Find out more about the background, inspiration and working techniques from 16 of the designers, all part of the Graphic Africa exhibition.
Adèle Dejak (Kenya)
Nigerian-born Adèle Dejak's line of inventive women's fashion accessories has its roots in the heart of Kenya, where she creates her unique contemporary ranges of ostrich egg and West African bead sandals, earrings, bracelets, Congolese kuba fabric and leather handbags, and more. The inspiration behind her work is African shapes and textures – like the natural colours and beauty of horn, or the natural art forms of bone, to which she applies different techniques to craft her unique pieces. Ultra contemporary, yet rooted in African tradition, her jewellery is intended to make a statement. Born in Kanu and brought up in Cambridge, Dejak graduated in Typographic Design from the London College of Printing and worked as Art Director of the best-selling Italian Pop Magazine before launching her label in Nairobi.
Kitengela Glass (Kenya)
Sea glass vessels, crushed ice coffee tables, a constellation of glowing orbs, magically twisted jewel-coloured goblets… all form part of the huge range of expertly blown and produced glass pieces from Anselm Kitengela's Hot Glass Studios. Each piece is unique, 100 percent recycled and 100 percent Kenyan. Kitengela trained in Holland with glass masters Willem and Bernard Heesen, before opening his studio in a red-bricked dome bordering the Nairobi National Park, where he now employs 35 people. 'This is where the magic happens,' he says. 'Our dome has more than 1 000 glass stars inset into the ceiling in an accurate rendition of the night sky. It's a real planetarium.'
Babacar M'Bodj Niang (Senegal)
A veritable explosion of newness, Babacar M'Bodj Niang's designs are as abundant as they are spectacularly multiform – from tables with fragile bowed legs that look like a giraffe taking its first steps, to moulded and plaited leather chairs with a pagan West African sensuality. The adventure of Nulangee Design began about a dozen years ago when Niang began working with wood and improbable shapes, combining it with various materials – either recuperated or natural (wood, leather, horn, fish skin) – to create objects charged with identity. Today Nulangee's contemporary furniture and fashion accessories are distributed throughout the world for the pleasure of fans and collectors.
Boubacar Doumbia (Mali)
Boubacar Doumbia's Le Ndomo textile workshop specialises in natural fabric staining and dyeing techniques, drawing on traditional Ndomo work habits of a shared collective as well as individual responsibility – but with a modern twist. Doumbia has overhauled the traditional model of youth apprenticeship in Mali by placing young people in a central, entrepreneurial role from the outset. Rather than simply training students in various methods of textile production, such as bogolon (traditional mud cloth), he teaches them professional and life skills, encouraging his apprentices to become self-sufficient, independent, creative, and innovative. His model is highly sought after within villages around his native Segou region and is expanding to other organisations, both within and outside the artisanal field.
Cheick Diallo (Mali)
'I don't have an interest in design if it is only to remake that which already exists,' declares Cheick Diallo, whose impeccably finished furniture and objects are designed to interrupt rote perception with their mix of ancient wisdom and modern sensuality. A wizardly creative risk-taker, trainer and manager, Diallo trained as an architect and designer in Paris, before establishing his studio in the suburban hills above his birthplace, Bamako. There, a team of artisans works in semi-organised chaos to manufacture ecstatically chic domestic objects from salvaged materials (bottle tops and computer batteries to old tyres) riffing on notions of luxury. Diallo was part of the seminal exhibition, Africa Remix, which was seen in London, Paris, Düsseldorf, Tokyo and Joburg. He has exhibited at the Milan Furniture Fair and is a regular guest at Design Biennales around the world.
Dokter & Misses (SA)
Husband and wife team, Adriaan Hugo and Katy Taplin make up South African furniture and fashion duo Dokter and Misses, which operates out of Joburg producing a selection of furniture, lighting and innovative interior objects. Inspired by the idiosyncrasies of their surroundings, their modernist furniture pieces with angular lines have a boldly upbeat energy that makes them immediately desirable and very, very cool. They opened their first outlet at 44 Stanley Avenue in 2007 and, have now expanded to three outlets including CO-OP, a space in Braamfontein in conjunction with Whatiftheworld Gallery, and a shop in Cape Town with fashion designer David West. In a very short time, Dokter and Misses have grown to be considered leading players in the South African design industry.
Hamed Ouattara (Burkina Faso)
'I'm always working to bring out a design that reflects the realities of Africa,' says painter and furniture designer Hamed Outtara of his wildly original mixed media furniture pieces. 'My goal is to provide a key point in a continent which suffers from imports and all kinds of imitation furniture, especially of poor quality and which does not reflect our culture. As inspiration from traditional furniture carved by our artisans is disappearing, my work makes a difference and is a modern African design luxury.' Having trained in accountancy, Outtara's switch to being an artist and designer proved to be a sound decision; he has exhibited widely – from Bilbao, Spain to Miami, USA – and supplies his products to France, Spain, Switzerland, Burkina Faso and Ghana.
