IKEA brings African creatives on board

A Swedish word, överallt, meaning ubiquitous or everywhere, could also accurately describe the current influence Africa seems to be having on the global cultural economy. It also happens to be the name of a collaborative homeware range being produced by IKEA, which has seen the Swedish furniture giant working with African designers for the first time.

Guided by IKEA creative leader James Futcher, the Överallt collection includes pieces crafted by Kenyan designers Bethan Rayner and Naeem Biviji, Senegalese artist and designer Selly Raby Kane, prominent Ivorian architect Issa Diabaté and the current golden boy of South African high fashion, Laduma Ngxokolo.

Collaboration: South Africa’s Laduma Ngxokolo worked with IKEA designer Mikael Axelsson to create this Xhosa rug. Photo: IKEA

Cairo-based design company Reform Studio, Kenya’s Studio Propolis, Senegalese industrial designer Bibi Seck and South Africa’s Sindiso Khumalo and Renée Rossouw complete the pack of African creatives who were recruited for the project.

“We have been looking at what’s happening in Africa for quite some time in music and fashion,” says IKEA’s head of design, Marcus Engman, “but what you don’t see so much is all of the great things that are happening in architecture and product design.”

Africa is having something of an extended moment in popular culture and mass media. From Beyoncé’s visual references to Afro-diasporic religion, Kendrick Lamar’s reported plagiarism and theft of artist Lina Viktor’s intricate artwork for his music video All the Stars and the smashing global success of Marvel’s Black Panther, the world is increasingly looking at the continent for creative inspiration.

Although it is certainly capitalising on this apparent cultural cache, IKEA’s Överallt collection also seeks to counter what has often been a limited and narrow view of African creativity.

Featuring armchairs, benches, tableware and textiles, the Överallt collection not only has the potential to translate the stories of these 10 designers and their respective cultures through craftsmanship and technique, it is also a powerful medium with which to disrupt tired stereotypes and outdated depictions of African aesthetics that have long dominated the imagination of the West.

New ideas: Mariam Hazem and Hend Riad of Reform Studio with their Fraktabag made from plastic waste. Photo: IKEA

Inspired by the modern urban rituals that are common to all cultures — the things we do and use every day to feel at home — Överallt’s 16 pieces reinforce the idea that, despite cultural differences, we’re all far more similar than we are different.

Take one particular item included in the collection — a woven basket inspired by modern hair braiding. It is a sacred art in many ways and rich in tradition, because many women learn to braid hair at the feet of their grandmothers, mothers and cousins. Designed by Raby Kane in collaboration with IKEA-designer Iina Vuorivirta, Kane drew on these shared moments as inspiration for the creation.

“Braiding is this shared moment when your head either ends up on a family member’s lap for hours and hours, or you lean back in a chair in a cool salon, listening to the latest Dakar and foreign pop, while keeping an eye on your hairstyle in the making,” she says. “Braiding techniques are fascinating, and the braiding itself stands for creativity, power, art, sometimes even a coded language.”

As for Ngxokolo, it should come as no surprise that his signature geometric patterns feature prominently in the collection. Working alongside IKEA designer Mikael Axelsson, the two created an exquisite rug that draws on the designer’s Xhosa heritage. Ngxokolo has said he hopes it will bring comfort and pride to the people who encounter it.

Working on Överallt has also provided the 10 designers with the opportunity to align themselves with one of the world’s most successful design and retail companies. Although IKEA’s only stores on the continent are in Egypt and Morocco, the company is reportedly considering the use of open-source software to allow the designs to be independently produced in an effort to ensure that the pieces are more widely available, particularly to Africans.

Part of a partnership with South Africa’s globally celebrated Design Indaba (DI) brand, the Överallt collection’s progression has remained somewhat under the radar since its official announcement at the 2017 DI Conference. There, a handful of the Överallt participants took part in public work sessions during the collection’s early stages. An immersive workshop at the IKEA prototype shop in Älmhult, Sweden, followed.

Guided by collaborators from IKEA, the Överallt design team has eschewed typical interpretations of African design, instead working together to create a collection that is expressive, original, sustainable and practical. Characterised by bright colours, bold textures and unusual patterns, each piece is a marked departure from IKEA’s well-known minimalism.

The Överallt collection will reportedly be made available for a limited time in IKEA stores around the world from May 2019

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