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African Design Market

Katie de Klee
Design Indaba, Cape Town
Design Indaba is an annual design festival that was founded in 1995 by managing director Ravi Naidoo. Katie de Klee is the editor of designindaba. com, a digital platform for news, features and the Design Indaba creative conference and festival held annually in Cape Town, which is broadcast live to six Southern African cities.
“Design in Africa is still a young industry. Historically, design on the continent has only been looked at as artefact and curio, with explorations into Africa’s material culture being more common than a deep exploration of its contemporary design scene. Design education is relatively new and still hidden behind the academic institutions of the west. In Rwanda, there was no school of architecture and no word for architect in the native Rwandan language, Kinyarwanda, until 2008. Italy alone has 153,000 qualified designers and architects, compared to 35,000 across the whole African continent. The design scene in South Africa is growing but it mostly consists of small businesses and entrepreneurs. Very little design is being made at scale on the continent, although Ethiopia appears to be changing this. A huge leap in industrial design infrastructure is needed for African designers to keep up with global market demand.
African designers create in resource-scarce environments but are proving to be hyper resourceful. Despite often not having any formal training, they are hybrid creatives with intuitive skills, a problem-solving attitude and more heightened sensitivity than the well-meaning, charitable designers from the developed world.
African design revives materials that much of the world would see as garbage, as seen in the work of Senegalese designers Ousmane Mbaye and Amadou Fatoumata. Mbaye makes unique pieces from material he scavenges from Dakar’s landfills, while Fatoumata reworks old car tyres into design creations and sculptures. Similarly, Cairo-based Reform Studio makes brightly coloured, woven designs from reused plastic bags.
The world’s eye is on African design – it has appeared on catwalks, in galleries and in museum exhibitions worldwide. Dokter and Misses, the South African design studio of husband-and-wife team Adriaan Hugo and Katy Taplin, create furniture and interior objects that have bold, graphic patterns. Senegalese fashion designer Selly Raby Kane makes surreal, cartoony clothing to disrupt Senagalese fashion codes. Laduma Ngxokolo, founding designer of MaXhosa, uses traditional Xhosa beadwork motifs and patterns to celebrate the rich heritage of the Xhosa culture in his textiles.
Ghanian architect David Adjaye, who was awarded an OBE in 2007, is a major international figure in architecture. Whilst not subscribing to a specific geographic or cultural aesthetic, he seeks to bring a distinct «Afropolitan» view to his projects. And Rwandan architect Christian Benimana uses local artisans and materials to bring skills, income and dignity to the community, believing that architecture is a catalyst for peace.
Design is key to the transformation of the continent and the reimagining of its rapidly growing cities. Even small-scale design and entrepreneurship has the potential to provide young people with a means of making a sustainable income.”
By Franck Houndegla
Franck Houndegla conceives design projects for sets, museums, public spaces and heritage sites in Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean and the US. Since 2012, he is artistic director of Liaisons urbaines, an initiative geared towards redeveloping pubic spaces in African cities that is supported by the Institut Français. Nowadays, three projects have been realized in Benin, Chad and Morocco.
On the African continent, we can find numerous quality designers – Africans, those from the diaspora and Europeans. The most visible among them are making design objects, such as furniture and products. They use artisanal production networks and produce in small or medium-sized series for an “enlightened” international and local clientele through direct sales or through representatives, such as international and local stores and galleries.

In the network called «francophone», the leading African designers are Cheick Diallo, Issa Diabaté, Bibi Seck, Hicham Lahlou, Khadija Kabbaj, Aïssa Dione, Jules Wokam and Vincent Bayilou, who are are all developing remarkable projects. But there are many others, be it in Ghana, Nigeria and of course South Africa, where Design Indaba in Cape Town shows the importance of this sector and where urban developments integrate the “design” dimension. In Johannesburg, one also finds the MOAD, Museum of African Design, which opened in 2013.

The influence of the above-mentioned designers is not measured by their economic power, meaning the number of pieces sold, but by their media coverage which makes them inspiring models for aspiring designers. Their objects, which are found in magazines, blogs and international exhibitions (such as the traveling exhibition “Making Africa” at Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany), give a positive image of African modernity. The media’s interest in modern creativity from Africa is quite a deep trend. African contemporary creation arouses a certain interest, whether it’s in the form of literature, contemporary art, architecture, design, music, dance or theater.
Even though this visibility does not necessarily have repercussions in economic terms, it is a powerful vector of influence and of image-construction. It is a form of “soft power”.
Regarding other design domains, interior architecture and scenography are very present in Kenya, thanks to tourism and hospitality. Just take a glance at the hundreds of interior designers/architects in Kenya’s phone directory. Some of them conceive the scenography of exhibitions for the National Museums of Kenya. Graphic design is omnipresent in Africa but paradoxically little known.
Last year several important design events took place, such as “Making Africa” at Vitra Design Museum9 . We also had the Africa Morocco Design Days festival conference and the Africa Design Award, both launched by Hicham Lahlou in Rabat and Casablanca.
9 – Touring exhibition “Making Africa” produced in 2015 by the Vitra Design Museum. Curated by Amelie Klein,curator at the Vitra Design Museum. Consulting curator Okwui Enwezor.

aFriCaN DesigN DaYs aND awarD, moroCCo

Africa Design Days was founded by Moroccan designer Hicham Lahlou and held its first edition, co-organized with the ONA Foundation, in Morocco in 2015. The first edition was titled Africa Morocco Design Days and took place in two cities: at Villa des Arts in Rabat from 20 March to 17 May 2015 and at the Villa des Arts in Casablanca from 22 May – 19 July 2015. The Rabat event was inaugurated by Salaheddine Mezouar, Morocco’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation. More than 90 objects made by 45 designers from more than 10 African countries, including designers and craftsmen in Morocco, were showcased at the two venues.
Lahlou launched the idea for Africa Design Days (ADD) and African Design Award (ADA) in 2014 at the New York Forum Africa in Gabon, where he was an invited speaker. His aim is to promote African talent by enabling African designers to “participate in the momentum of the continent” through their creativity, and to highlight a new generation of designers as well as those already established in the African continent.
Following the success of Africa Morocco Design Days, Lahlou was asked to host a satellite event, Africa Design Days, in September 2015 during Paris Design Week and Maison & Objet interiors fair. The exhibition at Les Docks – Cité de la Mode et du Design featured designers selected by Lahlou. One of his works was included in the Making Africa exhibition at the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany, in 2015.