‘We cannot continue to speak about culture and design without recognising how the African diaspora has contributed and influenced the creative industry. Black creativity has impacted every corner of the world.’ states Ini Archibong. The American-Nigerian designer reveals his Pavilion of the African Diaspora, now on view at Somerset House’s River Terrace as part of the London Design Biennale (until 27 June 2021).

Inspired by the transatlantic slave route, the project is a monumental representation of ancestral journeys birthed through water and sound. Teaming up with L.M.N.O Creative, which includes designers Jori Brown, Ebony Lerandy and Maxwell Engelmann, the scheme comprises three sculptures where Black contributions will be seen, heard, and celebrated. During the four weeks of the Biennale, the architectural triptych will accommodate twelve days of talks, panel discussions, and musical performances. Supported by electronic giant Logitech, the PoAD ‘embodies the rich histories and heritages of the African Diaspora’ says CEO Bracken Darrell. The structures are ‘Afrofuturitic. Afro current. And are a link to the Afro past.’

Ini Archibong’s Pavilion of the African Diaspora at the London Design Biennale 2021

The sail-shaped white structure of Ini Archibong’s Pavilion of the African Diaspora
The Sail at Somerset House, London

The Shell

The first of the three forms ‘The Shell’ is inspired by conches and cowries. These shells when blown emit a deep and moving cry, which is said to guide the soul homeward. Historically, they were used across Africa for currency and trade. Over the last year, we have seen the world debate about the value of Black lives and Archibong aims to continue this dialogue inside the free-standing structure. ‘We also hope to further the understanding and to educate ourselves and others about the influences and contributions of the diaspora’ says the Switzerland-based designer. This space will be home to a small bazaar and host an array of educational discussions for up to 100 people. The Shell will make its debut at Art Basel Miami Beach in December 2021.

The Wave

Following the Biennale’s theme of resonance, the second sculpture, ’The Wave’ is a physical manifestation of frequencies. This structure is a series of catenary curves that are a nod to ibheqes - beaded articles that hang from the necks of Zulu men. Skilfully connected to a cymatic pool, waves are carefully controlled by touching the arches of the folly. Inspired by the Afrofuturistic vibrations of Sun Ra the water body demonstrates the power of the voice through performative action. ‘It’s a form of recontextualizing visiting an oracle to seek advice from distant ancestors. You go in, ask a question then get a response that you have to interpret’ explains Archibong. It is an architectural griot and acts as a spiritual gateway that speaks to Akan initiation rites. ‘There’s something about gaining the knowledge of higher understanding and then coming out anew that’s represented by crossing through a threshold’ says Archibong.  The Wave will be unveiled in New York in fall 2021.

The Sail

The final element ’The Sail’ ‘paradoxically represents the past and the present. Imbued with the resonant and hopeful voices of the future.’ It stands as a reminder of the painful manner in which Black people were torn from their motherland. The geometry is a vehicle to take the African diaspora forward and ‘looks to the future shores which we shall reach through our creative expressions’ says Archibong. ‘Our voices are propelling us into the future and powering the sail.’ This folly is a tangible display of reverberant sound waves passing a billowing sail and will act as a backdrop for events and performances. The Sail debuted at Somerset House for the opening of the London Design Biennale.

An arena of culture and identity

A render showing three pavilions by Ini Archibong installed among palm trees in Miami
A render showing a pavilion by Ini Archibong installed in New York

Top: the Shell, Wave, and Sail pavilions will be shown at Art Basel Miami Beach in December 2021. Above, the Wave in New York, planned for fall 2021

The PoAD seeks to provide a platform on the global stage that will honour African contributions and celebrate the Black community. The month-long programme of talks and events kicks off on 5 June 2021, with Archibong participating in discussions with designer Chrissa Amuah (who collaborated on the Ghana pavilion), art historian, curator and writer Danny Dunsun – Founder of Legacy Bros and poet and playwright Inua Ellams.

 ‘Anchored in history, the pavilion aims to serve as a space to tell our stories and to envision a future where our voices are recognized and respected’ says Archibong. It will be an arena of culture and identity that starts outside Somerset House and then travels the globe until 2023. ‘We are recreating the same mythologies through the context of the world that we’re living in today’ explains Archibong. The structures will open up a dialogue, bring an opportunity for recognition and provide an invitation to African heritage. ‘We are children of the diaspora and it is time that we are heard.’ §