Africa Is Now 2014
Leading up to Design Indaba 2015 we’re interviewing some of the curators to find out what goes into putting together this festival. Next up in our Meet The Curators series is Kelly Berman, the curator of the Africa Is Now exhibition. Now in its second year, Africa Is Now forms part of a fundamental shift at Design Indaba to include creative talents from across the African continent. Africa Is Now also aims to shift the focus from products to the people and processes behind them. This year’s exhibition includes a selection of multi-disciplinary work by five dynamic art collectives from as far as Egypt, Sengal, Angola and Kenya.
In the Q&A to follow Kelly tells us about the curation process, exciting things she has noticed and what to look forward to at this year’s exhibition.
The Africa is Now exhibition at Design Indaba is now in its second year. What originally brought this initiative about?
It’s part of a fundamental shift at Design Indaba. After so many years of nurturing and championing South African design, the time was right to broaden our scope and use our platform to unearth the best examples of creative talent we could find across Africa. This is something we are infusing across the spectrum of our activities, including the conference, expo, music event and film festival, and now through our online publication designindaba.com as well. The capsule exhibition Africa Is Now at the Design Indaba expo is our way of looking beyond the statistics of African economic growth to give physical shape to developments in the design, art and innovation sectors on the continent.
How will this year’s exhibition compare to last year’s? What are the similarities or differences?
This year’s exhibition puts the focus more on people than products. And on creative processes and outreach that fuels the creation of new work. In our research during the year we came across a number of creative collectives in different countries, from Senegal to Egypt to Angola, who are galvanising the local creative community and helping to spread skills, connect artists and commissioning new work. The vital part of the exhibition is the people themselves, who will be attending the expo, talking about their work in the Events Arena (on Saturday 28 Feb at 12:30pm and Sunday 1 March 1:30pm) and networking with each other and with South Africans. Some of their product will be on show but the larger story of their projects, performances and activities will also be showcased.
What goes into putting on an exhibition like this at the expo?
Many hours of research, multiple discussions with the participants on email and Skype, finessing the organizational and logistic details, stand design and production, and thinking through the entire offering including presentations at the expo and telling their stories on designindaba.com.
How many artists/designers were chosen this year?
Multiple designers and artists are represented under each group, one person from each will be at Design Indaba. They are Reem Hatem Sharif, Darb 1718’s communications manager; Selly Raby Kane, fashion designer and president of Les Petites Pierres; architects and founders of Beyond Entropy Africa, Stefano Rabolli Pansera and Paula Nascimento, who is also a founding member of Colectivo Pés Descalços; and Sunny Dolat, fashion stylist and events manager at The Nest.
What was your selection criteria?
We searched for artist collectives who are producing original and interesting new work but who also have a common commitment to social activism. We wanted to have a wide representation of artistic disciplines, which happened naturally as many of them work across disciplines anyway, as well as regional representation in the north, south, east and west of the continent. We also really sought out groups that were independent and had a dynamic, DIY-type attitude to making things happen in their communities. In this regard, they were self-selecting because I think to do this kind of thing you have to just get on with it and not wait for government or corporate funding.
Are there particular themes that you’re working within?
Creative freedom, collaboration, teaching oneself and sharing that knowledge with others, extending creativity’s scope to have social impact and making the most of the few resources at their disposal – these are all the values that the five collectives share and that Design Indaba stands for as well.
What have you noticed about African creativity during the process of putting Africa Is Now together?
How much better documented their activities are online. Five years ago, it was much harder to find out what artists and designers were up to on the continent. But everyone is very actively documenting their own work these days on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. The connectivity also breaks down the polarities of “Africa” vs “Europe/US” as influences come from all over the place and people feel freer to draw on aesthetic traditions and popular culture from all over. Look at the fashion design of Selly Raby Kane, for instance, whose work is equally influenced by Basquiat’s street art as it is by West African textiles.
What are some of your personal highlights of the showcase?
The walls of greenery that the exhibition stand itself will be made of – which is part of the exhibit. We’re reconstructing a section of Beyond Entropy Africa’s Angolan pavilion at the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennial, which proposed the planting of Arundo Donax, a tall perennial cane, to create a new type of common ground in the city.
More about Design Indaba 2015, including all the ticket options, who to follow on social media, the Emerging Creatives to watch out for and more.
Find out more about Africa Is Now at designindaba.com/projects/africa-now.
More about the 2015 Africa Is Now Exhibitors:
Beyond Entropy Africa (Angola):
Beyond Entropy Africa is an Angolan architecture agency that conducts in-depth research into the city of Luanda’s urban fabric, in particular, its Musseques (informal settlements). It is the African arm of the larger network of Beyond Entropy, whose interests stretch across the globe to areas of territorial crisis. More at designindaba.com/projects/africa-now.
Beyond Entropy Africa proposed to plant Arundo Donax, a tall perennial cane plant, in the spaces between buildings in Cazenga, one of Luanda’s largest informal settlements. They created Angola’s pavilion at the 2012 Venice Architecture Bienniale, which featured an installation showing how the Arundo Donax plant could create a new kind of common ground in Luanda. (photo by Paolo Utimpergher)
The NEST Collective (Kenya):
The NEST is a collective of 10 creatives based in Nairobi who create work within the fields of film, visual arts, music and fashion to explore troubling modern identities, re-imagining their pasts and inhabiting mythical African futures. More at designindaba.com/projects/africa-now.
Les Petites Pierres (Senegal):
Les Petites Pierres is a group of visual and performance artists who are ushering in a new wave of Senegalese creativity. Its members see the city of Dakar as their stage, canvas and meeting place for artists of different backgrounds to make their work as accessible as possible to everyday citizens. More at designindaba.com/projects/africa-now.
Les Petites Pierres’ Selly Raby Kane, who will be speaking at the Design Indaba conference, uses materials such as fake hair and PVC in her designs
Colectivo Pés Descalços (Angola):
Colectivo Pés Descalços, Portuguese for “Barefoot Collective”, is a nascent arts and culture collective, also based in Luanda, which develops and promotes cultural and educational projects. Working across disciplines, it provides a forum for artists to learn from each other, holds panel discussions and connects locals to resources and opportunities in the art world in Africa and further afield. More at designindaba.com/projects/africa-now.
Play Bench, a piece made by Januario Jano (artist at the collective) for an exhibition in Oporto in Novermber 2014
Public Works, an interventions on Street Furniture at Luanda Bay in 2014
Januario Jano, one of the founders of Pes Descalcos at work in 2014
Darb 1718 (Egypt):
Darb 1718 is a Cairo-based arts and culture centre that promotes Egypt’s contemporary art movement. It supports, cultivates and sustains the art scene through educational workshops, exhibitions, concerts, festivals, independent film screenings and arts activities. More at designindaba.com/projects/africa-now.
Darb 1718, located in a historic neighbourhood of Cairo
Work by photographer Shereen Mohamed, who is part of a new generation of photographers whose work has been exhibited at Darb 1718
Shereen Mohamed’s work in Darb 1718’s exhibition titled Sight revealed the hidden stories of Cairo’s alleyways and side streets.