Spotlight on the London Design Biennale: The Nigerian Utopia

Spotlight on the London Design Biennale: The Nigerian Utopia

“A map of the world that does not include utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realization of Utopias.” – Oscar Wilde, 1910.

2016 had several memorable inaugural art, music, film and design events and festivals notable among them was the London Design Biennal, which took place for 3 weeks in September at the Somerset House including The Edmond J. Safra Fountain Court and River Terrace in London. It was a celebration of design and engineering with 37 nations including Nigeria. It explored questions and ideas about sustainability, migration, pollution, energy, cities and social equality while solutions were proffered in an immersive, inspiring and entertaining way. The theme Utopia by Design celebrated the 500th anniversary of the publication of Sir Thomas More’s classic, Utopia (1516). Dr Christopher Turner the director of the biennale said the centrality of the theme was fundamental to establishing a strong coherence and curated unity between all participating countries and territories. Design teams were encouraged to create installations that interrogate the history of the utopian idea, and engage with some of the fundamental issues facing humanity. The celebrated cultural diversity showed design’s innate power to strike up and inform debate, while acting as a catalyst to provoke change by suggesting inspiring or cautionary and better futures.

The Nigerian Pavilion curated by Ngozi Ochonogor, an engineer turned fashion designer, looked at the restoration of environmental balance to the fragile Niger Delta, addressing issues faced by river-based communities – oil spills, gas flares, which cause health issues such as cancer and flooding. The presentation – an installation titled Ulo, which translates as home, was a contemporary take on a typical home in the region and was made from traditional building materials and processed water hyacinths. Raised on stilts and elevated above an oil trough, it was suggestive of a utopian future where oil is perceived in alternate ramifications. There were also lamps, an interactive light installation about gas flares and a survival raincoat designed to deal with flash floods. The team included; Alafuro Sikoki-Coleman, Shola Orekoya and Folakunle Oshun. The biennale featured interactive talks given by some of the world’s leading designers, curators and academics, across range of topics from education, industry, culture, sustainability, contemporary textile production, utopian literature and its after life, fear of snakes and little animals, to gas flaring. The theme Gas Flares: Steps by Nigeria to 2020 was discussed by a panel made up of Ngozi Ochonogor, Godwin Uyi Ojo from Friends of the Earth Nigeria, Environmental Rights Action and Adegbite Adeniji from the Ministry for Petroleum Resources on Gas, Policy and Upstream. They proffered solutions and shed light on steps taken to ensure promises earlier made to reduce flares and improve the environment and people’s living conditions were kept.


Work in progress for Ulo the Nigerian pavillion


Nigeria hippo survival raincoat. Images Ngozi Ochonogor

Installations from other countries were curated by leading museums and design organisations in the world like; Cooper Hewitt; Smithsonian Design Museum, United States; DAMnº Magazine, Belgium; German Design Council; the MAK and Austria Design Net; Moscow Design Museum, Russia; Triennale Design Museum, Italy; India Design Forum; Southern Guild, South Africa; The Japan Foundation; and Victoria and Albert Museum, United Kingdom. Design teams included architects, designers, scientists, writers and artists. Jaguar, a brand which has a long and rich history of quality design and innovation, was the biennale’s headline partner for 2016. Albania won the Public Medal awarded to the national entry that received the most votes from visitors in the first few weeks of the biennale. The international jury, a globally representative group of 12 leading creative experts; Paola Antonelli; Adelia Borges; Ian Callum; James Lingwood; Jeremy Myerson; Jonathan Reekie; Martin Roth; Victor Lo; Ana Elena Mallet; Kayoko Ota; Richard Rogers; and Paula Scher, selected the winners of the other three medals: Lebanon (London Design Biennale Medal), Russia (Utopia Medal), Switzerland (Jaguar Innovation Medal).

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Image credits: London Design Biennale.


Adebimpe Adebambo is the Business Development Officer at Revilo, an art and culture publishing company. She studied Painting at the Yaba College of Technology, Lagos. Adebambo is also a fashion and accessories designer, and her work is concerned with environmental sustainability and recycling. She debuted as a costume designer on Tunde Kelani's award-winning film Dazzling Mirage, garnering for her efforts, 2 nominations in 2015 for an Africa Magic Viewers' Choice Award and an African Movie Academy Award for Best Costume Designer and Achievement in Costume Design, respectively. Adebimpe Adebambo loves to write and is presently working on a storybook.

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