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
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