10 African Creatives Celebrating Their Roots and Culture

We take a look at ten creatives that are doing work that is rooted in their passion for their roots and culture. Celebrating that passion and further placing the African continent on the map globally.

Nkuli Mlangeni  

Sankara Rug Hanging on a tree in South AfricaNkuli Mlangeni is the founder of textile company The Ninevites, which specialises in making high-end, hand-woven rugs. The former stylist’s appreciation for textiles lead her to research traditional textile-making techniques in South America where she worked with artisans in Lima Peru. This and a combination of prints inspired by Ndebele graphics. She launched these prototype rugs while researching how to expand into the textile space in the SADC region. Upon her return to South Africa, she started working with artisans in Maseru, Swakopmund, Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Western Cape. Mlangeni produces the graphics digitally before sharing them with her weavers who make them into textiles. They work on looms that are handmade from wood, the dyeing process is natural and everything is handwoven. Her journey has opened her up her eyes to the similarities  in weaving techniques used across both continents, while teaching her the importance of preserving our heritage. Last year, Mlangeni’s Sankara Rug won the Most Beautiful Object award at the Design Indaba festival.

Instagram handle: @the_ninevites

Website: theninevites.net

Mpho Vackier

The Urban Native StoreFormer metallurgical engineer, Mpho Vackier, left her corporate job a few years ago to pursue her passion in interior design and furniture making, establishing a product design brand called the The Urbanative. The aesthetics of her designs are inspired by the graphic motifs of different African cultures telling unapologetic African stories through furniture. Her Afrocentric collection is a play on Ndebele graphics and lines, with popular pieces including the Thandekile, a white and solid timber server, and the Khanyi floor lamp.The Urbanative’s 2018 African Crowns Collection, a collection inspired by traditional African hairstyles takes cues from the lines, forms and textures seen in African hairstyles, putting the relationship between African hair and identity at the forefront while exploring the depth and diversity of beauty.  Her current collection which has received wide acclaim includes the Nzinga Crown Ottoman which is inspired by the detail of Queen Nzinga’s of Ndongo and Matamba in Luanda, Angola’s headpiece. It is upholstered with bespoke vinyl fabric on a steel structure. Another of her popular pieces is the Oromo chair inspired by the beautiful organic lines of the Oromo (Kemetic Africa) hairstyle in Jimma in the late 1800s.Vackier recently opened a studio at 99 Juta Street design district in Braamfontein, and has exhibited her work at some of the countries most prestigious design festivals like 100% Design.

Instagram handle: @theurbanative

Website: theurbanative.com

Moran Muthunye

Mashirbirya Chair and Sidetable from Saba FurnitureAfter working for an architectural studio in Rome, Moran Munyuthe moved to Lamu Island , off the coast of Kenya,where he established Saba Furniture Company. With its rich sense of history and culture, the new location inspired him to start spending time in workshops with Swahili carpenters where he began to educate himself about their trade, which he describes as a hybrid of Bantu and Arabic styles. He was especially drawn to the intricate carving work and the beautiful Mashirbirya patterns. This is what led him to create the Mashirbirya chair and side table, using the wooden lattice screen that has been used on the exterior of Arabic-Bantu architecture for centuries. Each of his pieces begins with a sketch before prototyping in a workshop where his team work with a combination of traditional wood carving tools and modern machinery. Lamu has a rich history of traditional crafts like wood carving, palm weaving and boat building, which are all specific skills that have been passed down from generation to generation. Instead of trying to invent completely new typologies and visual languages, Munyuthe’s work is about considering his heritage in new age design work. He recently exhibited his work at the Sanlaam Handmade Contemporary Fair in Johannesburg.

Instagram handle: @saba_artist_residency

Website: munyuthe.com, sabafurniturecompany,com

Wacy Zacharias

A design by Karinga Textiles

Born in Maputo, Mozambique Way Zacharias has spent a great part of her life in London, Johannesburg, New York and Berlin. With a great passion for African culture and arts, she has dedicated her life to making sure that African Creatives get a seat at the table. The proud African textile activist’s journey began in 2008, when she started her women’s wear design brand Woogui, which is now a sustainable accessory brand. Her journey with textiles began in 2013, when she started exploring alternative materials for her  collections. When she went to Germany to study sustainable fashion she decided to focus on textiles and wanted to find a solution for sustainable African Textiles,  while looking for ways to revive the textile industry in her home country. When she returned to Mozambique she co-founded Karingana Textiles which the African tradition of storytelling. Feeling that wax print fabric, which is the predominant textile considered when thinking about African textiles was far removed from our rich history of African Textiles. She hopes that her brand will be part of the African textile revolution, by changing the narrative in the industry and bringing the production of textiles back to the continent. Zacharias was the curator of the Well Made in Africa section of the Sanlam Handmade Contemporary Fair last year.

