London Design Festival: Our picks

We go in search of all things Africa at the London Design Festival. Here are our highlights.

The London Design Festival (LDF) launches into full swing today, with over 300 events spread across the city for the next nine days (13-21 September). It has grown enormously since it started in 2003, with two new design districts – Islington and Queen’s Park – added to the four current hubs in Brompton, Clerkenwell, Chelsea and Shoreditch.

Each of the major design exhibitions, including 100% Design London, designjunction and TENT London/Super Brands, have an impressive roster of exhibitors, seminar and lecture programmes and country pavilions. But one of the standout features of the festival is the way the city becomes the stage for much of the activity, with the interactive Landmark Projects installed at places such as Trafalgar Square. This year Airbnb has invited designers such as Ilse Crawford and Jasper Morrison to create a series of “homes away from home” that visitors can wander through.

Ironically, with creatives on the African continent only just starting to build greater connectivity to one another, it sometimes takes an international design fair to introduce us to new talent from nextdoor. We scoured the LDF programme to see what discoveries we could make. Not surprisingly, South Africa features fairly prominently when it comes to exposure of African design. And an off-the-circuit node of creative activity at the Southbank Centre has us most excited…


Here are our picks:

Africa Utopia
11 to 14 September
Southbank Centre
We are most intrigued by an event that may not be on the official LDF programme but which presents a dynamic hub of home-grown energy and a fresh perspective. Africa Utopia is a festival of visual arts and design from across the continent, running for the second time at Southbank Centre. The cultural complex is known for its vibrant and progressive programming (such as this summer’s Festival of Love) and this year’s edition of the festival looks very promising. It features exhibitions, talks, performances, installations by a vast range of artists and designers working both on the African continent and based in the UK. A highlights for us is “Digital Africa: The Future Is Now”, a group show of video pieces and sonic experiments by emerging digital artists from Mauritius, Cameroon, Rwanda, Morocco, Zimbabwe and South Africa, curated by Christine Eyene. Watch out for our interview with her next week. A number of on-site installations will transform’s the building’s interior and exterior, including “The Black Chronicles Projection” (onto the appropriately named Mandela Walkway) of 30 never-seen-before photographs of The African Native Choir, who toured Britain in 1891-93. The photos were taken by the London Stereoscopic Company studios and now reside in the Hulton Archive. Another installation is “Acoustic Fabrics” by London-based designer Yemi Awosile and featuring a soundscape by Lagos-based artist Emeka Ogboh. “Africa on the Catwalk” is a fashion show by a wide range of African designers: Bestow Elan (Ghana/UK), SOBOYE (Nigeria/UK), Sindiso Khumalo (South Africa/UK), AAKS (Ghana), Adele Dejak (Kenya), Sarah Duah (Ghana/Germany), Haus of Hercules (Nigeria/UK), Mifani Shoes (Ghana/UK) and Hassan Hajjaj (Morocco/UK). 

4 CORNERS: Design from the African Diaspora
10:30 - 11:30, 13 September
V&A Museum Lecture Theatre
We’re curious to see the diverse work by designers from Africa and its diaspora that British-born art director Jon Daniel will introduce at a talk co-hosted by Design Week. Daniel writes a column for Design Week that cover pioneering and established designers of African descent, the first of its kind by any mainstream publisher. Himself of African Caribbean heritage, Daniel has been increasingly engaging with his African heritage over the past few years with exhibitions of his Jamaican stamp collection in 2012, his personal collection of black action figures and comic books for AFRO SUPA HERO at the V&A Museum of Childhood in 2013 and his iconic illustrations of Jamaican heroes in outdoor banners at the Brixton Splash Festival in 2012.

Full details here.

Watch out for our Q&A with Daniel next week.

Design Explore – Morocco
18 to 21 September
The Sorting Office
, 21-31 New Oxford Street
At designjunction, traditional Moroccan crafts meet contemporary design thinking in an installation of woven and handmade pieces by artisans who worked with UK-based designer Sabrina Kraus Lopez in a British Council-sponsored scheme. Lopez spent a month working with Berber crafters in the Atlas Mountains in a residency programme organised by artisan online platform Anou. Together they explored new ways of applying their skills and refining things such as colour choices. Lopez and four of the artisans will also present their work together with Kendall Robbins, programme manager for architecture, design and fashion at the British Council, at a talk on 21 September at noon at designjunction.

Africa Calling – Ubuntu
13:30, 21 September
The Sorting Office
, 21-31 New Oxford Street
Directly after the “Design Explore – Morocco” presentation at designjunction, the focus shifts south to a new collaborative venture linking South African and British designers. Africa Calling is the brainchild of Kathy Shenoy, founder of ethical craft enterprise Shake the Dust, which is launching with an exhibit at Africa Utopia. Shenoy will join South African designers Laduma Ngxokolo (part of Shenoy’s stable) and Heath Nash, jewellery designer Sarah Rhodes (who collaborated with Andile Dylvane last year for her PhD research at Central Saint Martins School of Arts and Design) and Arierta Mujay, creative director of African Creative Collective, for a discussion about the opportunities and challenges for African designers to access global markets. Despite its large and diverse population of African immigrants and Caribbeans, and the European design establishment’s growing interest in design perspectives from  off the beaten track, London is still a difficult market to break into. The big-name design brands still rule at fairs such as 100% Design, Superbrands and designjunction, but it is at least a small baby step that the topic is being addressed on one of those fair’s events programme.

The South African Pavilion
17 to 20 September
100% Design London
Earls Court Exhibition Centre, 2 
Warwick Road, Earl’s Court
For the second year, Wesgro and the South African Department of Trade and Industry are taking a group of South African designers and artisans to 100% Design London at Earl’s Court. The pavilion will include David Krynauw’s turned wood lighting designs, Joe Paine’s outdoor furniture and plant accessories, Ardmore’s recent fabric collections, Martin Doller’s sculptured pendant lights, Aboda’s graphic black-and-white ceramics and Meyer von Wielligh’s nature-inspired wooden furniture. It’s heartening to see government support for the local design industry tapping into international platforms.

Watch the Talk with Issa Diabaté

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