Next week, at the Nubuke Foundation in the Accra suburb of East Legon, 21 designers from six subSaharan countries will be featured at Africa by Design.
“Design has a significant role in African culture,” says organiser Chrissa Amuah, “but we believe it has a commercial future too.” A new consumer class is emerging in Ghana, increasingly interested in contemporary design. “There is still the idea, for some people, that if it comes from abroad then it’s better,” says Amuah, “We’re out to change that narrative.”
Alice Asafu Adjaye (Ghana)
Alice Asafu Adjaye was born in Ghana, though her family left for London as political refugees when she was 14. She studied architecture at Nottingham and at London’s prestigious
Bartlett School, and went on to work for Foster + Partners for six years, and, in 2003, for the BritishGhanian architect David Adjaye (who is no relation).
Now she is developing a contemporary architecture suited to the subSaharan climate, designing private houses as well as affordable housing projects with developers. “The power supply is bad here, so it’s crazy to build a house with tiny windows that needs airconditioning all the time,” she says. “I’m trying to introduce overhangs, recessed windows, screening and cross ventilation, working with and not against the climate, and with sustainability in mind. My own aesthetic is a happy marriage between the amazing crafts I see here and the technical things I learnt in London.”
AsafuAdjaye also works with Chrissa Amuah under the name Balancing Act, creating furniture pieces which combine their respective architecture and textile backgrounds.
Leonie Badger (Ghana)
Leonie Badger set up her design studio, Studio Badge, in Accra’s lively Osu district in late 2015, aged just 26.
“I wanted to design small things, to experiment,” she explains. “So I work with an assistant and a carpenter in the studio, and we see what we can do.”
So far she has designed a showroom for the fashion house Christie Brown, as well as furniture in teak, cedar and metal, and food platters in walnut and concrete, all of which are sold online.
“I have to work with what is available here, and that’s basic construction materials,” she says. “The steel pipe I use for the shelving systems and tables is a standard building component. We don’t have premixed concrete, so I have to make oldfashioned cement with aggregate.”
Younger people, she says, are excited when they find out her work is made in Accra, “and there is a growing interest in a more minimalist style.”
Aïssata Namoko (Mali)
In 2004, Aïssata Namoko set up the cooperative Djiguiyaso (meaning House of Hope) in the Malian capital Bamako to teach sewing skills to unemployed women, and give them a means to earn a living.
Now the cooperative provides employment for 110 women, who work from home, creating cushions, bed spreads and other textile accessories dyed in the traditional way with natural indigo. They also work with delicate crochet. “We’re protecting these artisinale traditions, which were in danger of disappearing,” says Namoko.
Adiskidan Ambay (Ethiopia) “People in Ethiopia make furniture because it’s a necessity, but that’s not the motivation behind my work,” says Adis Ambay, who carves wood into luscious forms, and colours it with subtle translucent stains, making each piece unique. “I work with ebony and birch, and poplar because it’s soft and easy to handle.” Her mingling of modern design with African elements extends to references to facial scarring which she incorporates into her work.
“Ethiopia is a diverse place and the economy is doing well it costs $2,000 a month to rent an apartment in Addis Ababa.” It also means her business is doing well. “People find my work by word of mouth. It’s how we do it.”
Aisha Ayensu (Ghana)
Aisha Ayensu launched Christie Brown in 2008 after studying psychology at university and learning fashion through internships and a stint at a fashion school in Accra. The name comes from her grandmother, “a seamstress with a great eye”. Though not part of the Africa By Design exhibition, Christine Brown is a key figure in Ghana’s design scene. A year after her first runway show, she was named Emerging Designer of the Year in 2009 at the first Arise Africa fashion event in South Africa. Now Beyoncé wears her clothes. Her success is based on a fusion of African and western fashion. She uses fabrics in classic wax prints and exuberant colours, and isn’t averse to a dramatically flared trouser or statement sleeve, but tempers it all with slick tailoring.
Distribution would have previously been a stumbling block for an African fashion company, but Ayensu says the firm’s ecommerce platform is taking off and she ships as far afield as Holland, Brazil and the US.
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