards building something better, creating legacies.
Yes, Africa is very much in vogue at the moment, the continent is being feted by the global world from curators to collectors, which I think is more to do with the creative world being intrigued by the level of creativity coming out of the continent, the seemingly unstoppable ingenuity, and how Africa’s designer/makers are offering up solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems, and these are all industry defining factors that the world can no longer afford to ignore, and is, therefore, watching closely, reaching out to connect and trying to make sense of it all. But despite the strides being made Africa is still battling the oft-negative stereotypes and it is the stereotypes that tend to dictate the Africa-related trends.
Africa has been a source of inspiration for designers the world over for decades -and continues to be so- who in ‘borrowing’ from Africa’s creativity have been the ones to define the so-called ‘Africa’ related trends, trends that regularly revisit the stereotypical themes of tribal, animal print to variations of safari chic. These stereotypes are so deeply ingrained in perceptions of Africa, just Google or search Pinterest for African design and images of the new diverse aesthetics being created are hard to find, usually buried towards the bottom of the page.
People like to hold onto what’s familiar so when new ideas are introduced resistance tends to occur. With this in mind, it is going to take time to change global perceptions of Africa. And it is up to us as Africans to change those perceptions, to control the narrative and thereby setting the trends that will happen.
The work is underway. Africa’s designers, artists, bloggers, journalists, commentators, curators, social media content generators are all doing their bit to push back against the stereotypes, working hard to change the narrative. And when it comes to setting trends I think it will be interesting to see what happens when the much anticipated IKEA African Designers collection launches in 2019. Why is this important? Well for one thing when it comes to African design it is quite expensive. Most of what is currently being produced targets the high-end customer and IKEA is a mainstream brand with a wide budget friendly reach and it is within these types of consumer segments that trends take hold.
Trends typically follow a bell curve whereby you have the early adopters, the influencers, the cool kids, those unafraid to mix it up and try something new. And where the cool kids go the masses eventually follow thereby cementing the trend. When you apply the bell curve to African creativity, of which we are just scratching the surface, I think that we are still at the start of the bell curve and are not yet near the top of the curve. So whilst the cool kids are picking up what is happening with African creativity, the masses have yet to follow.
Yes so-called African print went crazy popular for a while, and Afrobeat is invading popular music, but think about it for a minute, does all this mean that Africa is actually setting creative trends? I often hear people when seeing the work of an African designer exclaim ‘that’s amazing!’, then in the next breath say ‘…but I wouldn’t know what to do with it’, ‘…how to wear it’ and so forth.
And it is for these reasons that I believe that for now, Africa is not so much as setting trends but rather creating something that transcends trends. Something that has longevity. Something that will inspire generations to come.
– Tapiwa Matsinde