Local young design stars like Faatimah Mohamed-Luke and Douglas & Company reinterpret South African motifs in their work
Local young design stars like Faatimah Mohamed-Luke and Douglas & Company reinterpret South African motifs in their work
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The morning after the opening of A New Wave, the exhibition of work by new local designers now open at Southern Guild’s shared gallery space at The Trumpet in Rosebank, Julian McGowan of the guild pointed out that an exhibition like this involves more than just talent-spotting.

It involves creating a market for new designers.

Perhaps the first part of that process involves getting people to look at design and think about it in new ways.

A New Wave has its origins in a call more than a year ago for unknown designers to submit work for consideration in an exhibition. More than 70 submissions were considered strong, and 40 were selected for an exhibition in Cape Town last year.

The exhibition, now in Johannesburg, is a showcase of one-offs or small editions. You could call it functional art, but it's more like the design equivalent of haute couture. The fact that it's displayed in a gallery blurs the definition between design and art, but makes it clear that this exhibition is more about exploring ideas than furnishing your living room (although that's not precluded).

While there has been a little attrition since the Cape Town exhibition, with some works going on show at Design Miami 2016 and others set to be auctioned at Christies in April, there's still a fair selection of new stuff. The exhibition reveals surprisingly focused themes, particularly in experiments with materiality and pattern.

A bronze bench-like sculpture titled Reticence by Driaan Claassen, for example, presents a highly polished finish and a solid, oblong geometric structure that dissolves into an organic-looking form which appears almost decomposed or eaten away. The manufactured and organic nature of the same material becomes an essay on materiality and design itself.

Gone Rural's Lutindzi Side Table, made from Lutindzi grass found in Swaziland, combines a rough-finished soapstone plinth with the finely patterned woven table surface. There is tension between the handcrafted, fragile and impermanent grass and permanence suggested by stone. It plays the different characteristics of natural materials and craft against each other in a commentary on the making of an object itself.

Rotunda by Studium
Rotunda by Studium

These experiments in pattern and material have a another dimension, though. Modernist geometry finds expression in Douglas & Company's The StoneKeeper MMXVII, which contrasts the geometric patterns of its inlay design against organic marble.

The significance of this becomes more overt in the Lego-like designs by Faatimah Mohamed-Luke, which take the apartheid-era SABC test pattern and subvert it by teasing out its likeness to Ndebele art.

What is perhaps most pleasing about this new wave of design is how it involves an act of cultural reclamation.

While European modernism might have been inspired by African design, it's also true that in those designs Africa still represented a heart of darkness.

A New Wave represents African design engaging with its own modernity, and at the same time subsuming European appropriations and transforming them into something at once African and modern.


This article was originally published in The Times.
You can view the original article here.

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