Instagram handle: @woogui, @karinganatextiles

Website: karinganatextiles.com

Akosua Afriyie-Kumi

BIka Noir handbag by AAKS being worn by a model in front of a blue backgroundAs a child in Ghana, Akosua Afriyie-Kumi grew up around baskets, and at the back of her mind always thought about ways of improving their designs to make them more more foldable, with blends of colours and beautiful detailing. Her company, AAKS, was established after she saw a gap in the market for beautifully handcrafted baskets and bags, and returned home to make this happen. The artisans that she works with create the baskets using a traditional weaving technique from Ghana’s northern region. There are no machines used in the weaving process and because the bags are handwoven by individuals, each bag retains an inherent uniqueness and go on to be sold in stores such as Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie in the USA, United Arrows in Japan as well as other clients around the world. Last year Afriyie-Kumi completed a home interiors weaving project with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCR) in Burkina Faso. This project saw them producing exquisite handcrafted pendant lights using Malian weaving techniques. The initiative, called Weaving For Change, aims to bridge the  gap between design and craft by enhancing a skill that is traditionally used to create basket lids for food platters used in cultural celebrations. A combination of woven straw, dyed leather, colourful organic yarns and hammered bronze results in a unique collection that is not only beautiful and helps shine light on marginalised communities.

Instagram handle: @a.a.k.s

Website: www.aaksonline.com

Nontsikelelo Mutiti

A graphic magazine with different braid styles by Nontsikelelo MutitiNontsikelelo Mutiti is a Zimbabwean interdisciplinary artist, graphic designer and educator based between the US and Southern Africa. She has been creating multimedia art and conducting research into the subject of hair braiding for the last few years. In her ongoing project Ruka/To braid/To Knit/To Weave, mediums like graphic art and experimental coding are informed by Mutiti’s research into patterns originating from hair braiding. The work is about allowing audiences to interrogate culture, tradition, innovation, migration, language as ideas around aesthetics, process and technology. Mutiti’s research has taken her to 116th street in Harlem, also known as little Senegal, as well as Harare, Bedford in the UK, Detroit and even Yeoville in Johannesburg. While all these places are in different locations, she describes all these African hair braiding salons as being very similar and her works shows how these subjects can help us understand that people are engaging across the seas but the familial lines remain tight. Her navigation of these spaces also helped her think about how different communities are linked.The design tools that she uses help her to talk about (braiding) with the same sophisticated language as any other form of design or image making. Through her work and research she has been able to use braiding to understand engineering and architectural concepts , while the rules, repetition and tension involved in braidings hair reminds her of coding. Trough this work she has produced short films, prints, tiles and other forms of interactive art and was filmed by vogue.com braiding Lupita Nyong’o’s hair.

Instagram Handle:  @nontsimutiti

Website: nontsikelelomutiti.com

Sethembile Msezane 

Exhibition of Sethembile Msezane's work

Sethembile Msezane is a passionate artist whose work is igniting important conversations around art and activism, while exploring issues around spirituality, commemoration and African knowledge systems. Part of her work has examined the processes of mythmaking, which is used to construct history, calling attention the absence of the black female body in both the narratives and physical spaces of historical commemoration. Msezane’s work has been showcased at the FNB Art Fair, Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, and more recently, at the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in New York. Her observation on statues in Cape Town intensified her awareness of the erasure of black women’s histories, particularly in public spaces. She recently showed her first solo exhibition in London with the Tyburn Gallery titled Speaking Through Walls, which signals a transition and spiritual awakening in Southern Africa in relation to land. One of her images on exhibition depicts her adorning a beaded veil and feathered wings to embody the Zimbabwean bird Chupungu on the day that a statue honouring Cecil John Rhodes was removed from the UCT during student-led protests. As the Rhodes statue fell, she lifted her wings in a gesture that gave many people hope that Africa would overcome its colonial past. This image was circulated on the front pages of many local and international publications.

