26 June 2018

Flow of Forms / Forms of Flow. Design Histories between Africa and Europe

Exhibition at the Museum für Völkerkunde / Museum of Ethnology, Hamburg
April 6 – August 19, 2018

The exhibition Flow of Forms / Forms of Flow focuses on Design Histories between Africa and Europe through the prism of past, present and future: It takes a look at global design practices and forms which have developed through cooperative projects, adaptation and transformation of ideas and concepts. Thus Flow of Forms / Forms of Flow reveals multifarious Design Histories in five thematic sections:

Forms of Modernity invoke the beginning of the 20th century and examine the relevance of African objects on modern design in Europe. At the same time, they demonstrate how closely modern reform movements, such as Arts and Crafts, were entangled with economic and colonial premises. Selected positions in contemporary design do not only serve to make these migrations of forms and concepts visible, but also subject them to critical reflection. Transform(N)ation looks at design during the early years of African states’ independence from the mid-1950s to the 1970s. The political and emancipatory potentials of design are especially prominent here and the creative possibilities of expressing social liberation are considered. Forms of awakening, nation-building and identity take shape in the tension between globally circulating concepts and recourses to local traditions. They are manifested in architecture, (artist) magazines and fashion and are framed by contemporary positions. Forms of Cooperation / Participation are concerned with the social and political dimensions of design and focus on forms, which have developed through cooperation, exchange and dialogue and the flow of concepts, ideas and practices. Material Morphosis foregrounds materials as bearers of meaning and considers the concept of their morphosis (from one material into another). While, in the European context, the phenomenon of material morphosis was long pejoratively interpreted as mere imitation, deception or as a substitute, materials and material morphosis play an important role in African art and constitute a well-established process in contemporary design. Here, transformations and translations are imbued with critical or even playful intentions, as expressions of modernization, democratization, re-evaluation. Speculative Forms / African Futurism are concerned with the development of forms at the intersection of technology, economy, and society. Anchored in the present, these future scenarios are based on new technologies, materials, and production methods, transnational networks and alternative infrastructures: they convey social visions and may initiate paradigm changes, but also register their draw backs and dystopias. 

Countering the usual representations of historical cultures and life ways in rural Africa, the museum focuses in this exhibition on the contemporary culture of the continent, characterised by urban centres with an unrivalled cultural dynamism and a vibrant creative and artistic scene.

Designers and Artists: David Adjaye for KnollTextiles, Àga Concept, Kossi Aguessy, Karo Akpokiere, Black Coffee, Laurence Bonvin, Paolo Cascone / COdesignLab, Sonya Clark, Matali Crasset & Bulawayo Home Industries, Cucula, Cheick Diallo, Dokter and Misses, Nana Kwaku Duah II, Michael Gathogo Githinji, Front & Siyazama Project, Fundi Bots, Eric van Hove, I.AM.ISIGO, Yinka Ilori, Jean Katambayi Mukendi, Wanuri Kahiu, Markus Kayser, Ladi Kwali, Lumkani, Abu Bakarr Mansaray, Michael MacGarry, Ernst May, Emo de Medeiros, Vincent Michéa, The Nest Collective, Laduma Ngxokolo, Karl Ernst Osthaus, Victor Papanek, Shem Paronelli Artisanal, Simone Post, Rethaka, Walther Schmidt, Kofi Setordji, Palash Singh for STEP/The New Basket Workshop, Studio Formafantasma, Studio Sikoki, Kër Thiossane, Fatimah Tuggar, Obiora Udechukwu, Marjorie Wallace for Mutapo Handmade Pottery, Jules Wokam, unkown artist of Edo, Kete, Kuba, Lele, Tschokwe, Yoruba und unknown artists of amaXhosa

Project Partner: Cheick Diallo/Diallo Design, Bamako/Mali.

This exhibition is based on the research and exhibition project Flow of Forms/Forms of Flow. Design Histories Between Africa and Europe at the art historical institute of the Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich. Its adaptation and extension for Hamburg was curated by Prof. Dr. Kerstin Pinther, Dipl. Des. Alexandra Weigand M.A. and Prof. Dr. Barbara Plankensteiner.


Flow of Forms / Forms of Flow. Design Histories between Africa and Europe, Bielefeld Transcript. 2007 p.

As a teenager, I spent my time wondering why in sci-fi movies, every landscape, every object I could see was Western or Asian based. I've finally understood that somewhere our legacy had been locked in the past, that we couldn't be "futuristic" in the eyes of our fellow Europeans. We have to look behind our shoulders, get back to our traditions, seize the best of them and shape a future with it. This without forgetting we are part of the world, totally, unquestionably. The future is for me not only a matter of dialogue with the past, but and beyond everything a dialogue with the rest of the planet. (Kossi Aguessy)

How is it possible to adequately capture histories of design in Africa, a continent with fifty-four countries? How can one avoid producing just another essentialising master narrative of "African Design"? How can one make sense of the many entangled yet often asymmetric and sometimes ambivalent histories of form-finding processes between Africa and Europe? In keeping with the premises of a global art and design history approach, the book offers a change of perspective: focusing on the mobility of people, objects and ideas – on flows between Africa and Europe as well as on a South-South axis – allows for multiple yet necessarily fragmented design histories to be identified and recognised. The contributors trace multi-faceted design case studies from a historical perspective, with attention to the present as well as towards possible futures.

With contributions by Susan Mullin Vogel, Alison J. Clarke,  Gui Bonsiepe, Daniel Magaziner, Christian Hanussek, Erica de Greef, Kerstin Pinther, Alexandra Weigand

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