Chrissa Amuah, founding director of AFRICA BY DESIGN (ABD), explains that it works to showcase the best of African talent, celebrating creativity, skills and craftsmanship. As the world, and the continent itself, hones in on the diversity of African cultural production, there is a significant conversation arising about design across Africa and its potential for boosting the economy and providing sustainable livings. “Each country has amazing talent, doing incredible things, and there are hotspots which are evolving and growing,” she shares.
“Exciting things are happening in Accra, Ghana, and the same can be said for Dakar, Senegal, and Lagos, Nigeria, too. If we are to consider the industrialisation of design across the continent then we must look to Ethiopia, who is fast setting the blueprint for the continent to learn and grow from.” This platform – which had “an empowering symbolism given the launch date coincided with the anniversary of Ghana’s independence from colonial rule” – is ready to dig deep.
From sculpture and painting to fashion and design – ABD indicates that there is a growing market where new and established designers are looking to create new visual languages and redefine traditional tropes. “African design is not tainted by trends and themes that we see saturating the Western design landscape,” she says. “Work created exists within its own integrity. Traditional design practice, especially, communicates tradition, customs and oral narratives. There is something very pure and sincere in that. As African design gains more international momentum, stronger and bold evolutions of this narrative will be invoked.”
Chair by ilé-ilà. Courtesy of AFRICA BY DESIGN
The textile sector is an example that straddles ABD’s creative and enterprising goals. “It is still very much burdened by the weight of its historical colonial interference and influence,” she says. “The origins of the colourful Ankara or Dutch wax prints synonymous with African fabric actually stem from Indonesian Java prints, which early 19th-century European imperialists took home, where it failed to resonate. The prints were brought to Africa and fully embraced.
This came at the consequence and decline of other traditional fabric printing methods such as the Bogolan or Mud Cloths of Senegal and Mali or the Indigo dyed fabrics of Kofar Mata Dye Pit in Kano, North Nigeria.” The industry is further endangered by the recent import of Chinese counterfeits: “It fulfills the appetite of consumers who wish to enjoy the latest fabric trends, but who do not have the means to purchase the legitimate versions.
Part of the problem stems from the impact of high import tax duties; in Ghana this sits at 67 per cent, which importers illegally work across unenforced borders to avoid paying and as such enables them to trade at lower price points. Local factories are drowning in this biased competition.” Chrissa asserts that the coming three to five years are critical for Africa’s textile industry. ABD is one channel in which to raise awareness to “reignite the desire to buy locally printed fabrics.”
Chair by Nulangee. Courtesy of AFRICA BY DESIGN
As a vehicle for discussion, social development, mobilisation and business, “ABD is keen to create commercial opportunities for its featured designers,” she says. Working with 27 internationally-based designers from six Sub-Saharan countries, ABD exhibits in Accra, London and Dubai. “This alone demonstrates the global appetite for the continent’s rich design offerings,” adds Chrissa.
Dedication to innovation, sustainability, functionality, integrity and quality can be seen in the works of featured designers such as Bob Grandy, Ghanaian kente weave master; Assiata Namako from Mali, who also works with textiles; or Ifeanyi Oganwu, who references Afrofuturism. “Africa’s design offering goes beyond design for its own sake; there is much symbolic meaning in it,” explains Chrissa.
“There is also a strong culture of transforming the use of materials and objects, therefore as a result, many designers’s practices are sustainably aligned and contradict a fast consumerist throwaway culture. Works are appreciated for their functional and representative value, not just trending qualities.” Soon hosting a discussion with called 'African Art & Design – Beyond a Trend', Chrissa adds that they are on the look out for more talent, particularly from East Africa, and that “2018 seeks to expand upon the strong foundation that was created in 2017.”