Exciting African Designers You Should Know
For almost two decades, an exciting, thriving design scene has taken hold across the African continent, bringing forth a host of talent that is drawing increased global attention. These designers are challenging the stereotypes that have long defined design from Africa, their work reflecting the wider changes happening across the continent. With African design on the rise, designers and artisans are offering up new perspectives, reviving and revitalising ancient traditions and crafts, and seeking ways to put Africa on the map. In no particular order, Omenka puts together a selection of leading and emerging designers drawn from the disciplines of furniture, ceramics, textiles and product design, who are all making their mark on the industry.
Ranti Bamgbala (b.1956)
Ranti Bamgbala was born in Lagos and raised in London. She received an MA in architectural design from The Cass Faculty of Art. Her thesis entitled How can art and design help man understand his connectedness to his environment?, allowed her pursue her passion for Eastern philosophy, etymology and clay. After extensive travels, including a two-year stay in Greece, she gained acceptance onto the renowned City Lit ceramics diploma course. Bamgbala has maintained a consistent and dedicated studio practice since graduating in 2015.
Ifeanyi Oganwu (b.1979)
Ifeanyi Oganwu studied architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, the Architectural Association, London, and Columbia University, New York. He has worked for the offices of John Ronan Architects, Chicago, Zaha Hadid Architects, London, and collaborated with Hussé a fashion design studio in Chalayan. In 2003, he joined the London-based structural engineering practice, Adams Kara Taylor where he was part of the parametric applied research team to develop an integrated approach to exploring and representing complex architectural scenarios. Throughout his academic and professional pursuits, Oganwu has explored his fascination for art, architecture, culture and technology.
Aissa Dione (b.1952)
Aissa Dione is an award-winning Senegalese luxury/textile designer. A pioneer of West Africa’s contemporary textile industry, Dione combines traditional techniques with modern ones, adapting the old to suit the demands of contemporary lifestyle. She began her workshop in 1992 and sought to modernize traditional Mandjaque weaving with bold colours, patterns and locally-sourced raw materials. Her efforts resulted in sophisticated designs that have been commissioned by discerning designers and fashion houses, including Christian Liaigre and Hermès.
Ousmane Mbaye (b.1975)
Tagged a “creator on the move”, Ousmane Mbaye is a Senegalese designer focused towards the future. With a fondness for metals and attention to balance between shape and material, he is preoccupied concerned with developing design at a popular level, bringing it into the everyday in Africa and globally. A crucial representative of his generation, Mbaye plays an active role in bringing global attention to design from Africa.
Jean Servais Somain (b.1971)
Born in Cote d’Ivoire, Jean Servais Somain has over the years, risen to become a leading designer, cabinet-maker and sculptor in his country, and on the African continent. Under his uncle’s tutelage, Somain learnt cabinet-making and design in Abidjan and later, Lausanne, Switzerland. His inspiration is both traditional and contemporary, especially in his quest for the “pure” line. Somain continues to exhibit locally and internationally. One of his pieces shown in Paris, a library called Bandiagara, revisits the Dogon scale in a modern form. In 2013, he received the 2013 Archibat Prize, awarded at Abidjan’s first design fair.
Hamed Ouattara (b.1971)
Hamed Ouattara was born in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. He is one of the most recognised in a new generation of designers in Africa who are not steeped in European aesthetic traditions, but find inspiration and develop their technique by watching the immediate environment around them. Ouattara first studied accountancy, then fashion before establishing himself as a self-taught painter and later, a designer. He trained at the Olorun Foundation, completing a course as part of the 1996 edition of Ouag’Art, and in 2003, trained in design at the National Higher School of Industrial Design in Paris. Ouattara has participated in several exhibitions locally and internationally, in Brussels (1999), Strasbourg (2001 and 2002) and Turin (2003). He has also won several honours for his work including the Creative Artist Prize at the SIAO in Ouagadougou (2015), the Order of Merit for Art, Literature and Communication, Burkina Faso (2005) and Best Designer of his Generation at the African Design Award (2014).
