Special Reports

Totemism: Memphis Meets Africa

Delia de Villiers

One of the central exhibitions celebrates a fusion between African design and the European trends of the eighties

Ceramic vessels by Clementina van der Walt

Eighties-inspired vibrant patterns, bold colours, neon tubes, wild animal skins, metal finishings, loud celluloid and glitter come together in Totemism: Memphis Meets Africa, an exhibition of South African design conceptualised by renowned trend forecaster Li Edelkoort.

Sponsored by Woolworths, Edelkoort's exhibition is the result of Design Indaba's invitation for South African designers to submit original creations paying homage to the Memphis movement — a style trend that was started in December 1981 by Italian architect and designer Ettore Sottsass.

If you are not familiar with the Memphis style, think Ettore Sottsass's "Carlton Cabinet" and Alessandro Mendini's totemic vases.

Memphis, which was named after the Bob Dylan song "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again", was "everywhere and for everyone" Ettore believed, though the movement was dismantled by 1988.

Now, 25 years later, there is a renewed interest in the colours, the stacking and the layering that were so iconic of this period in design, with Edelkoort interpreting it in the South African context.

"South African style is set to gain inspiration from new ideas working with colour, craft and pattern, liberating itself in pretty much the same way the Memphis Design Movement did 30 years ago," said Edelkoort.

"Working on my trend forecasts, it suddenly became very clear to me that there is a kinship between Memphis and South African creativity, between shantytown colours and Italian kitchen laminates from that period."

Out of an overwhelming selection of entries from a very diverse range of South African designers, Edelkoort settled on the work of 53 entrants, including heavyweights like Porky Hefer, Ardmore Ceramics, Ronel Jordaan, Dokter and Misses, David West and Liam Mooney.

Equally exciting is work included by up-and-coming designers such as Siyanda Mbele, Isabeau Joubert and Werner Venter. Edelkoort said the exhibition celebrates "uniqueness" and "ingenuity with flair" because "the world is ready to look to Africa to be inspired!"

Li Edelkoort
Li Edelkoort is a Dutch curator, publisher and educator. Her work has pioneered trend forecasting as a profession, providing strategic and design advice for the world's leading brands and companies.

Edelkoort's fashion, lifestyle, interior and architecture trend books and magazines have been highly influential in the creative industries. She has also developed an online platform, Trend Tablet, which explains how trends "grow, evolve and flow".

She was the chairperson of the Design Academy Eindhoven from 1999 to 2008. Edelkoort currently chairs the School of Form in Poland and oversees humanitarianism within the Heartwear craft foundation which she co-founded in 1993. Her curatorial work delves into the art and design domain, advising collectors, museums and exhibits around the world. See the exhibition Totemism: Memphis Meets Africa at Design Indaba Expo at the Cape Town International Convention Centre. For more info visit designindaba.com/expo

Expo opening hours
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The Design Indaba Expo 2013 is open to the public from Friday March 1 to Sunday March 3 at the Cape Town International Convention Centre. Tickets are available at the door or through Computicket.

Buyers' day preview: Thursday February 28: 10am to 7pm

Open to the public: Friday March 1: 10am to 8pm Saturday March 2: 10am to 8pm Sunday March 3: 10am to 6pm

Admission costs: Buyers' day preview: R200 Adults: R70 Pensioners and students: R50 Ages 10-18: R40 Under 10s: Free

Although this article has been made possible by the Mail & Guardian's advertisers, content and photographs were supplied and approved by Design Indaba. It forms part of a larger supplement.

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