Cheick Diallo & Jean Servais Somian: The Space Between

50 Golborne, Londres, United Kingdom
16 Mar 2017 - 30 Apr 2017

Cheick Diallo & Jean Servais Somian: The Space Between

Cheick Diallo, Fauteuil Woo, 2010. Metal, Nylon thread, 80 x 80 x 90cm. Editions of 8.

50 Golborne presents The Space Between, an exhibition of new and recent exclusive designs by Cheick Diallo and Jean Servais Somian.

Trained as an architect and designer (Ecole d’architecture de Rouen, ENSCI Paris, France), Cheick Diallo is based in Bamako (Mali) and has been at the forefront of experimental design in Africa from the mid-Nineties. His work has been exhibited by, and is in the permanent collections of, international institutions worldwide – including the Brooklyn Museum, Museum of Art and Design NYC, Manchester Museum of Art. Jean Servais Somian, who works in the Ivory Coast, is one of the younger designers of African origin following in Diallo’s foot-steps. He shares with Diallo the principles of investigating local and traditional making and materials, and bringing new and original works into the world of global design.

In ‘The Space Between’, space is quantifiable visually, for example, in the indentations that give way to full excavations carved out by Jean Servais Somian into the rock-hard wood of the grand coconut tree trunks he chooses as his main material. Likewise, in Cheick Diallo’s furniture, the grids that are created by the weaving of brightly coloured, nylon fishing threads onto recycled metal structures render the pieces light and airy. Both projects beautifully present a dialogue between the Full and the Empty.

For writer and philosopher Jean Godefroy Bidima, the paradigm of the Full has often been employed in the evaluation of traditional African artworks; Full underscores the notion of continuity, immutability, sacred characterisation and belonging to specific ‘African’ or ethnic codes. However, he insists that the paradigm of Empty is equally relevant: some objects and sculptures are incomplete, transgressive, and create a passage from tradition and community to the realm of art. It can be argued that Diallo and Somian’s strategies are expressed in ‘a space between’ African and global, and between design and art; that the paradigms of the Full/Empty that Bidima refers to give a relevant frame in which to analyse the works.

When Cheick Diallo began his project (using nylon thread imported into in Mali in large quantities for the fishing industry, applying local traditional techniques of weaving) it was intially out of necessity in a Malian economic context of near scarcity. Engaging local skills with locally sourced material has become a foundation of the global thinking on sustainability, making Diallo’s work readable beyond the local into the global. The precision finish of the pieces also seemingly obscure the hand-made and traditional technique used in making them, and situate the pieces in the realm of international design in addition to ‘craft’ and ‘local’.

Paradoxically the Full characteristics of the works is expressed by the Empty volumes that are delineated by the nylon threads, further emphasised by the intense colours of magenta, indigo and black. Diallo uses a vocabulary of exaggerated shapes; curvy or geometrical, or twisted, which are read by the viewers as more sculptural than functional. It can be argued that it is only through the very connotations of sculpture that Diallo plays with the paradigm of the Full and points to the African origin of the making.

Jean Servais Somian alludes directly to the coastal region of West Africa, where he works when using the natural resource of coconut palm trees trunks.  As with Diallo’s work, paradoxically the voids Somian carves into the trunks (reclaiming a traditional skill so difficult it has virtually disappeared from the region) allow the natural material to further express its qualities: the density of the wood, its rich bark marked by growth and trauma, its immense length and curves produced by the tropical conditions.  If these give aesthetic interest to the works, they also participate in powerfully expressing the natural origin of the material. Here we are back to the paradigm of the Full, a reference to an awe-inspiring African nature.

Somian transgresses  this paradigm by employing brightly coloured lacquer in its indents, by the addition of contrasting shapes and materials – drawers, mirrors and buttons – playfully indicating  the pieces’ function as cabinets or benches. However, in calling his vertical pieces Les Demoiselles, he alludes to the powerful sexual quality of the works, jokingly referring back to Picasso showing how art history also informs his practice.

Diallo says: ‘I am not in the slightest bit interested in design if it is merely redoing what already exists.’ Indeed, his practice created a break with established clichés about making on the African continent.  With the likes of Diallo and Somian, the probing of design’s very borders are inherent to the practicing of new design on the African continent.




Cheick Diallo was born and works in Mali. He is the founder of the Association of African Designers (ADA), which he has chaired since 2004. Cheick Diallo discovered design during his studies in architecture in Rouen, France, and continued his training at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Creation Industrielle (ENSCI, Paris) graduating in1994. In 1993, he won a competition organized by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, with his chair Rivale and his lamppost Ifen.  Despite his promising career in Europe, he moved back to Mali from where he dedicated his practice to experimental design, either from his studio in Bamako or from the many worshops he has been facilitating all over the region.

In 2006, he received the 1st prize at SIDIM (International Exhibition of Interior Design Montreal). Diallo’s work has been exhibited in and is part of many prestigious Museums and Institutions’ collections such as the Brooklyn Museum (USA), Museum Grand Hornu (Belgium), the National Centre for Art and Culture Georges Pompidou (Paris, France) and Manchester Museum of Art (Manchester UK). His work has also been shown in international biennials, including Dak’Art Biennale (Senegal); Design Biennale, Liège (Belgium); Gwangju Biennale (Korea) and the Design Biennial in Saint-Étienne (France).

Jean Servais Somian, b.1971, is a designer-maker based in Grand Bassam, Ivory Coast, and Paris, France. His works include design, sculpture and cabinetmaking. He trained first in carpentry in Abidjan and then in Design Agency in Lausanne, Switzerland. Somain already has a long list of exhibitions behind him on eh African continent or Europe. His work was shown in Musee Dapper and Musee du quai Branly in Paris, in Biennale de Saint Etienne, France and Biennale de Dakar, Senegal. In 2013, he was awarded the Archibat Prize, awarded at the first design fair in Abidjan. In 2015, he was part of the African Design Days exhibition in Casablanca, Morocco and included in the London Design Festival with 50 Golborne Gallery, London. In 2016 he participated in a group exhibition in the Dakar-Martigny in Switzerland and was featured at Art Paris Art Fair with 50 Golborne.