Continental shift

Exhibition of contemporary African design reflects a changing continent

Video still from Michael MacGarry's 'Excuse me while I disappear'.
Video still from Michael MacGarry's 'Excuse me while I disappear'.

Too often, she says, shows on African design have concentrated on humanitarian, craft or ethnographic aspects as seen from a European, rather than an African perspective. By drawing on the views of 70 African designers, artists, gallerists, architects and curators, Klein hopes to avoid this, and in doing so stay well clear of widely held and limiting prejudices of Africa as a failed continent defined only by war, famine and crises.

‘Africa is in change – politically, economically, culturally, socially and technologically. We want to look at how design could and should promote and accelerate this change,’ she says, pointing to the rapid pace of urbanisation and the huge uptake in the use of mobile technology – 650 million Africans now have mobile phones, many allowing a new global connection via internet access.

The exhibition sets out and challenges preconceptions of what African design is, exploring the contemporary pieces with reference to the optimism of the early post-colonial era.

  • Studio Riot poster 'My Africa Is'.
    Studio Riot poster 'My Africa Is'.
  • Advertising menswear of the future, 2081A.D. in Idumato Market by Vigilism for the Ikiré Jones Heritage Menswear Collection.
    Advertising menswear of the future, 2081A.D. in Idumato Market by Vigilism for the Ikiré Jones Heritage Menswear Collection.
  • Throne, Gonçalo Mabunda. Vitra Design Museum, Jürgen Hans.
    Throne, Gonçalo Mabunda. Vitra Design Museum, Jürgen Hans.
  • Designer and artist Justin Plunkett's Skhayascraper rendering.
    Designer and artist Justin Plunkett's Skhayascraper rendering.
  • Chai House, Nairobi, 1970s.
    Chai House, Nairobi, 1970s. · Credit: Iwan Baan
  • Aspirations, renewal and illusion in Johannesburg Mikhael Subotzky's  'Ponte City, Windows'.
    Aspirations, renewal and illusion in Johannesburg Mikhael Subotzky's 'Ponte City, Windows'. · Credit: Mikhael Subotzky & Patrick Waterhouse
  • Fauteil Sansa bleu chair by Cheick Diallo.
    Fauteil Sansa bleu chair by Cheick Diallo.
  • NLE Architects of Lagos and Amsterdam's renderings of Chicoco Radio Station, Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
    NLE Architects of Lagos and Amsterdam's renderings of Chicoco Radio Station, Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
  • Cyrus Kabiru's 'Caribbean Sun'.
    Cyrus Kabiru's 'Caribbean Sun'. · Credit: Carl de Souza AFP Getty Images
  • Useless stool designed by Kossi Aguessy.
    Useless stool designed by Kossi Aguessy. · Credit: Masaki Okumura
  • South African ceramacist Andile Dyalvane.
    South African ceramacist Andile Dyalvane. · Credit: © Imiso Ceramics

Featuring work by more than 120 artists and designers, Making Africa looks at how this new generation of creatives is celebrating African culture, often working across several disciplines rather than being confined by conventional creative definitions.

'It’s interesting to have a generation of people who couldn’t care less about our perception of Africa in the West. They have a freer relationship to colonial history,' Klein says.

As well as being multi-disciplinary, much of the work shown is characterised by its collaborative and entrepreneurial nature, often produced by an informal maker scene rather than a formal design sector.

Futuristic, socialist model for community life by Bodys Isek Kingelez, 'Étoile Rouge Congolaise'.
Futuristic, socialist model for community life by Bodys Isek Kingelez, 'Étoile Rouge Congolaise'.

Architectural exhibits such as the work of Francis Kéré, David Adjaye and Kunlé Adeyemi are not restricted to buildings in the education, health or humanitarian sectors but include museums and private residential designs.

After the Vitra am Rhein exhibition, the show will tour – Klein would dearly love to see it travel to Africa.


Making Africa – A Continent of Contemporary Design

Until 13 September 2015, Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, 30 October 2015 – 21 February 2016

Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona, 22 March – 31 July 2016