Africa Reimagined

By Bielle Belingham

Bielle Bellingham is a design journalist and creative director. Africa is her muse. IG: @biellebellingham

At long last, Africa’s aesthetics and design expressions are no longer being viewed as homogenous and unrefined. The next generation of designers are reframing our nuanced, local realities, and reimagining the potential and power of design to create meaningful change.

Top left clockwise: Spiral Light Shade and Octopus Light Shade from Design Afrika, Muduziira ('warmth' in Shona) Floor Lamp made in collaboration with Wolkburg Casting Studios from The Urbanative, Aids Ribbon (2021) by Ben Orkin from WHATIFTHEWORLD Gallery, Clay bowl by Mandi Sandenbergh from Design Afrika, Still life for Flash Chair by Alex Coetzee for the Bluet Exhibition by KSSO Exhibition, Three-legged Oak Bar Stool in lime from James Mudge.

Creativity and Design from Africa

For centuries, the continent's oeuvre and output has included some of the world's most iconic objects and artistic expressions, and its creative heritage has inspired designers, architects and artists across the world, who have borrowed, stolen, adapted and synthesised what they found into their designs. Likewise, Africa's designers have also taken inspiration from abroad, remixing foreign traditions into their work. 

The emergence of ‘design’ as a discipline and industry in Africa should not be seen as something new. The term has not typically been associated with our visual languages, but this omission is inaccurate. African aesthetics are in fact most often informed by function, and provide solutions to problems – a key mandate of ‘design’. 

Responding to the requirements of a growing urban African consumer base, the next generation of Africa's designers are reasserting the potential and power of design to create meaningful change. They are using design, including the reinvention of traditional techniques, to create sustainable solutions and products with wide commercial appeal that tackle social and environmental problems, both locally and globally. With renewed confidence, and a commitment to upholding the legacy of excellence in craftsmanship, designers are creating sophisticated products that are globally relevant and covetable. 

Black and White woven basket bowl from Design Afrika.

In the spirit of this wider change that’s happening across the continent, Decorex Africa is committed to being a catalyst for the evolution of the interiors, design and lifestyle industries. We intend to do this not just by platforming the best of African design, but also by exporting it around the world through international trade programmes and by leveraging our relationships in the RX Global ecosystem, such as with Maison&Objet and Salone del Mobile. 

Positive change results from coordinated action, so we invite you to join us in championing inclusive, socially responsive and responsible design. As Professor Mugendi K. M'Rithaa, industrial designer, educator and researcher explains, ‘It is about design for, and with, society; solving problems with the input of local communities.’

Let’s use design to start difficult, transparent and courageous conversations. Let’s design for our context, Africa, and improve our understanding of the cultural, political, social, economic and technological dimensions thereof, in order to create an informed blueprint that shapes ideas of ‘Africanness’ in the buoyant future. 

Africa is recalibrating and advancing at breakneck speed. And after too long, our continent and its cultures are shedding their stereotypical negative connotations. Shaped by multiple forces and layers of culture, tradition, colonial legacies, urbanisation and technological advancements, Africa is rapidly transforming into an influential, hybrid and cosmopolitan context that’s well-placed to be the world’s next manufacturing hub and design focal point. 

Our continent’s abundant creative output has always been hugely diverse, but now more than ever, when exploring ‘Africanness’ as an aesthetic, we must be cognisant that our multiple geographies, populations and cultures can never be represented by a single story (as Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explains.) As our design industries continue to develop, emphasis needs to shift towards local identity, rather than continuing to reference the continent as a homogeneous whole. We need to challenge narrow expectations of what African design can and should look like, and create systems and opportunities for innovation. 

Ceramic piece from the Ocean Pop collection by Jan Ernst from Merchants on long.

The Always Welcome Hyde Park House Showhouse exhibiting Paradise Lamp by Arrange Studio, Woven Wall Disk by Gone Rural, Lala Cabinet by Doker and Misses, Promenade vase by Skinny La Minx and Giant trident candle by Okra Candle.

Image by Gisele Human, styled by Chloe Andrea Welgemoed and photographed by Aart Verrips.

Flesh Easting Flowers by Georgina Gratrix from Fat Flower x Missibaba.