The success of Hollywood blockbuster Black Panther has shone a light onto African design and architecture in a movement called Afrofuturism. It combines traditional African culture and with more contemporary themes like technology and science fiction, changing the world’s perception of Africa as a force in design and fashion.
African designers expressed their delight at the Black Marvel movie as they explain how it has shown an already thriving African creative scene to the world on a huge scale.
“I am so over the moon with Black Panther, said Sunu Goneera, a Zimbabwean filmmaker who has been working in Hollywood. “It’s a game changer and the opportunity is wide open. I’m excited to take our stories to the world.”
Speaking at the Design Indaba conference in Cape Town last month, Goneera commented further stating, “As a continent, I feel a rising tide raising all ships, not just one.”
If you were lucky enough to see the blockbuster film, you would see afrofuturism explored with the unbelievable sets which take traditional African design but create them as though from the future. Whilst this may seem like something that’s been done before with other cultures, for it to be celebrated with African traditions at the forefront of Hollywood is a huge moment for African designers as finally their works are being recognised.
Mark Kamau, an interaction designer from Nairobi, Kenya, said the afrofuturism revival was changing global perceptions of African creativity, “It’s about thinking what images and stories and perspectives we’re projecting for the young generation,” Kamau told Dezeen, in an interview following his own Design Indaba presentation.
“I think it’s important that we start creating a different narrative for Africa and that’s what this movement is doing,” he said. “Design is the most powerful tool to transform Africa.”
Whilst the emergence of Africa as a force in contemporary design and architecture may feel like a recent development, designers from the continent say it has been building for years, but only just now are the talents and their works getting exposure. So we explored some African architects and designers that are gaining stellar reputations through their works in their fields.
You may have heard of this emerging architect from Burkina Faso, who designed the most recent Serpentine Pavilion pictured below, which is his most well known project. But Kéré’s works in helping to develop local areas within his home country of Burkina Faso through public projects like schools, have gained him huge plaudits. His philosophy simplicity; combining basic materials and traditional methods with high-tech engineering to achieve modern results, which stay true to the area.
Another architect who is using his talent to help communities in his home country is Kunlé Adeyemi. The Nigerian architect set up his studio NLÉ in 2010 and he made his mark shortly after, winning the Silver Lion at the Venice Architecture Biennale with his design for a floating school. In a region where flooding is very common, buiding permanent infrastructure is tough so Adeyemi’s intelligent design for the floating school means the weather doesn’t stop the schools running. He is also currently building a school in Tanzania.
Selly Raby Kane
Selly Raby Kane is a fashion designer from Senegal, and just by looking at her clientele, you can see she is making her mark on the fashion industry. Counting Naomi Campbell and Beyoncé as fans of her work, her surrealist streetwear is wowing the fashion world as she is blending traditional African prints with contemporary cuts, referencing her home town in Dakar in the design.
Mark Kamau is an interaction designer from Nairobi and works as part of a company that is trying to connect Africa to the internet. Kamau is concious that for Africa to fulfill it’s economic potential, the internet needs to be widely accessible across the continent. He is head of user experience for BRCK, which is a Nairobi based company who hope to connect an extra three million people, by disrupting how servers store information in Africa and how connectivity is distributed.
Their main product is a portable Wi-Fi router that works in very remote areas and they also produce the Kio Kit, a set of digital tablets designed for use in classrooms.
Kamau commented on the importance of widespread connectivity, “If this wave of creativity has happened when only 24 per cent of Africa is connected, imagine what happens when we connect the other 76 per cent? That’s what excites me – giving access to Africans to do amazing things.”
“It shouldn’t mean that Africa should go and shut itself off from the west,” he continued. “It means intelligently engaging with each other, but it does mean that we have a lot to learn from each other and to share with each other.”
“Instead of having just one western point of view, there are different points of view – the world is richer for it.”
Kamau sees afrofuturism as a way to progress to the future, not simply referencing the past. His work with BRCK has convinced him that the solutions for Africa can be found within Africa, rather than using ill-fitting designs from the west.
“Africa cannot afford decontextualised solutions because the stakes are too high,” he told Dezeen.
“Afrofuturism in design, and in general, is about aspiration for excellence, aspiration for intelligent engagement with our continent, for the purpose of overcoming our own challenges. It is people in these African contexts saying: Why do we have to wait for somebody to do it for us?'”