Heath Nash (b.1977)
Heath Nash is a product designer best known for turning waste material into covetable objects. He holds a BA in fine art from the University of Cape Town and was the Elle Decoration SA designer and lighting designer (2005-2006). He also won the title of British Council South African Creative Entrepreneur of the Year (2006). Nash has worked with grassroots artisans around Southern Africa over the past two years, while finding ways to teach design as a simple process. He is currently interested in the business of design and finding opportunities for his creative growth through residencies in other parts of the world. In 2004, he established his own design company, making products with a unique South African and environmentally conscious slant.
Jadesola Folawiyo (b.1987)
Jadesola Folawiyo is a product designer who makes home ware using materials like ceramics, glass and metal, that have their origins in traditional artisanal craft. Through contemporary re-interpretation, Folawiyo preserves traditional craftsmanship for the next generation. She is widely known for her collection of metal lampshades and in 2015, was named among 50 celebrated designers creating sophisticated and innovative products and interiors.
Nifemi Marcus-Bello (b. 1985)
Lagos – based Nifemi Marcus-Bello is a product and furniture designer. He makes furniture by employing materials he finds in his environment while at the same time, challenging his circumstances to push his design work. This products have been described as resembling Ikea furniture, but with an indigenous twist. His collections include affordable, lightweight stools and chairs, often flat packed or stackable. He is the recipient of both the Potential for Social Change Award (2012) and the Reckitt Benckiser Innovation Award (2012).
Kachi Irondi (b.1993)
For most of her life, Kachi Irondi has been interested in African patterns and the various ways they could be applied in different contexts. She became interested in ceramics design in her second year at the University of Worcester where she studied art and design. Irondi’s passion for traditional African patterns shines through in her intricate projects. Her signature design “Sekho” (meaning spider web), is a stunning aesthetic of carved, repetitive patterns and perforated interlocking bricks, which she generates using traditional methods.
Raqib Bashorun (b.1955)
Raqib Bashorun holds a MFA in sculpture with a minor in drawing (2002), as well as a M.Ed in art education (1984) from University of Missouri, Columbia. Bashorun is one of the most prominent artists working in Nigeria today. His exemplary career as an artist and teacher is marked by significant exhibitions around the world and the quality of a younger generation of artists defining their spaces on the Lagos contemporary space. Since 1987, issues of waste, recycling and environmental sustainability have engaged the artist, underscoring a preoccupation with found materials, which he skillfully reproduces as objects of beauty and usefulness.
Yinka Ilori (b.1987)
Yinka Ilori is a London – based designer. He specialises in up-cycling vintage furniture, inspired by the traditional Nigerian parables and African fabrics that surrounded him as child. Humorous, provocative and fun, each piece of furniture he creates, tells a story. Bringing Nigerian verbal traditions into playful conversation with contemporary design, Yinka Ilori’s work touches on themes as various as hope, sexuality and social class.
Cheick Diallo (b.1960)
The Malian architect and designer Cheick Diallo has his own studio located in the hills above his birthplace of Bamako. Diallo experiments mainly with weaving metal to create sculptural loungers and chairs. As creative confidence spreads across the continent, European designers such as the Italian Moroso, look to Diallo for inspiration. Mixing ancient wisdom with a modern sensibility, his fascinating objects made out of every detritus and material continue to inspire many.
Marjorie Wallace (b.1957)
Marjorie Wallace is a talented ceramic artist who graduated from Cape Town’s Michaelis School of Art. She makes fine porcelain objects, which are inspired by the traditional basket making she has been accustomed to since her early career. Wallace adds linear designs to her decorative objects, bowls and cups. As there is a constant issue of supply and resources in Zimbabwe, she leaves her pottery studio open to fellow ceramicists and trains young artisans.
Oyindamola Olaniyan is the Head of Media and Communications at Revilo Publishing. She holds a B.sc in Botany from Lagos State University. Broadly experienced in this area, her core expertise includes social media management, content development and brand identity.
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