The Liminality of African Design – by Juliet M. Kavishe
Main image: BOFRED Design, Bask Collection
Juliet Kavishe, an experienced Interior and Architectural Consultant, writes our feature article this issue focussed on the Liminality of African design.
She has a demonstrated history of working in the architecture & planning industry. She is skilled in AutoCAD, Renovation, Revit, and Construction and is a strong arts and design professional with a M (Prof) focused in Interior Architecture from University of Pretoria in South Africa.
Juliet also serves on the Executive Board of PADI (Pan Afrikan Design Institute) and is a Director of the IID (African Institute of the Interior Design Profession).
In the past 10 years there has been a global shift. What started as a fashion trend became a movement as people sought out their roots to gain insight into their identity. The word identity, however, conjures up a sense of both being lost and belonging and it’s within this duality the resurgence of all things African emerged.
From Kante cloth to natural hairstyles, the fashion elite teased their tresses and embraced bold colours and print as if to say, we want to be seen, un-apologetically and we want to be acknowledged equally. As the world turned towards our beautiful continent, those of us who are its residents found ourselves in a position of authority when it came to the nuances of our African pride, and in a way, opened our own eyes to the myriad opportunities we had not recognised before.
As a student of Interior Architecture and Design, the singular source and acknowledgement of right and wrong in architectural and design aesthetics, materiality, culture and even theory was heavily influenced by western precedent. However, as I started practicing and engaging further in academia, it became apparent that when we respond to local, no matter what the prevailing canon of knowledge is, we will always satisfy an immediate design need.
Hence the liminality of African Design, meaning that, as designers from the far reaches of the continent, we occupy the coveted position of not only being able to garner indigenous knowledge systems from our past to create new and wonderful designs, but we can also significantly change the future of design globally when we combine this with current technological advancements in materiality, manufacturing processes and access to information.
In late 2019 leading into 2020 the term Neotenic design was used to describe the emergence of juvenile inorganic shapes in interior and product design. As a society we craved the comfort these spaces afforded us, and with most of the globe spending time at home, the demand for curated yet comfortable interiors heightened.
What was curious was that most of these designs looked like African artefacts. The South African designers BOFRED released their Bask Collection and the range felt inherently African, not just in the forms but in their materiality. The Ethiopian- American product designer Jomo Tariku cites inspiration for his chairs from Oromia headrests, traditional Ashanti, and Malian stools. The aesthetic is neotenic, but its history and meaning reside in Africa.
Designers on the African continent live within the duality of secular knowledge and cultural practices. Our everyday objects are viewed as artefacts and our traditional buildings, an homage to family. We have access to oral and written literature that shape the narratives around our concepts and designs, and it is the richness of these narratives, that transcend language and borders.
The current design landscape is brimming with possibility, for we are inherently creative, not just out of want, but out of need. The phase “necessity is the mother of all invention” resides on our continent and this is where African Design thrives. The director of Atelier Masōmī in Niger, architect Mariam Kamara once said that the clues of a place are embedded in its people, and as a designer I hope we draw inspiration from this. May we aways be inspired by not only our locale, but our rich culture and our vibrant people.