Cultured Magazine

April/May 2015

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94 CULTURED Not nearly enough attention has been paid to Africa's contemporary design talent. That's about to change with a major exhibition at the Vitra Design Museum in Germany underway, showcasing over 100 works by a new generation of African artists and designers. "Making Africa: A Continent of Contemporary Design" is arguably one of the largest displays of contemporary African design outside of the continent. There's a broad selection of work ranging from sculptural eyewear by Kenyan artist Cyrus Kabiru, buildings by British-African architect David Adjaye and animation by Berlin-based South African artist Robin Rhode. What this exhibition demonstrates is that there is much more to African design than the craft and recycling often associated with it. "There are all these different narratives that go unnoticed and we really wanted to try to open up the perspective on the continent," explains curator Amelie Klein. The show retraces the continent's historical roots through architecture and photography produced by the first postcolonial generation in the 1950s and '60s as they celebrate African independence. The images show a sense of optimism and confidence, which would diminish in the following decades as political corruption overtook the continent. "The research process was intense," says Klein, who traveled to numerous countries with her team seeking out experts. "We also had a huge advisory board, which was crucial, and had Okwui Enwezor as an advising curator." The board not only helped with the historical aspect of the exhibition, but also with advising on current designers who are breaking new ground with original digital content. "The technological revolution has really changed how a young generation of tech-savvy Africans present themselves to global audiences," says Klein. "And in return, how we perceive Africa and the content." Currently, there are 650 million mobile phones in use in Africa, many of which are connected to the Internet. With that in mind, a new generation of creative professionals is creating content specifically for digital consumption. This cultural conversation about African design in the 21st century is represented in the show with a number of photoblogs, apps and games projected on large screens. "They've used Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as a gallery space for the last two years," says Klein. "You can't overemphasize the importance of social media in terms of how people present themselves to a global audience." One of the highlights of the exhibition is the selection of "Happy" tribute YouTube videos. Numerous videos covering the popular Pharrell Williams song were uploaded from Africa and the exhibition cherry-picked a few to broadcast. "I think it's amazing to see all these videos where you have middle-class, young people dancing in the streets, participating in this global hype," says Klein. For Klein, it was important to display the "Happy" videos, as it harks back to a time before political turmoil plagued the continent. "There was this self-natural, self-confident way of participating in a global youth culture," Klein says of the 1950s and '60s. "What you see now with this new generation is this attitude again that claims a right to a future for themselves. You can see a lot of references from young, creative professionals to two generations before—the postcolonial generation. Not only in terms of aesthetics, but especially, first and foremost, is this attitude of optimism." A new exhibition at the Vitra Design Museum turns our attention to the wealth of creative talent changing the shape of contemporary African design. BY SAMANTHA TSE CONTINENTAL SHIFT PHOTOS BY © CHEICK DIALLO; © MALICK SIDIBÉ, COURTESY OF CAAC AND MAGNIN-A GALLERY, PARIS

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