Featuring the bold fashion sensibility of Congolese Sapeurs, the fantastic found-art creations of Tahir Carl Karmali, and much more, this exhibition catalogue provides a lens on contemporary African expression.
Catalogue edited by Amelie Klein and Mateo Kries
Vitra Design Museum (softcover, 345 pages)
This catalogue commissioned for an ongoing exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao provides an extraordinary in-depth view of the dynamo that is contemporary African design. It rips away post-colonial notions of indigenous art to expose a continent’s creativity – alive with the energy that powers some of the world’s youngest and fastest-growing economies (in 2014 alone, Africa’s total GDP grew by 5.0 per cent, compared with the global average of 3.3 per cent).
Editors Amelie Klein and Mateo Kries have combined spreads of photography, graphics, art, design and fashion with learned essays that attempt to define what it means to be a creator in Africa today, while describing the context in which these artists and designers operate – a continent full of contradictions.
Curator Azu Nwagbogu of Lagos argues that African design suffers from inefficient mass reproducibility, which elevates objects to rare art forms that are not easily duplicated. The pages of this catalogue bear him out, offering a cross-section of expression as beautiful and chaotic as a Lagos slum.
Stunning photography by Héctor Mediavilla documents Congolese Sapeurs (couture-obsessed male dandies) against a background of Brazzaville’s pockmarked walls. And artist Tahir Carl Karmali interprets the Kenyan concept of jua kali – making something valuable from something seemingly worthless – with photomontages of circuit boards and mechanical parts interwoven and fashioned into fantastical headdresses for an unknown social order: an aesthetic of recycling taken to a logical extreme.
Making Africa captures the extraordinary constructive energy and the impulse to innovate that is pushing the continent to the forefront of global growth. In so doing, it helps to demolish any notions that African ingenuity is constrained by poverty or tradition.
Reviewer Rachel Pulfer is the executive director of Journalists for Human Rights and an Azure contributing editor.