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Kunsthal Rotterdam throws new light on contemporary African design
Cyrus Kabiru, Caribbean Sun, 2012. Image from the C-Stunners photography series © Carl de Souza AFP/Getty Images.

ROTTERDAM.- This autumn the Kunsthal Rotterdam throws new light on contemporary African design. With work by more than 120 artists and designers, ‘Making Africa’ shows how design is related to the economic and political changes of the African continent and even contributes to these changes. The exhibition focuses on a new generation of creative minds whose experimental approach and fluency in using new media introduce the world to a new vision of Africa.

The artists often work at the same time in different disciplines and welcome the opportunity to break with existing conventions. ‘Making Africa’ provides a surprising, amusing and lively picture of design in the widest sense of the word. The eyewear sculptures by the Kenyan Cyrus Kabiru are made from objects he found in the street, from sponges to screws. His ‘Cstunners’show us that our view of the world – including Africa – is blinkered. There are furniture designs, such as the colourful, two-legged Sansa armchairs by Cheick Diallo from Mali, made of knotted nylon fishing line; remarkable cardboard city models by Bodys Isek Kingelez; animation art by the South African Robin Rhode; and urban fashion photography of young people in search of their identity by the Mozambican Mário Macilau. The exhibition also presents architecture by Francis Kéré, David Adjaye and others. They include the Nigerian architect and designer Kunlé Adeyemi, founder of the NLÉ which is also active in the Netherlands, who has worked closely with Rem Koolhaas at OMA for a number of years.

‘Making Africa’ displays the potential of this multi-faceted continent with work from a wide range of creative disciplines – object and furniture designs, graphic art, illustration, fashion, architecture, urban design, handicraft, video, film and photography – in which design is the catalyst of change. When people talk about the explosive progress of Africa, they are usually referring to the dynamic economy that is developing faster on this continent than in the rest of the world. This can also be seen in the 650 million mobile phones in Africa – more than in the USA or Europe. Most of these devices have internet access, a gateway to the world that is of fundamental importance for the present-day transformation of the African continent and a great influence on the work of artists and designers.

The exhibition is divided into four themes: ‘Prologue’, on Western images of Africa; ‘I and We’, on social interaction; ’Space and Object’, on the individual and the influence of the environment; and ‘Origin and future’, on the connection between tradition and modernity. The exhibition links contemporary design with examples of magazines and photographs from the years around 1960, ‘The Year of Africa’, with 17 of the continent’s countries achieving independence . This comparison shows how the young generation often deliberately refers to work from these early years of an independent Africa and recovers the positive, self-assured feeling of the time.

A distinctive feature of the exhibition is the process of how it has been developed. The research period covered more than two years, with many interviews and expert meetings with designers, artists, researchers, architects, gallery owners and curators, and forms a unique source of material for ‘Making Africa’. A comprehensive and richly illustrated catalogue in English presents the research material that has been collected in an easy-touse reference work, with interviews and full descriptions of all the objects. Making Africa – A Continent of Contemporary Design is published by the Vitra Design Museum and is on sale in the Kunsthal shop for € 69,90 (ISBN 978-3-931936-52-5).

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