It’s time to move on from talk of the »Dark Continent«. A major exhibition by the Vitra Design Museum in spring 2015 sheds new light on contemporary design in Africa.
On the basis of a wide variety of examples, »Making Africa« shows how design is accompanying – and even promoting – economic and political change on the continent and engaging in a close dialogue with related disciplines, such as the fine arts, graphic design, illustration, film, photography, architecture and urban planning. A central role is played by the new media, which made this shift in perspective possible in the first place.
»Making Africa« presents a plethora of work cutting across a wide variety of media, such as the eyewear sculptures by Kenyan artist Cyrus Kabiru, the furniture of Cheik Diallo from Mali and the photography of Mozambican Mário Macilau and Nigerian J.D. ’Okhai Ojeikere. It shows the architecture of Francis Kéré, David Adjaye and Kunlé Adeyemi, remarkable cardboard city models by Bodys Isek Kingelez and animation art by Robin Rhode, a South African based in Berlin.
All of the works presented are underpinned by a quest to address questions of material culture and everyday aesthetics – in short, questions of design. The objects show that design in Africa is understood on a much more inclusive level than in Western societies – and they are proof that this understanding can produce innovative new approaches to design.
The cultural historical foundations of »Making Africa« come from a retrospective look at early postcolonial Africa. Back in the 1960s, photographers such as Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé or the South African magazine »Drum« showed a continent beyond wars, crises and catastrophes. The architecture produced during those initial years of independence also epitomizes the emergence of a new era of self-confidence that dissipated over the following decades. These historical documents run through the entire exhibition where they are systematically paired with contemporary works. These comparisons demonstrate how the young generation often consciously refers to this early body of work and creates a link to the positive sentiment of this past era.
Chris Saunders, Lethabo Tsatsinyane fotografiert für/photographed for Dazed Magazine aus der/from the »Smarteez« series, 2010 photo: courtesy PAPA Photographic Archival and Preservation Association, Kapstadt © Chris Saunders
The exhibition is accompanied by a 352-page publication, which offers a first-ever comprehensive overview of African contemporary design with contributions by Okwui Enwezor, Koyo Kouoh Edgar Pieterse and Mugendi M’rithaa. A second part of the publication shows all of the exhibits in a comprehensive catalogue of objects and contains summaries of interviews conducted in the exhibition’s research process.
An elaborate events programme will be held throughout the duration of the exhibition. It will feature talks, symposia, workshops and film screenings. Among the guests are curator Okwui Enwezor, photographer Iwan Baan, the founder of Lagos Photo Festival Azu Nwagbogu and designer Cheick Diallo.
The exhibition was curated by Amelie Klein, Curator at the Vitra Design Museum, together with the internationally renowned curator Okwui Enwezor and supported by the Kulturstiftung des Bundes (German Federal Cultural Foundation). Following its premiere at the Vitra Design Museum, the exhibition will be presented at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao from autumn 2015.