M a r k e t N e w s

The 'explosion of energy' happening in African design

Posted on : Thursday, 3rd November 2016

 When people think of African design, they tend to think of either the Out of Africa colonial aesthetic – dark wood, animal skins and khaki and beige hues – or they think of the typical west African wax print. Neither does justice to Africa’s diverse design scene, says Thandi Mbali Renaldi, who in spring this year launched her online boutique of African interiors products, Kudu Home, in the UK.

Renaldi, a British-South African, was inspired to launch the boutique as a result of friends often coveting the pieces she bought home from her travels. “I realised that there was a glaring gap in terms of availability of contemporary African design to European customers. Kudu was born out of my desire to help people discover the beauty of African products,” she says.
And beautiful they are. Kudu stocks the likes of Hinterveld’s soft mohair throws in colour combinations such as bold red and pink. “Few people know that South Africa is a global leader in mohair production, producing some of the most sought-after wool in the world,” says Renaldi.
There are also the quirky Xoologee ceramics, complete with bathing hippos in your cereal bowl; the hand-illustrated Afro Delft crockery and enamelware; and the traditional woven baskets and bowls of Gone Rural. The latter works with more than 53 communities in remote parts of Swaziland to empower women through skills. A particular favourite product of Renaldi’s are the colourful decorative bowls by Zenzulu, which are made from recycled telephone wires using traditional Zulu basket-weaving techniques. “I have them all over the house, they’re like sculptures,” she says.
The products on Kudu Home can be at home in any style of interior, adding colour and character to the current trend for quite minimalist, Scandi-inspired or midcentury interiors. “A common misconception was once that African design resulted in making your home look like something out of The Lion King, but I think people are more interested in having an eclectic mix of pieces in their home now,” says Renaldi.
“They like things that have a story, as well as being beautiful.”
Companies such as The Conran Shop have been supporting African designers for a while, stocking the likes of Wonki Ware and its collection of dinnerware. It is created by potters in George, South Africa, many of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Its platters, plates and coffee cups come in organic shapes with elegant glazes, such as black with a subtle sand finish.
“Customers might have been buying these products but not necessarily realising their origin. There’s still a huge misunderstanding as to what African art and design really is,” says Cathy O’Cleary, programme director of 100% Design South Africa, the country’s first international design fair and a showcase for South Africa’s leading design talent.
’Cleary is quick to point out that vibrantly patterned African wax prints made using batik printing, and commonly associated with the continent, actually originated in Indonesia and were introduced to Africa by the Dutch. “Our textile industry has far more to offer than the clichés, and there are some amazing young designers working with digital prints,” she says.
Banke Kuku is one of these emerging talents: the textile designer creates digital printed fabrics in velvet, suede and silk inspired by her native Nigeria. One of her latest prints was an interpretation of the oil spills in the Niger Delta region, another was inspired by the African moth and another is intended to depict modern Africa, a fusion of tradition and the design influences of the West.
Halsted is perhaps a more established brand. The vibrant fabrics have been used on the sofas at Firmdale’s chic Ham Yard Hotel in London’s Soho, and earlier this year Halsted collaborated with Hermès to create a collection of scarves (halsteddesign.com). The textile brand is an offshoot of Ardmore Ceramics, an art collective established by Fée Halsted, an artist from coastal province KwaZulu-Natal, whose eccentric animal-adorned pieces have garnered worldwide acclaim as luxury collectables. They are perhaps the biggest success story in African design (ardmoreceramics.co.za).
According to O’Cleary, while Halsted and Ardmore are undoubtedly in demand, “they’re almost old news”. Young designers are taking a more internationally influenced approach to design, such as Dokter and Misses (dokterandmisses.com), a blossoming Johannesburg-based brand whose modernist furniture and product designs adopt clean lines and an industrial aesthetic. The vibrant use of colour often associated with African art and design do, however, remain, and the company still adopts traditional African elements: inspiration for the pieces has come from the mud houses of Burkina Faso.
The sense of provenance and a story seems to be the prevailing feature in contemporary African design, with designers often tapping into their heritage for inspiration. “There’s something in African design that has a soulfulness,” says O’Cleary.
Another impact on the current design scene is the urbanisation that’s taking place across the continent. “Across Africa, there is huge movement from rural to urban areas. In places like Dakar, Nairobi and Accra, you’ve got a young generation that is creating incredible street culture, launching fashion and design festivals,” adds O’Cleary. “They’re all being inspired by each other, as well as what’s going on internationally. There’s this explosion of energy in design.”
And it seems enthusiasm for African design is taking off in the UK, too. This month, the British Museum launches South Africa: The Art of a Nation. It is the first major exhibition of South African art in the UK, and will explore the country’s rich artistic history and heritage as well as its contemporary art scene. It features a BMW painted with typical motifs of the Ndebele tribe, by Esther Mahlangu, a South African artist.
It will coincide with a pop-up shop selling modern African interiors products, such as hand-beaded artwork designed by Lisa Todd, inspired by her childhood in South Africa and produced by Ndebele artists, and cushions by Kaross, a South African initiative founded to help the Shangaan people of the Limpopo Province.
The exhibition follows on from the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair that took place at Somerset House earlier in the month, and the work of the Malian photographer Malick Sadibé is showing until January 15 next year.
Sidibé gained international acclaim for his black-and-white images depicting the lives of young Africans in Bamako, the capital of Mali, in the Sixties and Seventies, following the country’s independence. The pictures captured the energy and exuberance of young, newly independent Africans, experiencing an era of significant social and cultural change.
In similarly shifting times, perhaps the success of African design will draw from the very same energy today. “Watch this space,” says O’Cleary. “In a few years people won’t be talking about ‘African design’, they will be talking about Senegalese design, Kenyan design or Malian design. There are so many interesting things coming out of Africa and I hope soon people won’t be referring to the whole continent – 54 countries – as one design style.”

Source : www.telegraph.co.uk
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