S3 Ep 5 Diversity in African Creativity, Underrepresentation in Design, and Being Good Enough to Interpret Our Own Culture with Jomo Tariku

In this episode, I chat with Ethiopian / American artist and furniture designer, Jomo Tariku. Through his company Jomo Furniture Jomo creates furniture pieces inspired by classical African design icons, reinterpreting the forms for modern living. Born in Kenya, raised in Ethiopia, and now living in the US Jomo’s interest in product design began while at University where choosing to do a thesis on modern African furniture design lead to his questioning why it was so hard to find modern African furniture design. Research would reveal the same old tired stereotypes and he knew African design could be so much more. So he set out to put his own spin on the classical designs, and create the type of products he would want to own.

After graduating he started his first business Jomo Design going as far as to open a retail/workshop space, but after 8 years decided to close it down having found the going too difficult to sustain. This led to a 7-year hiatus as he concentrated on his job of being a Data Scientist, something he did not know he would also develop a passion for. His passion for design was rekindled by a series of serendipitous events, starting with my reaching out to him, to feature his work in Contemporary Design Africa, followed by a friend asking to include his work in Addis Ababa Design Week, and then a showing at Dubai Design Week, which drew a lot of attention.

Together these opportunities got Jomo thinking about rekindling his design career and giving it another shot. He set up Jomo Furniture which he runs with his brother who is his business partner and maintains it alongside his Data Scientist career. And it was while exhibiting his designs in New York that Jomo met artist Malene Barnett who approached him with the idea of forming a collective for Black artists and designers to help support each other, challenge underrepresentation by raising their visibility in the design industry, change how black designers are seen and how magazines approach and write about their work. Essentially changing the conversation.

…what we’re trying to do is leave this amazing legacy to the next generation, you have a lot of things to be proud of. And for us, as designers, this is what your culture and your heritage gave us. And we are passing it on to you. So you take it to another level. Now, if you can make that into any business endeavour to help businesses within the black community that’s great if you can make it even bigger and reach a global market even better.

– Jomo Tariku, furniture designer

And this is what underpins Jomo’s designs. Jomo is first and foremost inspired by the African continent seeking inspiration from vintage books, wildlife, and nature, traditional products, and conversations. He seeks to celebrate the diversity of the continent, show the different possibilities for creative expression, and not let others impose their views on what African design should be like on him and other African designers.

Your unwillingness to see us and put us on the same stage as the other designers you celebrate is one of the issues. We are good enough to interpret our own culture.

– Jomo Tariku, furniture designer

We talk about:
  • The inspiration behind his designs and celebrating the diversity in African creativity
  • What being a founding member of The Black Artists and Designers Guild, has had on raising awareness of his work
  • Having a full-time day job and how he makes time to work on Jomo Furniture
  • Finding suitable manufacturers to work with to realise his designs
  • His thoughts on African design looking back on when he started to where he is now
  • Underrepresentation of African design and black designers in general in the global design industry
Links and resources mentioned in this episode

Kansas University

Addis Design Week

Dubai Design Week

Contemporary Design Africa

Malene Barnett

Black Artists and Designers Guild

Milan Design Week

Where you can go to find out more about Jomo Furniture:



You can listen to the podcast on iTunes (iOS) and Stitcher (Android)

And before you go I have a favour to ask, if you could take a few minutes to do the three R’s that is: rate it, review it, and recommend it to anyone you feel would benefit. It will really make a difference and I would greatly appreciate it.

Thanks again.

– Tapiwa

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