Africa is Now

The presence of some of the world’s most established designers, architects, innovators and artists was a highlight for exhibitors at Cape Town’s 2014 Design Indaba Expo that took place over the weekend at the city’s International Conference Centre. With over 200 new exhibitors taking part, among them selected local “emerging creatives” and African international innovators, the Indaba was a celebratory platform from which the best of African creativity can expand.

The growing popularity of this event parallels perceptions of Cape Town, recently declared the World Design Capital, as a creative forerunner amongst cities on the African continent.

“Africa is Now” was a highlight of the expo. The exhibition provided a snapshot of the continent’s status on the international design spectrum. Sixty-six designers from 25 African countries contributed with responses to questions about what makes African cities unique, and how in this context they should be designed.

Among the masterminds was Kunlé Adeyemi of NLE Design Architecture and Urbanism in Nigeria, who with a team designed a three-storey, floating school for the densely populated aquatic community of Makoko in Lagos. The structure is made entirely of locally sourced renewable materials and presents a safe and sustainable solution to the risks of tidal changes and the social challenges the Makoko community faces daily.

Innovative in its own right, the Be Street clothing collection by Senagalese fashion designer Selly Raby Kane paid homage to the visual culture and grit of urban centres portrayed in graffiti, music and art. Her selected work portrayed the vibrant realities of a real African metropolis.

Be Street Collection, by Selly Raby Kane

Be Street Collection by Selly Raby Kane.

One of Cape Town’s own, Oliver Brain, showcased the way he has challenged current realities of social exclusion on the city’s streets. His social enterprise, Street Sleeper, created The Street Sleeper, a survival sleeping bag that doubles as a backpack for use during the day. ‘Upcycling’ PVC advertising billboards into this versatile number, the initiative seeks to transform the negative impact of waste into immediate relief for those living on the streets.

From billboard to bag: The Street Sleeper

From billboard to bag: The Street Sleeper.

Cape Town prides itself on using design and creativity as tools for improving the lives of its citizens. Yet to what extent are the opportunities created by the Expo, as an annual highlight on the design calendar, in a city that holds international acknowledgment for its creative accomplishments, truly accessible to up-and-coming local designers wishing to penetrate the creative industry?

Among the Expo’s exhibition platforms was the “Emerging Creatives” programme, founded by Design Indaba in recognition of the need to nurture new creative talent and break down barriers to entry into creative markets. This year, event saw 40 aspiring designers getting a spot on the Expo floor alongside some of the biggest names in South African design. Collaboration between the programme’s aspirants and a few of these highly accomplished professionals manifested in a six-week mentorship prior to the Expo. It was here that these “emerging creatives” were partnered with exemplary leaders in the industry that helped them develop their work.

Walking around the expo, where everything from photography and food to furniture and fashion were used to entice buyers into walking away with pockets slightly lighter, the single-frequency drone of chatter between the budding professionals behind the products only gave evidence to the networking successes those corridors allowed. The event enabled a continuous bounce-back of ideas over four intensive working days.

A young documentary photographer, who was mentored by the highly accomplished filmmaker-photographer Chris Saunders as part of Emerging Creatives, said the exposure the young designers were getting would really benefit their careers.

The showcased designs and outputs from the ‘Emerging Creatives’ programme confirmed the growing relevance of cities as spaces of creative inspiration. Dispelling global elitist perceptions of Africa as home to ‘craft,’ the expo proved that Africa produces world-class design.

Main image: Three-story floating school in Makoko community, Lagos. NLE Design Architecture and Urbanism.

Based in Cape Town, South Africa, Christy Zinn is a postgraduate researcher and urban thinker striving to interrogate the social and spatial dynamics of cities. Believing that people make a city tick, she focuses on invoking a culture of active citizenship within urban communities​.







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