Tradition Rebooted: African Design Goes Global.

As international brands and African designers work together to usher in a new wave of African design, the continent contemplates what it means to be global.

Published: May 2017
Video/Photos: SUPPLIED

International brands such as BMW and IKEA have been working with African designers on their latest models and ranges. As they usher in a new wave of African design to the world, Africa will be contemplating what it means to be global.

 

There can be little doubt that Africa is where the world has its eyes trained for the next major global design movement. Recently, home-grown multifaceted platform Design Indaba collaborated with Swedish furniture manufacturing giant IKEA to allow 12 young African designers from around the continent to work with four in-house IKEA designers to produce the company’s first African Collection. This African-inspired and -designed collection will officially launch in 2019.

 

“The creative explosion which is taking place in several cities around Africa right now is something IKEA is curious about,” says Marcus Engman, Head of Design at IKEA. “We want to learn from this and spread it to the rest of the world. Working together with these designers and creatives gives us the opportunity to do so.”

 

The 12 designers are all part of Design Indaba’s network, and include architects, artists and creatives from South Africa, Kenya, Senegal, Egypt, Angola, Ivory Coast and Rwanda. They made their first trip to Sweden last October to meet their collaborators and hold a collective brainstorming session.


The creative explosion which is taking place in several cities around Africa right now is something IKEA is curious about. We want to learn from this and spread it to the rest of the world.”
  – Marcus Engman, Head of Design at IKEA

The creative explosion which is taking place in several cities around Africa right now is something IKEA is curious about. We want to learn from this and spread it to the rest of the world.”
  – Marcus Engman, Head of Design at IKEA

Fashion designer Laduma Ngxokolo, in the foreground, participated in open work sessions with fellow designers at the Design Indaba conference earlier this year, during which participants refined and developed their ideas for IKEA’s first African Collection.
South African fashion designer Laduma Ngxokolo of MaXhosa is designing a circular patterned rug to complement a curved bench that is simultaneously being developed by Bethan Rayner and Naeem Biviji, the duo behind the Nairobi-based design partnership, Studio Propolis.
Marcus Engman of IKEA and Ravi Naidoo of Design Indaba with the group of designers set to create IKEA's first-ever, exclusive, all-African collection. Bethan Rayner, Naeem Biviji, Bibi Seck, Christian Benimana, Hend Riad, Mariam Hazem, Issa Diabaté, Laduma Ngxokolo, Paula Nascimento, Renée Rossouw, Selly Raby Kane and Sindiso Khumalo will be working with Mikael Axelsson, Kevin Gouriou, Hanna Dalrot and Johanna Jelenik from IKEA. The collection will launch in 2019.
South African fashion designer Laduma Ngxokolo of MaXhosa in the collaboration area at Design Indaba 2016, which itself is a design for a modular house developed by architect Issa Diabaté from the Ivory Coast and Kevin Gouriou, an in-house IKEA designer from France.

Design Indaba founder and managing director Ravi Naidoo has long held the conviction that the next significant global design movement will come from Africa. “[IKEA] looks towards democratising design, and are happy to be infiltrated by external ideas!” he said. “[W]e love their credo: a better everyday life for everyone. Now, it will also be inspired by urban Africa, and our intrepid pan-continental group of reformers, thinkers, makers and activists.”

 

The designers decided to focus their collaboration on the theme of modern rituals. Earlier this year, they reconvened at the Design Indaba conference to continue developing their ideas in open work sessions.

 

Three designers from South Africa are involved in the collaboration. Laduma Ngxokolo is well known locally for his knitwear designs promoting Xhosa culture on international runways as well as creating socially conscious design. Renée Rossouw is an artist and architect who explores a variety of different projects, from patterns and products to murals and art. Sindiso Khumalo works with several NGOs to develop sustainable textiles and has developed a complex graphic language that draws on her Zulu and Ndebele heritage.

 


Renee-Rossouw-and-Sindiso-Khumalo

At the Design Indaba sessions, South African designers Renée Rossouw and Sindiso Khumalo worked individually on patterns that they merged together to make a repeating pattern.

 

Renee-and-Sindiso-fabric-print-feature

Renée Rossouw holds up an early version of one of her collaborations with Sindiso Khumalo. The fabric print features cubistic patterns with circles, triangles and squares, overlayed with a motif that includes a human figure and an elephant.

IKEA’s Johanna Jelinek has been working with Renée and Sindiso. At the Design Indaba sessions, Renée and Sindiso worked individually on patterns which they combined to make a more advanced repeating pattern. One of the patterns is cubistic with circles, triangles and squares, and in the other you can see a human figure and elephant. Johanna says the designs are modern, yet traditional. “You can really feel Africa in them.” They have not decided on the final colours yet, but are hoping that they will be used for cushions, metre fabric and wallpaper. This collaboration will continue in June this year at Democratic Design Days in Älmhult.

 

Renee-Rossouw-and-Sindiso-Khumalo

At the Design Indaba sessions, South African designers Renée Rossouw and Sindiso Khumalo worked individually on patterns that they merged together to make a repeating pattern.

 
Renee-and-Sindiso-fabric-print-feature

Renée Rossouw holds up an early version of one of her collaborations with Sindiso Khumalo. The fabric print features cubistic patterns with circles, triangles and squares, overlayed with a motif that includes a human figure and an elephant.

 
“Laduma’s patterns are amazing; really beautiful.”  
– Mikael Axelsson, IKEA Designer

Fashion designer Laduma Ngxokolo has been collaborating with IKEA designer Mikael Axelsson. They are creating a rug to complement a circular bench that Mikael has been working on with Bethan Rayner and Naeem Biviji. The husband-and-wife duo is behind the Nairobi-based design partnership Studio Propolis.

 

As an in-house IKEA designer, Mikael tends to work across most categories of furniture design. But he has not encountered patterns often. “The patterns are amazing, really beautiful,” says Mikael about Laduma’s work.

 

Mikael hopes that IKEA customers will see this collaboration as something fresh. He wants the skills of the African designers to shine through. The great thing about collaborations, says Mikael, is that everyone brings skills to the table and has the chance to keep new knowledge for the future. “It’s the best thing to come here. It doesn’t make sense to sit in Älmhult when you’re designing for people who live all over the world,” says Mikael.

 

Already through these collaborations, individual African designers are starting to understand that what they do is not just a local or even continental phenomenon, but a global design movement. As the influence of African design becomes truly international, it will be fascinating to see the influence it will have beyond furniture and trimmings. What might an African car look like, for example…


“Laduma’s patterns are amazing; really beautiful.”  
– Mikael Axelsson, IKEA Designer