We have long had a deep appreciation for the rich heritage and intricate designs of African textiles so when collector Karun Thakar recently loaned part of his collection to the Brunei Gallery at SOAS London, we had to pay a visit. The show, which runs through 14 December, boasts over 150 pieces with textiles hailing from Morocco, Tunisia, Ivory Coast, Mali, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon. From an aesthetic perspective, we are transfixed by the repetition of shapes found in many examples: universal motifs like squares, triangles and lines paired together in combinations and colours that are distinctly African and capture the eye.
In the not too distant past, a chat with interior designer Adam Bray, known for layering antiques, textiles and colour, sparked an idea to create a sub-series of our Tube Line tiles inspired by African textiles. We did a deep dive, pouring through books and seeking out tangible references. A favourite source is Adire African Textiles, Duncan Clarke’s stall in Alfies Antique Market (fashion designer Duro Olowu is also a fan). Duncan focuses on West African textiles and is passionate about provenance – he has a PhD on Yoruba aso oke weaving in Nigeria and has published several books. Check out the resources section of his website for a list of recommendations. Our own tube line tiles capsule collection was inspired by a kpokpo cloth from Sierra Leone, which we spotted in John Gillow’s comprehensive survey, African Textiles.
It’s not just historical references that are worth noting though. Take the overwhelming reception of South African art and design gallery, Southern Guild, at their first showing in PAD London during the Frieze festival last month. Founded by former-Londoners Trevyn and Julian McGowan, the Cape Town gallery promotes African artists who reinterpret traditional crafts in contemporary ways. We are particularly besotted with the work of husband and wife duo Adriaan Hugo and Katy Taplin, aka Dokter and Misses. Combining their industrial and graphic design backgrounds, they create thoroughly modern cabinets whose decorations are rooted in history. The Kassena series (shown) references adobe structures of Burkina Faso and their LALA Shwantla cabinet merges Art Deco lines with the geometric patterns of traditional Basotho blankets.
We are also struck by the work of Artsi Mous, the creative collaboration of photographer Artsi Ifrach and fashion designer Mous Lamrabat. Their oeuvre references Moroccan heritage and Arabic culture through powerful visual story telling. Modern African textiles are often featured and celebrate the avant-garde. Photographs will be on show during Also Known as Africa, the Parisian art and design fair at Le Carreau du Temple from 9-11 November as well as the Vogue Photo Festival at Base Milano from 14-17 November.
Photographs © Balineum, Southern Guild, Mous Lamrabat