Meet the creatives leading sub-Saharan Africa’s emerging design scene

Meet the creatives leading sub-Saharan Africa’s emerging design scene

Last week saw the launch of Accra’s inaugural ‘Africa By Design’ exhibition, where 22 emerging and established contemporary African designers descended on the Nubuke Foundation in the city’s eastern district.

‘Africa By Design’ is the passion project of Chrissa Amuah, a Chelsea College of Art and Design MA graduate with some weighty ambitions, and a growing list of credentials, including two Salone del Mobile presentations with her successful design firm AMWA.

Amuah’s talent has been recognised by our very own editor-at-large Suzanne Trocmé, who here played the role of curatorial consultant. ’Suzanne was a real sounding-board, and a champion of the concept,’ Amuah explains. ‘She was just so enthusiastic from day one.’

The two design doyens met last summer, but Amuah actually had the idea for ‘Africa By Design’ two years earlier. ‘Suzanne gave me the push I needed. To be perfectly honest, it all felt overwhelming until she pointed me in the right direction.’

It’s no wonder the order seemed tall – ‘Africa By Design’ is the first group exhibition of its kind in Accra. Most of the featured designs (and their designers) reached Accra by road, facing ‘many infrastructural obstacles’. They hail from six sub-Saharan countries – including Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Mali – but South Africa is notably absent. This was a conscious decision from Amuah. ‘South Africa already has a head start when it comes to design,’ she explains.

The exhibition was divided into three disciplines, including textile design

Indeed, South African design has seen both local and international interest of late. Think of the British Museum’s flagship exhibition on South African art and design last year, or Southern Guild Gallery’s extensive programme of exhibitions and fairs, that brighten Cape Town’s design landscape. ’Designers in South Africa already have such a great platform. I wanted to concentrate on those who don’t.’

Designers like Kenyan-Ethiopian designer Jomo Tariku, whose eponymous company Trocmé first spotted at Dubai Design Week last year. Tariku’s sculptural pieces put a futuristic spin on traditional African furniture. He is currently working on reimagining the tradition ‘Rekobot’ – a low, five-legged stool on which a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony is presented, transforming it into a contemporary piece for the modern home.

Senegal’s Nulangee Design shares a similar ethos. Known for turning abstract hunks of charred, discarded wood into functional pieces of high-end furniture, Amuah describes them as ‘charged with identity’.

Identity, tradition and character are firmly stamped on each piece in the exhibition. As Trocmé explains in her foreword to the exhibition catalogue, these designs are ‘thought provoking for their heritage, from where they came and, surprising for the outsider, for their modernity’.

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