Design Indaba held its first "Africa is Now" exhibition at Design Indaba Expo 2014 and a second one in 2015. The exhibition distills the ongoing research that Design Indaba conducts and publishes in its online publication through the year and for its annual event. It signals a fundamental shift that sees us actively seeking out new voices and talent on the African continent in the fields of design, art, music and film and promoting it through our platform.
Each iteration of the "Africa is Now" exhibition is a central feature at Design Indaba Expo. Although the thematic focus of the show evolves from year to year, it is always a snapshot of creative work being produced across the continent – an up-to-the-minute survey of emerging, established and unexpected talent from across Africa. It is not a retrospective of a typecast past nor a utopian vision of an imagined future. It reflects the Africa that is.
Contextual solutions that have sprouted from the fertile creative soils of Africa are in demand worldwide, redefining the traditional exchange between the so-called first and third worlds. Underpinning the narrative of "Africa Rising" are myriad real-life solutions and design innovations springing from the lived experience of different communities annd countries in Africa. "Africa is Now" unearths these innovations, both high and low tech, made by design professionals, artisans, engineers, architects and laymen. Greater connectivity and access to technology is empowering creatives on the continent to speak back, now more than ever, by rejecting the descriptions that have historically defined Africa, in the process setting new benchmarks for growth and innovation.
Inaugural "Africa is Now" exhibition at Expo 2014
Kicking off this long-term commitment was a centrepiece exhibition at Design Indaba Expo 2014, bringing together the work of 66 designers and innovators from 25 African countries.
The exhibition was structured around five themes:
- Africa is Sharp!
- Africa is Urban
- Africa is Tradition Reinvented
- Africa is Resourceful
- Africa is Transformed
The work featured here was sourced through a call for entries put out to creative communities across the continent and research conducted by Design Indaba.
Input was also received from international advisors, including product designers Bibi Seck and Ayse Birsel; architects Francis Kéré, Joe Osae-Addo and Kunlé Adeyemi; Financial Timeswriter Lucia van der Post; and mobile technology entrepreneur Rapelang Rabana.
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It covered the following sectors:
- Urban planning
- Textile design
- Furniture and décor
- Handmade crafts
- Visual arts and photography
- Graphic design
- Video, film and animation
- Sustainable design (high- and low-tech)
- Industrial design and innovation in any industry – e.g. automotive, engineering, pharmaceutical, agriculture, telecommunications, information technology
- Technological innovations of any kind
"Africa is Now" exhibition at Expo 2015
The second iteration of "Africa is Now" took place at Design Indaba Expo 2015, from 26 February - 1 March.
This time the exhibition focussed on the rise of grassroots creative collectives on the continent.
It presented five creative collectives that embody a new generation of outspoken, creative polymaths. These artists are organising themselves into groups driven by a common commitment to social activism, creative freedom and skills sharing. Each group is a lightening rod of creative energy in the North, South, East and West of the African continent:
- Darb 1718 (Egypt)
- Les Petites Pierres (Senegal)
- Beyond Entropy Africa and Colectivo Pés Descalços (Angola)
- The Nest (Kenya)
They are all multidisciplinary groups of musicians, filmmakers, writers and designers, who are not waiting for government or foreign support to come to their aid. They are doing what they can with their innate creativity and the resources they have to initiate projects, commission work, broaden their skills and promote the power of art and design.
Their members are cosmopolitan and outward-looking, defying repressive legislation even if it means state harassment. Each collective has its own creative proclivity but what binds them all is a spirit of independence and the desire to make their craft matter to everyday life in their community.
These collectives have formed outside of the traditional networks of government-funded programmes, national festivals, museums and academic institutions. They embrace newer kinds of expression such as street and performance art, comics, music videos and fashion films, and find an audience through informal channels such as pop-up markets, street festivals and social media.
The feature exhibition at Design Indaba Expo presented a curated selection of creative projects by these groups. Representatives from each group also shared their stories in discussions at the Expo’s Events Arena with some presenting their work on stage at Design Indaba Conference.