Each year that we attend Cape Town’s brilliant Design Indaba conference, the subsequent Expo seems to infinitely grow and improve—a testament to the design world’s increasing fascination with the opportunities abounding in the vibrant continent. Now a massive marketplace consuming the entirety of the city’s spacious convention center, the Expo is teeming with emerging and established designers from across the design fields. Below is just a glimpse at some of the outstanding artists and designers we found there, but be sure to check out the Expo’s exhibition “Africa Is Now” for an even greater look at the people ensuring its promising future.
Greatly inspired by archaeology and rock art, the late South African artist Walter Battiss beautifully fused indigenous stone markings with abstract painterly concepts to become one of the country’s premier painters. Battiss was dubbed “the Bushman Painter” in the 1950s for making a home in southwestern Africa’s Namib Desert (an area almost completely uninhabited by humans), which provided a strong foundation for the 10 books he would write in his lifetime on the subject. Battiss’ art is now celebrated in a range of tableware by Mervyn Gers, a highly talented ceramicist who creates his own shapes, colors, glazes and decals (and who also creates the plates for Babylonstoren). A percentage of profits from each sale are donated to the Walter Battiss Museum.
The brainchild of Peta Becker, Projekt is a design-based fair trade initiative located in Cape Town’s Hout Bay. Projekt employs women from around southern Africa, who now live at the nearby 44-acre Imizamo Yethu settlement. Becker provides skill-building workshops to the team of 25 women, where they’ve developed and produced a line of locally inspired knitted crafts, which span necklaces, toys, cacti and home decor, as well as larger sculptural pieces. Becker tells us fans of the women’s handcrafted goods can keep an eye out for an online shop in the near future, but those near Cape Town can visit their Woodstock studio.
People of the Sun
A Malawi-based initiative, People of the Sun selects skilled artisans who stand out for their distinct handiwork and indigenous knowledge, and arms them with the necessary business acumen to take their talents to the global marketplace. The aim is through producing a range of handcrafted furniture and home goods, the artisans will become self-sustainable. Created by ATEKWENEclub and Zochita Zambiri, these handsome Blantyre Jars are made from recycled wine bottles which were hand-cut with rope and sanded with three different stones to achieve a rounded edge, and are then topped with local mahogany wood lids turned on a lathe.
Dubbed a “South African pattern lab,” RR Studio is helmed by Cape Town’s young architect-turned-designer Renée Rossouw, who is focused on creating a new aesthetic and visual identity which would represent a hybrid of the nation’s myriad cultures. For instance, her “Licorice” patterns—most recently applied to a series of vases—seemingly pull somewhat from the symbols painted on the houses of the South African Ndebele tribe, but which has been dissected and given a modern, Memphis-like twist on color and arrangement.
Mr Somebody & Mr Nobody
As irreverent as the “domestic curiosities” they create, design duo Sharon Lombard and Heidi Chisholm created the fictitious narrative behind their label Mr Somebody & Mr Nobody to explore their personal backgrounds as South African expatriates who live in the US (Lombard in Miami and Chisholm in Brooklyn). The pair draw from traditionally African goods, garb and symbols to apply their own cheeky approach. Their American-made khangas are one example of their clever thinking; they show how the mass of fabric typically worn as a dress by women around central Africa can be used as “a sarong, tablecloth, picnic blanket, dress, skirt, shawl, chair throw, bed end cover, nursing tent, apron, towel, wall hanging, curtain, bag, car seat cover, sunshade and a bikini.”
Altus van Zijl and Brigitte Hauptfleisch, who work collaboratively as Stellenbosch-based furniture design studio SUTLA, presented the Rookie light—a chunky table lamp boasting clean lines with its wooden tripod legs. The locally produced lamp offers an abundant amount of light in a small package due to its bright bulb taking center stage from under the visor-like metal shade.
Shine Shine for Sawa Shoes
For a special collaborative run, Cape Town-based Shine Shine fabrics teamed up with Sawa, the Cameroon-born, activist-led and internationally adored shoe label which now constructs their leather sneakers in Ethiopia. Shine Shine (which often taps designer Heidi Chisholm) applied their notoriously humorous take on African iconography, and the upshot makes a bold style statement while contributing to and supporting the economy of the continent they so visibly represent.
Photos of RR Studio and Sawa Shoes by Karen Day; all others courtesy of the respective designers