It can’t be the first time that African designs are being admired for their imagination, ingenuity and originality. But Africa By Design, an organisation dedicated to showcasing hand-made items which would otherwise not be seen outside the continent has another focus – or two.
As well as touring its selection of furniture and home accessories from African countries (Ghana, London and Dubai so far this year and counting) Chrissa Amuah, the Ghanaian founder and director of ABD, is keen to talk about the business of design, looking at its potential to contribute to local economies through manufacture and employment.
Determined to overcome the lack of Africa’s cultural and artistic visibility on the international design scene, Chrissa has brought textiles and furniture to Dubai as part of its design week. The pieces are shown in a spacious, chic industrial unit – a pop-up in trendy Alserkal Avenue which shows off the works to great effect.
Most of these extraordinary objects are made with respect for surrounding nature which compounds Chrissa’s sense that the timing is right. “With Western designs there is often a tech element,” she says. “These African designs bear the imprint of the hands that made them and this makes purchasers less likely to throw them away.””
Along with the very present human element each piece has its own tale. You can sense African life beating within – from the coiffeuse from Cote d’Ivoire made from the trunk of a palm tree and hollowed out so as to house a mirror and handy draws – to duck-feathered filled cushions with fern motifs – a subtle Ghanaian reference to the plant’s resilience and ability to grow in difficult circumstances.
Designed by Chrissa, the cushions – in fact each item of furniture – encapsulates an element of the continent’s prodigious history and heritage as well as the designer/makers personal story.
“Design has a significant role in African culture,” Chrissa says. “Now we need to unleash its commercial potential.”