In 2015 the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein already presented the “Making Africa – a continent of contemporary design” exhibition, which has been touring since then and will open at the Albuquerque Museum in the US on 3 February 2018. For this exhibition and the accompanying catalogue, numerous think tanks and interviews were conducted in African metropolises, such as Cape Town, Cairo, Nairobi, Lagos and Dakar, during a two-year research period. Around 70 designers, artists, scientists, architects, gallery owners and curators were specifically consulted. As a result, it was possible to compile an unprecedented quantity of source materials pertaining to design in Africa.
Contemporary African design
The exhibition, which is co-funded by the German Federal Cultural Foundation, is focused on contemporary African design. The young generation, the so-called “digital natives”, wishes to provide the public with a new vantage point on various topics and thus with a new vantage point on Africa. The works presented are experimental, they defy prevalent conventions and provoke thought. At the same time, they mirror the new African generation, which, in many places, has a pioneering spirit and has made the term “critical designs” popular. The term “critical design” stands for inventive designs with a social mission. It challenges the traditional and defies the definitions of design, art, photography, architecture or film as well as perceptions that are strongly influenced by the West.
Africa as the gate to the world
For centuries Europeans determined what art should be like and considered African art to be primitive by reducing it to mere arts and crafts. Due to the purported ethnological character of African art, such art has rarely been exhibited at art or design museums so far. Luckily, things have started to change and a mind shift has taken place, which is yet not completely free from clichés. There is talk of the “African revival” in the media. The enormous economic boom has already resulted in dramatic changes on the continent and will continue to be an import factor in the future. In the age of digital communication new platforms are established to facilitate the exchange of information. The number of registered mobile phones is ever increasing and will rise further in the future. This will, without question, have an impact on the everyday life of Africans and will change their perspectives in the long run.
Africa’s quest for a new beginning
The exhibition presents Africa as a hub of experimentation centred around new approaches and solutions of global relevance. They are meant to drive a new discussion about the potential of 21st century design. For example, future-oriented design approaches have led to a far more comprehensive understanding of design in Africa than in the West. Even today, African architecture symbolises the self-confidence of the continent’s citizens and their quest for a new beginning, which started when African countries gained independence but quickly vanished. The historic documents on display at the exhibition are proof to that. They are juxtaposed against contemporary works and illustrate just how self-assured today’s generation is, which deliberately ties in with the works of an era hallmarked by a pioneering spirit similar to today’s. In the 1960s the photos of Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé already depicted a continent beyond wars, crises and catastrophes.
Socio-critical works by African designers
The diversified works by 120 designers and artists show the impact that African design has on the economic and political changes on the continent. The designs presented range from furniture, objects, fashion and software to architecture, art, photography, films, videos and comics. Many objects are made of garbage – a byproduct of change -, which young designers like to use for their products by turning used car tyres into seating furniture, e. g. from Amadou Fatoumata Ba and discarded bottle caps into filigree tapestry from El Anatsui. The works showcased are sometimes critical and admonitory, sometimes provocative and even funny at times. For example, the eyewear sculptures by the Kenyan artist Cyrus Kabiru are an allegory for seeing Africa in a different light, whereas the furniture created by Cheick Diallo from Mali made of cans, plates, packaging materials or scrap metal critically points to excessive consumption and an ever increasing garbage problem in Africa. Furthermore, photos by Mário Macilau and J.D. ̓Okhai Ojeikere are shown as well as an animated short film by the South African Robin Rhode who lives in Berlin. Bodys Isek Kingele’z famous and distinctive models of cities made of cardboard are presented, which will be exhibited at the “Museum of Modern Art” in Manhattan, New York from 26 May 2018 onward.
„Making Africa“ exhibition catalogue
In line with the exhibition, the comprehensive “Making Africa” catalogue has been published, which features the creative work of African artists and gives an overview of contemporary design on the African continent. The works by more than 120 protagonists of the new creative African class are extensively documented in the catalogue. Historic and theoretic backgrounds are discussed in essays and talks with Okwui Enwezor, Koyo Kouoh, Edgar Pieterse and Amelie Klein.
For further information on the works, artists and for background stories see: http://makingafrica.net/.
Posted on 26.01.2018
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