We need new names

The Guggen­heim Bil­bao’s Mak­ing Africa ex­hi­bi­tion is a ma­jor look at de­sign from the con­ti­nent, but it gets a lit­tle trendy, writes Na­dine Botha

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Kenya’s cell­phone mi­cro­pay­ment sys­tem, MPesa; Beni­nese artist Meschac Gaba’s ar­chi­tec­tural sculp­tures made of hair braids; Umlilo’s Magic Man mu­sic video; Zanele Muholi’s por­traits of black les­bians; Nige­rian celebrity and life­style mag­a­zine Ova­tion; Cyrus Kabiru’s eye­wear sculp­tures; the Diesel + Edun’s Pantsula vs Pup­pets ad­vert; Robin Rhode’s street art an­i­ma­tions; Vlisco fabric; and fash­ion web­site That Skat­tie.

Th­ese are just a sam­ple of the range of work by more than 120 artists and de­sign­ers in­cluded in the Mak­ing Africa: A Con­ti­nent of Con­tem­po­rary De­sign con­cepts such as re­cy­cling and in­for­mal­ity is to the point.

Th­ese et­y­mo­log­i­cal ques­tions about de­sign in Africa are echoed by ev­ery­one from Joburg-based Ghana­ian ar­chi­tect Les­ley Lokko to Edgar Pi­eterse, the founder of the African Cen­tre for Ci­ties in Cape Town, in the in­ter­ac­tive video com­po­nent of the ex­hi­bi­tion. Fea­tur­ing in­ter­views with 12 art and de­sign thinkers and prac­ti­tion­ers, this gives mean­ing­ful in­tel­lec­tual con­text to the ex­hi­bi­tion and is also avail­able as an in­valu­able on­line re­source.

It is dis­ap­point­ing that the rich­ness of the de­sign et­y­mol­ogy con­ver­sa­tion is not con­tin­ued through­out the rest of the ex­hi­bi­tion, com­pris­ing four seem­ingly su­per­fi­cial sec­tions – Europe’s per­cep­tions of Africa, so­cial and cul­tural iden­tity, ur­ban­ism and prod­ucts, and fu­ture vi­sions.

Ob­vi­ously, there will be gaps in any ex­hi­bi­tion that at­tempts a con­ti­nent-wide scope (the most ob­vi­ous be­ing the iJusi mag­a­zine from Dur­ban), but the se­lec­tion cri­te­ria for what was in­cluded are not eas­ily dis­cernible. At worst, given the show’s im­pe­tus to show a per­spec­tive on Africa di­ver­gent from the usual poverty and des­o­la­tion themes, the unit­ing thread leans to­wards trendi­ness – some­thing Jim Chuchu of The Nest de­cries in his video in­ter­view.

At best, the ex­hi­bi­tion shows how, as Klein de­scribes in her cu­ra­to­rial state­ment, de­sign can be­gin to re­think it­self be­yond be­ing in the ser­vice of the mar­ket econ­omy.

Show­ing this achingly con­tem­po­rary side of Africa to the rest of the world is im­por­tant to in­spire peo­ple to look fur­ther than the doomsday head­lines and stereo­types. As a South African, how­ever, I would have ap­pre­ci­ated more in­ter­ro­ga­tion of the premise that Africa is ris­ing. Mak­ing Africa – A Con­ti­nent of Con­tem­po­rary De­sign runs at the Guggen­heim Bil­bao in Spain

un­til Fe­bru­ary 22


AFRO-ME­DIA Iconic Drum mag­a­zine cov­ers and ed­i­to­ri­als from the apartheid era cap­ture a style that in­flu­enced the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion of de­sign­ers


PANTSULA VS PUP­PETS Diesel + Edun’s lat­est denim col­lab­o­ra­tion was cel­e­brated with a dance and pup­petry per­for­mance in Soweto by the Real Ac­tion Dance Crew


NEW HEIGHTS Street in­stal­la­tions by South African vis­ual artist Robin Rhode ex­plore the chang­ing face of ci­ties and the peo­ple who live there

MAGIC MAN A mu­sic video show­ing the avant-garde ‘fu­ture kwaai’ aes­thet­ics of gen­der-bend­ing per­for­mance artist Umlilo is ex­hib­ited at Mak­ing Africa

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