Designing the future: Africa's creative industries are finding a global appetite for innovative design.

Author:Dalby, Alexa
Position:Culture - African design is one of the most important current developments

Until September, the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany will showcase 120 exhibits sourced from African designers worldwide. The eclectic exhibition includes eyewear sculptures by Kenyan artist Cyrus Kabiru, the furniture of Cheick Diallo from Mali and the photography of Mozambican Mario Macilau and Nigerian JD Okhai Ojeikere, alongside cardboard city models by Bodys Isek Kingelez from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"Africa is undergoing rapid social, political, economic, cultural and, maybe most importantly, technological change," says the exhibition's curator Amelie Klein. "We are looking at how design accompanies and even enhances change, and what design can do to facilitate this change."

The exhibition in part celebrates African designers' work that innovates around challenges across a range of media.

"Design is commonly associated with mass production, or graphic design or fashion design, but design has to be understood beyond that. Current design discourse doesn't just talk about designing objects. We talk about designing processes, infrastructure, social interaction." Klein says.

Innovating to tackle business or social problems is a quintessential feature of the global south, she believes.

"If you look at how informal economy works in Africa, this is exactly what it does--looking at the infrastructure, at what's there, analysing it and then reacting to it in a very autonomous, self-organised, self-reactive way," she says. "This is why we think design from Africa is relevant."

Klein points to a piece in the exhibition, a scrapmetal sculpture by Kenya's Tahir Karmali, titled Jua Kali, the Swahili for 'informal', which symbolises the relationship between the formal and informal economies with two interlinked cog wheels.

The informal economy and rapid urbanisation are issues that are worth looking at with a different perspective, Klein says. The demographic 'youth bulge', widespread availability of mobile phones, the internet, the digital revolution, app designing and 3D printing are "creating a young, tech-savvy generation that celebrates itself and who are presenting themselves to a global audience in a very self-confident way," she says.

"We need a new perspective, not only in Africa but in design. It is important and interesting to look at solutions that come from elsewhere than the north. Africa has developed models and solutions that are much more apt in times of change."

The Berlin exhibition intends to give...

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