Instagram handle: @sthemse

Website: tyburngallery.com

Ming-Cheau Lin

Ming-Cheau Lin holding betterfingers with steamed riceSouth Africa is a country of many immigrant families, for Ming-Cheau Lin – food blogger and the author of Just Add Rice a cookbook about Taiwanese home cooking, (available at Exclusive Books), is  all about about preserving her culture through food. Lin has always been a foodie with an adventurous palette. Growing up her family celebrated cultural holidays and with traditional foods that brought her closer to embracing her culture. Leaving Bloemfontein, where she grew up with her family to Cape Town to study, home cooking became her comfort against feelings of being home-sick. She started a blog called Butterfingers to record her home recipes and dishes that she loved that had little to no home representation in South Africa which she feared she would forget. Her blog soon garnered much attention and this also allowed her to go into the history of her culture while teaching people the health benefits of making certain dishes. Her blog and subsequently her book has also been her attempt in fighting the dangerous stereotypes that many people have about the Asian community. Her cookbook, Just Add Rice is about Chinese and Taiwanese snacks and dishes that were part of her house hold norm growing up and the same for many East Asians in South Africa using ingredients that are locally accessible. It also includes memories and stories on the cultural customs her family has preserved including Chinese festivals, dining etiquette with chopsticks.

Instagram handle: @mingcheau

Website: butterfingers.co.za

Lina Iris Viktor

Yaa Asantewaa by Lina Iris Viktor

Liberian artist, Lina Iris Viktor’s work comprises of painting , performance , sculpture and installation as a conceptual artist. As someone of Liberian heritage her current work is focused on excavating lost histories  and historical realities, with her Constellations series being born out of impulse to encapsulate a big idea within a minimalistic palette, as minimal as 24ct gold can be within a contemporary setting. Woven into the series are symbols and cosmologies from different cultures that have existed throughout time. Her references to language and symbolism of African Historical civilizations and empires are a way of reminding us of where Africans originated. When observing her work , one gets a sense of futuristic elements , somethings she sees as an important lingual space and experience for many African artists like herself  of African descent. With her most recent exhibition A Haven, A Hell, A Dream Deferred, which was on show at the New Orleans Museum of Art, Viktor made a concerted effort to explore her roots and heritage further, choosing to focus on the link in Pan-African history. One of the subjects in her art looks at the founding of Liberia, Africa’s first and oldest modern republic. Viktor has worked with the pioneers of the noir wave phenomena Petite Noir and Rharha Nembhard, while her work was referenced in the video for the lead song on the Black Panther Soundtrack – All the Stars.

Instagram Handle: @linairisviktor

Website: linaviktor.com

Laduma Ngxokolo

A man on a horse in the city wearing a Laduma Ngxokolo designed blanketIn the almost eight years of its existence, the colours and shapes that have become synonymous with MaXhosa by Laduma’s brand iconography are difficult to miss both on and off the runway. With his designs initially inspired by knitwear worn by Xhosa initiates, his pieces can be found stocked all over the world, from Japan to New York. Ngxokolo’s brand has picked up a string of accolades, including Design Indaba’s Most Beautiful Object in South Africa award in 2016 for his Xhosa-inspired shawl, and he was recently commissioned by New York City’s Museum of Modern Art to create a jersey for its Is Fashion Modern? exhibition.The MaXhosa by Laduma brand philosophy is about using only natural materials such as wool, and specifically mohair sourced in Port Elizabeth, his hometown, which is home to the biggest spinning mill in the country and mohair industry in the world. The art of traditional handcraft also lies at the core of Ngxokolo’s work, which sees him taking Xhosa motifs found in beadwork and modifying them into modern versions. Over the years, he’s collaborated with bead-workers in his home base in the Eastern Cape, crafting – among other things – a special collection dedicated to his late mother, entitled My Heritage, My Inheritance. With this collection he looked to create contemporary art pieces that are tied to his identity, especially because beadwork is highly marginalized, but is one of a few select crafts that can be preserved through craft.

Instagram handle: @laduma

Website: maxhosa.co.za

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