Making Africa: A Continent of Contemporary Design is the visual manifestation of an extensive ongoing research project by German curator Amelie Klein assisted by Nigerian art critic Okwui Enwezor. Featuring the work of 120 artists and designers from across Africa, the show is a creative celebration of all things ‘design’ can be, says Klein – myriad mixed mediums that refer to local and global concerns. Yet African design is also used as a critical tool, to uproot Western prejudices and represent the eclectic, high-paced social, economic, political and technological change transforming the continent. A major thrust is to question notions that exclude Africa from the modern world, says Enwezor.
Artist Anton Kannemeyer makes this point bluntly with caricatures that accost the ‘NGO mentality’, a relationship built on assumed Western superiority. David Adjaye takes on the lack of research and sweeping generalisations that saw incongruous modernist buildings imported into terrains and climates that they could not withstand. Urban Africa Project compiles photos taken in 53 African cities spotlighting the atrocities and marvels of urban settings, revealing possibilities for site-specific, eco-smart buildings made of practical materials, like mud.
Another concept put to bed is the idea of ‘authentic’ Africa. The Dutch origins and Indonesian design of what we think of as ‘African fabric’ is still imported and still in fashion. And the intangible but no less powerful relationship between ‘want’ and ‘need’ inherent in the imported Western model of mass production and advertising is represented in Kader Attia’s skyline of fridges that ‘overplay the American dream’. A provocative twist on perception is Jua Kali City, a take on the ‘informal economy’ that suggests a contributory relationship between official and unofficial trade in Kenya. It brings up an intriguing idea about what we in Barcelona can learn from Africa, as Rosa Ferré of the CCCB suggests: ‘If we learn to think locally and think specifically, unexpected solutions may arise.’