There are 650 million registered mobile phones in Africa. That’s more than in Europe or the US. Though its hard to know how many, a good percentage of these phones will have access to the Internet. And it is this idea of a super-connected continent that is at the centre of the Vitra Design Museum’s new exhibition ‘Making Africa: A Continent of Contemporary Design’.
The museum spent two years visiting and talking to 70 designers, artists, researchers, architects, gallerists and curators in Africa’s creative and entrepreneurial polestars - cities such as Lagos, Dakar, Cape Town, Cairo and Nairobi. And ‘Making Africa’ identifies a new generation of African designers, artists, architects and cultural entrepreneurs - 120 of them feature in the exhibition - who see little value in European-model distinctions between design and fine art or between creative disciplines. As 'digital natives' (an unfortunate choice of words perhaps), they offer a global audience an alternative to Africa’s bad news narrative. By redefining design's relationship to modernism, they are making Africa a new hub of design innovation and experimentation, particularly in their use materials.
The exhibition takes in the eyewear sculptures of Kenyan artist Cyrus Kabiru, the furniture of Malian designer Cheick Diallo, the photography of Mozambican Mário Macilau and the Nigerian J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere. Also featuring is the architecture of Francis Kéré, Kunlé Adeyemi and the African-born, British-based David Adjaye.
‘Making Africa’ draws parallels to the work of photographers such as Seydoy Keïta and Malick Sidibé and the South Africa-based Drum magazine during the 1960s, as well as the first wave of postcolonial architecture.
After its stretch at the Vitra Design Museum, the exhibition will move on to the Guggenheim in Bilbao this autumn. It is accompanied by a 352-page book, the first comprehensive overview, so Vitra insists, of African contemporary design.