Heath Nash (SA)
Heath Nash, who holds a BA in Fine Art (sculpture) from the University of Cape Town, was the Elle Decoration SA designer and lighting designer of the year in 2006, has been in business since 2004 making products with a uniquely South African, environmentally conscious edge and a playful spirit. His range, 'Other People's Rubbish', a gloriously lighthearted example of his recycling, is made from plastic bottles and galvanised wire. He draws inspiration from the idea of 'designing with a conscience through limitations in design'. In 2010, he won an eco-lighting award judged by Ingo Maurer at Finland's premiere interiors show, Habitare. He has, for several years, been working with grassroots artisans around Southern Africa, forging productive learning exchanges.
Andile Dyalvane and Zizipho Poswa are the winning team behind the Imiso Ceramics Studio. Located in a buzzing Woodstock atelier, Imiso is known for its handmade collectors' items and exquisite functional ceramic ware. The Xhosa word 'imiso' means tomorrow, and their designs are distinctly African, with a future-minded edge, drawing inspiration from local culture, tradition and nature. In addition to their store at the Old Biscuit Mill, their products are stocked at a wide variety of independent retailers and the bulk of their exports are to New York, London, Paris and Milan.
Kpando Pottery (Ghana)
Inspired by the passion of designer Joseph Nii Noi Dowuona, 70 talented Ghanaian women shape rich clay into striking contemporary pieces featuring sensual, organic forms and tactile surface detailing. Kpando Pottery is named after the region known for distinctive pottery made by local women, often with their babies by their side.The business grew out of the Aid to Artisans' Ghana project and now exports its innovative designs to Europe and North America. The clay is shaped without a potter's wheel, and the unique black patina finish is created by firing their pieces over a bamboo bonfire instead of using a clay oven.Ancient wisdom truly ignites contemporary beauty.
Marjorie Wallace (Zimbabwe)
Having graduated with a degree in painting from Michaelis School of Art at the University of Cape Town, Marjorie Wallace is a gifted ceramic artist who produces fine porcelain objects, which she scratches, presses and incises with linear designs and decoration. 'I have loved baskets since I was quite young. I have memories of the people who made them, how they sat and where they collected the grass – what they were looking for when they collected it. We had baskets hanging on the wall in the house, and we used them,' she says. 'When I started decorating pottery I thought more and more about baskets, how they look and how they are woven. They too are vessels. I saw my task as being no different from the basket makers. They too, are women, leading a domestic life.'
Gone Rural (Swaziland)
An accredited World Fair Trade Organisation, Gone Rural fully embraces the new spirit of social and environmental awareness along with the creative spirit of about 750 rural Swazi women to create of its covetable décor products. Inspired by the vision of designer Philippa Thorne, indigenous grass has been transformed into a globally sought after range of products. Innovative and soulful, Gone Rural's exquisite range of homemade woven accessories is in constant development as innovative designs and techniques are introduced to keep things fresh and dynamic.
Rebecca Hoyes (UK)
Rebecca graduated from Middlesex University in 1990. She joined Habitat in early 2012. Prior to this, Rebecca predominately worked as a freelance design consultant for leading interior fabric companies. Rebecca combines her time as a designer at Habitat with lecturing at the leading design school Central Saint Martins College of Art, London. One of her latest projects involved collaborating directly with West Africa-based textile designer Boubacar Doumbia to produce a collection based on 'mud cloth' techniques. The result will be a collection of cushions, exclusive to Habitat, available in the King's Road and Tottenham Court Road stores. This collaboration is indicative of the stories behind all the designs in Graphic Africa.
Ronél Jordaan (SA)
Inspired by the fluency and serenity of nature, Ronél Jordaan uses natural fibres, mostly 100 percent merino wool, to create her imaginative collection of rock cushions, pebble 'riverbed' carpets, delicately nuanced 'falling leaves' wall hangings, floral patterned throws and more. Entirely self-taught and following her own creative instincts, she began to turn fine gossamer thread into robust felted forms, which found an immediate market. Her range is continually expanding, from accessories, scarves, shawls and wraps to household objects, carpets, lamps, and throws. Her label can be found in outlets ranging from Canada, to the US, London, Paris, through Germany, the Netherlands and Italy.
Sabahar produces hand woven textiles to wear and for the home. They buy local Eri silk cocoons from small farmers, and Ethiopian cotton in the markets, spin the silk and cotton, dye it and then hand weave the thread into beautiful textiles. A truly Ethiopian product, cared for by skilled artisans at each stage of the process, each piece is individually made by hand - hand spinning on drop spindles and spinning wheels, hand woven on traditional looms and many products are naturally dyed with flowers, trees, insects and plants.
Sabahar create positive work opportunities within Ethiopia with a special emphasis on employment for women. They encourage high-quality traditional skills as a means to increase reliable income for households.
Sabahar is a member of the World Fair Trade Organization and promote and respect fair trade principles. They sell their products in Ethiopia and export to more than 10 different countries.
Tekura Designs (Ghana)
Known for its contemporary interpretations of legendary Ashanti and Fanti cultural artistry, each of Tekura's beautiful and functional furniture designs in wood is created by master artisans under the direction of Josephine and Kweku Forson. Tekura's respect for heritage and quality of life extends to the environment, with pieces being produced exclusively from carefully selected wood found lying on the ground following reforestation. Tekura currently exports to the US, Canada, Holland, Brazil and the UK.