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Meet Nigeria’s Afro-minimalists, matching function with form

Meet Nigeria’s Afro-minimalists, matching function with form

March 31
08:33 2018

Olubunmi Adeyemi is on a mission to create a modern design language for Africa and has chosen Lagos as the launch pad for his “Afrominima” movement. This approach is influenced by Japanese minimalism and a Scandinavian functional style, infused with Adeyemi’s own African and Yoruba culture, to create a distinctive take on minimalism.

Designs in his homeware range include pestle-and-mortar sets, wooden spoons and platters. “In the Nigerian culture, food is very important. We have certain tools we use to make our traditional meals,” says Adeyemi.

“So I took those objects, refined them and made them more functional, stylish and more aligned to my minimalist style. Afrominima is a design movement, ethos, philosophy and state of mind.”

After attending the Inchbald School of Design in London, Adeyemi found himself in Cape Town in 2014, the year the South African city was named the World Design Capital. While there, he was inspired to start creating designs that he hopes will one day be as easily identifiable as the art of the Bauhaus movement.

Adeyemi is part of a growing crop of ambitious, up-and-coming creators in Nigeria who are trying to develop a new design identity for a global audience.

Nifemi Marcus-Bello: ‘People aren’t really thinking about the end user or the customer’

Another is Nifemi Marcus-Bello, a product designer who is driven by a desire to solve day-to-day problems by using materials that exist in Nigeria.

“In my day-to-day experience, it hit me how difficult living in Lagos can be sometimes, just because of bad design,” says Marcus-Bello.

“From the street signage to transportation to badly designed chairs. It showed me that people aren’t really thinking about the end user or the customer.”

After returning to Lagos following his bachelor and master degrees in industrial design, he became the lead designer at Tecno, the mobile phone company. Last year, he left that job to start Nmbello Studio.

Nmbello designs furniture for the emerging middle class in Lagos as well as some retailers in Europe. However, Marcus-Bello wants to grab more of the Nigerian market.

His projects range beyond the domestic. For example, the Nmbello team is working on a concept for a city street lamp that would store enough energy to power itself, using a mixture of solar and battery technology.

Another design by Nifemi Marcus-Bello

However, Nigeria’s design industry has not had the attention enjoyed by the country’s art sector. The latter has recently experienced a surge in the popularity of art influenced by the work of Ben Enwonwu, the country’s best-known modernist painter, who died in 1994. Last year, a Nigerian pavilion made its debut at the 57th Venice Biennale. Design has not had the same level of exposure.

However, Marcus-Bello believes things are looking up for the design world, because more affluent Nigerians want to live a more modest and convenient lifestyle than that experienced by their parents.

The national government is also trying to push the Made in Nigeria movement, a commitment to buy locally produced goods, to develop the economy.

Despite deficiencies in education and infrastructure in parts of the country, Olatokunbo Fagbamigbe, a director at consultancy The Design Institute, Lagos, says this shift towards domestically manufactured products has also been driven by a resurgence in national pride.

Fagbamigbe says: “[Historically] we have relied a lot on imports . . . but more and more companies are designing things for themselves, and when you go into shops you see a lot of made in Nigeria products.”

As for government support, Marcus-Bello says policymakers are “still trying to find ways they can help out”, adding: “They are dabbling here and there with art and photography and I think in a couple of years they will gravitate towards design and see how important it is.”

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