AFRICA BY DESIGN
Non-profit organization of people making objects
Chrissa Amuah, Suzanne Trocmé, Alice Asafu-Adjaye, Ama Ofeibea Amponsah, Natalie Anderson, Abdrahamane Ouedraogo, and Felicia Okoye
AFRICA BY DESIGN: Highlighting Overlooked Designers and Design
AFRICA BY DESIGN is a non-profit organization that focuses on generating attention and support for the design practices of often-overlooked places and peoples. It’s made up of 34 designers from eight sub-Saharan countries: Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, and Senegal. The creators took its mission seriously when they started the organization by intentionally directing its resources to these countries to the exclusion of places where the design community already had received recognition. South Africa, for example, is missing from this list, because many designers and the design community here have “already had a head start when it comes to design,” as Chrissa Amuah explained to Wallpaper.
The organization presented its inaugural exhibition, AFRICA BY DESIGN, at the Nubuke Foundation, Accra, Ghana in 2017. Its date coincided with Ghana’s 60th anniversary of independence.
The 21 designers included in the exhibition displayed objects that share cultural narratives and histories while maintaining what is distinct to each; each designer translated their long heritage into a contemporary context to create furniture, products, and textiles.
The goal was to put talented people overlooked by current market systems at the center of potential buyers’ attention. Suzanne Trocme, an award-winning designer, author, and curator associated with the group puts it this way:
“Africa can, with enough exposure, create an industry around design with such talents at the forefront. It is imperative that substance is put behind such talent, whether efforts such as by Chrissa Amuah, who has gallantly spearheaded the project over the course of two years pro bono or through the support of companies who believe Africa has a place in design on the world stage and can help to make a difference, such as African Export-Import Bank, whose President and Chairman, Dr. Oramah, understands the need for the cross-pollination of ideas and who has supported this inaugural exhibition. Whether an AFRICA BY DESIGN piece is noted and a manufacturer makes a plan to produce in multiples elsewhere paying a standard royalty to the designer, or if, in fact, micro-production is able to happen locally to the designer, which creates not just jobs but the learning of skills, the benefits will be huge."
You can see more of the organization’s online work on its Instagram, which features “the best of Africa's textile, furniture, product, and environmental design.”
A Few Examples
“Aissata Namoko heads up Djiguiyaso, the Bamako-based cooperative that provides work for over 100 women in the textile industry in Mali. Using traditional bogolan tie-dyed with indigo, Djiguiyaso makes use of its artisans’ skills to produce 100-percent organic cotton cushions, bedspreads, curtains, dresses, handbags, tablecloths, throws and scarves. In 2010, the cooperative was recognised for its work by UNESCO.”
“Constructed with a mixture of sun-dried clay, soil, straw and cow droppings and mixed by foot to create strong pottery-like structures, the Cour Royale is the heart of the village and is the architectural masterpiece of the people of Kassena, an ethnic group located along the northern Ghana and Burkina Faso border. Decorated with geometric patterns, the designs are ornately symbolic and tell an expressive story of this ancient culture.”
“Established in 1498, Kofar Mata Dye Pit is perhaps the continent’s oldest secret. Over the centuries, expertise of indigo dying has sat with and been managed by generations of the same family. Fabrics are dyed in pits below ground in solutions made from mixtures of water, ash and dried indigo twigs.”
AFRICA BY DESIGN and M21D
The M21D study collection includes works by three of the organization’s members: Studio Lani, Ifeanyi Oganwu, and Chrissa Amuah.
Africa by Design states that "Design is a vehicle for discussion, social development, mobilisation and business" — and we agree. Moreover, it's dedicated to reaching people wherever they are; in between exhibitions, the organization continues to highlight makers and educate readers through its Instagram account. The museum is eager to watch and support the group as it continues to elevate talented designers and their objects.