Rich Mnisi’s furniture exhibition brings culture, mythology and movement to life

Rich Mnisi presents ‘Dzuvula’ at Southern Guild (until 23 April 2024) comprised of three installations: sculptural bronze furniture and lighting, as well as a hand-woven limited-edition rug

Rich Mnisi at Southern Guild
(Image credit: Courtesy of Hayden Phipps)

Inside Cape Town’s Southern Guild gallery is the exhibition of renowned South African designer Rich Mnisi. Titled ‘Dzuvula’, the exhibition is an extension of ‘Nyoka’, Mnisi’s debut into furniture design, and comprises sculptural bronze furniture and lighting, as well as a hand-woven limited-edition rug. 

'Dzuvula is an expansion on the cosmology of duality that emerged with my debut collectible design collection,' says Mnisi. 'Nyoka gave birth to a world so vast that a single collection wouldn’t explore everything it has to offer. Dzuvula is less about creating a link and more about furthering the exploration. The snake— with its embodiment of fear and beauty makes a reappearance in this latest collection although this time, it reveals itself fully for all to see, indicating a kind of embrace and acceptance of the fear.'

Rich Mnisi presents ‘Dzuvula’ at Southern Guild

Rich Mnisi furniture exhibition at Southern Guild

(Image credit: Hayden Phipps)

The first design is a bronze table titled ‘Mbboni’ (witness), well-crafted with bulges and outward swells that defines the fluid movement of the sneaky bronze snake hiding between threads of fabrics and adding exquisite detail to the roundness of the table. The table is accompanied with a pair of sculptural seats— ‘Ripfumelo I’ and ‘Ripfumelo II’, made from sheepskin and bronze and illustrating comfort duality.

The second installation, a bronze chandelier titled ‘Vutlhari II’ and installed on the roof to take the resemblance of a snake in the ceiling, features perfectly-patterned curves and swirling that visualize the shape of an hourglass. The ‘Vutlhari’ has an embedded symbol and just as it means wisdom in Xitsonga, Vutlhari indicates the light of knowledge passed down from generations to generations. 

Mythology was also an inspirational source in ‘Dzuvula’. Manifested in the myth of the Bushongo god (who created life by vomiting up elements of the natural world), the third installation makes reference to this myth. A rug made of Tibetan wool and silk and tufted in shades of brown depicts a puddle of Bumba’s vomit of life. It is titled ‘Shiluva’, meaning ‘flower’, to explain the metaphor of life as a simple sprout.

Rich Mnisi furniture exhibition at Southern Guild

(Image credit: Hayden Phipps)

There is a rhythmic delicateness to Rich Mnisi’s design aesthetic, it nods to his fashion designs and in his fabric prints, characterised by fluid, motionful and hypnotic patterns. This has shaped the work of the designer from the start, setting him as one of Africa’s best. 

'Texture, pattern and movement have always been key features in my fashion designs,’ says Mnisi. 'So when it came to Nyoka and now Dzuvula, form, flow and movement were of course also at the front of my mind. These are all elements epitomized by the snake and this is just one of the reasons why I’m drawn to it. Movement and flow can also be representative of fluidity, another concept that strongly informs my work. Ultimately, movement is the spark at the core of all my work and without it, everything I create wouldn’t be an authentic representation of me.'

Rich Mnisi at Southern Guild

(Image credit: Hayden Phipps)

‘Dzuvula’ was also built on collaborations; Julian McGowan, co-founder of Southern Guild, had connected Mnisi with a network of artists and artisans including designer Charles Haupt, local beaders Monkeybiz and rug designer extraordinaire, PACO; all possessing in-depth craftsmanship that is quintessential to the South African design space. 

Pulling such a sophomore furniture exhibition in just a 2-years span looks very surreal for Mnisi and he’s very much proud of himself. 'Having the opportunity to continue my design journey has been truly wonderful,' he says. 'It’s one thing to create a subsequent collection, but it reaches another level when that collection is very much built on the first, and with much of the same team. All the original intention and emotion is there, only magnified. It’s been incredible to bring this next chapter of the story to life and I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved together.'

Dzuvula is on view at Southern Guild until 18 April 2024

Silo, 5 S Arm Rd
Cape Town, 8001
South Africa

Ugonna-Ora Owoh is a journalist and editor based in Lagos, Nigeria. He writes on arts, fashion, design, politics and contributes to Vogue, New York Times, Wallpaper, Wepresent, Interior Design, Foreign Policy and others.