African design finds a home in Jozi
Johannesburg - A big hurrah for African design, as it comes to downtown Jozi with the opening of the Museum of African Design (Moad).
The space intends to be the finest pan-African design hub that will stimulate creative, forward-thinking design ideas for the continent.
Located at 281 Commissioner Street in the Maboneng Precinct, the museum building is an architectural reinvention of former factory – in the 1950s it manufactured centrifugal pumps – that was vacated by the late 1990s and left abandoned, like much of the industrial sprawl under the M2 motorway.
But with the rise of the Maboneng Precinct in the last few years, the old factory building has finally had its Cinderella moment.
The architectural transformation has come courtesy of architect Enrico Daffonchio, who also has a studio in the precinct.
Moad has been under construction for most of the past year. During that time it has played host to a number of events and exhibitions, including last year’s Home Movie Factory, an interactive exhibition by cult French film-maker Michel Gondry, who has taken his project around the world. This large-scale film project encouraged Joburgers to be the movie stars in their personally-scripted films.
Participants also got to use the props and makeshift movie sets created inside the Moadspace.
Home Movie Factory filled another Moad objective: to be an interdisciplinary space that’s not tied to a single idea of design and creative expression.
Daffonchio, who is also part of the Moad opening exhibition, has retained the integrity of the original building, which dates back to the 1920s, but has breathed new life into the three-storey structure that has nearly 2 000m2 of floor space. Now it is a fitting permanent home to showcase the best of African design.
The official launch exhibition is the Southern Guild 2013 collection, which has already been shown around the world this year, including at Design Days in Dubai, the Collective 1 Fair in New York and Design Miami Basel.
It’s a collection that includes the works of some top names in design – such as Willie Best, Conrad Botes, Gregor Jenkin, Andile Dyalvane, Heath Nash, Dokter and Misses, Joe Paine and Michaela Janse van Vuuren – alongside that of emerging newcomers like Atang Tshikare, Sibusiso Mthembu and Laurie Wiid van Heerden.
More than 100 varied pieces ranging from furniture and objets d’art to textiles, jewellery and ceramics will be on display.
Trevyn McGowan, curator of the exhibition and director of Southern Guild that she founded in 2008, says Moad’s opening marks a significant milestone for African design.
It’s also a nod to a growing maturity in the industry and the design-loving public.
“Africa has one of the oldest craft cultures, but it’s really not until about 2000 that we see a definitive design movement emerge in South Africa,” says McGowan.
The new millennium saw local design pieces being curated and elevated to collectable status for the first time. The works would spark the interest of a wider audience in South Africa and abroad.
McGowan, who spent 20 years in London before returning and setting up a home base in Wilderness on the Garden route, says the opening of Moad is the convergence of multiple opportunities for the gallery space, the precinct, designers and even the country as a whole, to claim a bigger stake on the international design landscape.
Southern Guild invited artists to take part in their 2013 collection, giving each artist about nine months to complete their pieces.
To crack an invitation meant exposure internationally and at the Moad opening, and also the opportunity to use the Southern Guild network around the world.
“There is a distinct voice in African design. It’s something that’s quite primal and has a narrative that resonates with audiences around the world,” says McGowan.
It means that over the years proteas, Madiba’s portrait and even the Hillbrow Tower have started to become icons that get the design thumbs up.
At another level there are works that may not necessarily scream “Made in RSA” but have a nuanced creativity that is thoroughly locally inspired.
Designer John Vogel’s handcrafted furniture pieces in timber and signature woven seats have already earned him international attention.
He says of the Moad opening: “It’s fantastic we South Africans are beginning to embrace our own identity from a design point of view.
“There is a personal and a collective journey, and the works that we’re seeing have a grace, a beauty and also a message and a story, to which people respond.”
For newcomer Dawn Dludlu, an apprentice designer with Dokter and Misses, Moad represents another avenue young designers can exploit. Dludlu says his interest is in product design that draws on South African inspiration but has the sleek contemporary polish to stand up against the world’s finest.
“I think it’s a great thing because you struggle to get noticed as a young designer, now here is a new route you can use.” says Dludlu. “It can also inspire other young people who may never even have thought they could become designers, but now there’s a museum where they can go and be exposed to all these new things.”
McGowan says the exhibition has something for everyone: there are interactive pieces that are thought-provoking, some that are whimsical and others that with their quirky ingenuity and sense of play just put smiles on people’s faces.
The exhibition runs until November 3. McGowan will a walkabout at 11am on November 2.
For more information, call 011 465 0588.
The exhibition Native Nostalgia follows after, and opens on November 14. - The Star