This week a section of Africa’s richest square kilometre will be transformed into a hub of the finest creations when the Sanlam Handmade Contemporary Craft Fair takes over the rooftop of Hyde Park Corner.

The exhibition will take place from Friday, bringing together some of the continent’s finest high-end design combined with the best food and wine in the country. The fair, in its eighth year, is expected to attract over 120 exhibitors.

This year it’ll also feature five artisans from the continent under the Well Made in Africa exhibition. Curated by writer and consultant for all things related to contemporary African design, Tapiwa Matsinde, it is a collection of the finest the continent has to offer.

Since its inception in 2010, the fair has been organised by Artlogic, a company that specialises in organising and curating boutique fairs. It is also responsible for organising the FNB Joburg Art Fair.

Mandla Sibeko, director of Artlogic, said the focus was on promoting artisanal culture in South Africa and that this was a process Artlogic had begun almost 12 years ago.

“We started with the Joburg Art Fair, which was the first art fair in Africa and it also provided the space where collectors, and artists could meet. And it created an economy that didn’t exist for artists.

“It was then quite natural for us to move into design, and we’ve used mostly the same formula, to bring high quality artisanal producers in South Africa and create a market for them,” Sibeko said.

With the establishment of these fairs, the awareness surrounding art and high-quality designed products had increased, the economies of both strengthening further as well. This had also implied that these small businesses were able to operate, because there is a market for them.

“The time was always going to come where we (South Africans) were making the highest of quality work. If you look at our artisanal makers, they’re making high quality products, but they didn’t have a market.

“It’s only now that South Africans are starting to consume and this allows them to sustain their businesses.”

He said even with the strong art collector base that existed before the art fair, in South Africa, as opposed to the other 54 countries on the continent, art was still not bought, especially enough to help artists sustain their livelihoods from their art.

“We have more black people now buying art, as opposed to 10 years ago. So there has been a shift in the patterns of South Africans buying the products.

“With the Handmade Craft fair, we’ve seen South Africans buying beyond our borders, which also fits in with the direction the fair is trying to take-to be reflective of the African continent,” Sibeko said.

The fair has several features over and above just being a contemporary craft fair.

These include Chefs in the City, which comprises cooking demonstrations by renowned culinary experts and the Making the Masters series, which consists of conversations with industry-relevant thought leaders around African design.

The Well Made in Africa exhibition is also a part of these features and aims to highlight some of the finest African artisans, whether it be in the making of clothing or in the making of furniture.

It represents two key elements: that the items on display are of a high quality and that they’re made in Africa.

Matsinde, a warrior for African contemporary design, also works to track trends in design, particularly from Africa and the diaspora, which led her to authoring a book, Contemporary Design Africa, a go-to-guide for some of the most innovative and sophisticated African-designed products and interiors. According to Sibeko, because of this work it was a no-brainer to have her curate this exhibition.

Matsinde’s selections for the year include: high-fashion and bold prints from Tongoro; audacious adornments from Adele Dejak; exquisite carpentry in the Lamu tradition from Saba Studio; Moroccan lighting from Dounia Home; and modern minimalist home ware from Afrominima.

She regards the craft fair as another opportunity to grow the market for high end products from Africa and the diaspora.

“For me the craft fair is another platform to showcase and promote African design. This is at the heart of what I do,” she said.

For her curation, because she’d spent time looking out for emerging designers as well as documenting some of the finer existing work, Matsinde said she had a clear idea of what would work for the fair, and she based her selection on that.

As a consequence of that, Matsinde believed she had curated an exhibition that would perfectly suit the ethos of the fair as a whole, while promoting the finest that the continent has to offer.

For first-time visitors to the fair, Matsinde had this advice: “You will have the chance to meet with the people behind the products, an opportunity you wouldn’t have if you were buying at a store or on the internet for example.

“Here you get a real sense of buying into their story, their journey and to connecting you to them. You’ll get to appreciate the time and effort that goes into making it and you can appreciate it a lot more and money becomes less of the focus. The emotional connection to the products and their makers is priceless,” she said.

* The Sanlam Handmade Contemporary Art Fair will take place from Friday to Sunday at the Hyde Park Corner Rooftop. Tickets start at R120 on Webtickets or R130 at the door. For more information visit: www.sanlamhmc.co.za/

Images: Mike Turner

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