Afrofuturism meets Wabi-Sabi at Design Joburg

Johannesburg — Africa’s biggest metropolis — where the world of design meets commerce, is the city where people come together to make things happen. It’s this spirit of collaboration that continues to draw South Africa’s top creatives to the city of gold. 

Decades of influence from global trends to Afrofuturism make Johannesburg Africa’s most Afropolitan city. Perfect for a week of the best design, art, exploration and showmanship of craft the city has to offer. 

South African designers from all spheres will descend on Johannesburg this week for Design Joburg, where guests will be immersed in an Afrofuturist universe of design trends, 21st-century sustainability and design in the metaverse

From 17 to 21 May, the design district of Kramerville and creative precinct of 44 Stanley will also host the Design Joburg Collective, a more intimate element of the event, where a curated collection of brand launches and workshops intersects with lovers of design and décor. 

Umdabu creates original furniture that follows the flow of the wood, which is evident in these tables

Afrofuturism meets Wabi-Sabi

Manthe Ribane, the founder of Natura Co-Lab and editor-at-large for House & Leisure, is bringing Afrofuturism and intentional living to Design Joburg. Ribane’s installation, The Art of Living, showcases the power of living a life that is designed in a mindful and meaningful style. 

The Art of Living (as pictured on the cover) is a reintroduction to Ribane’s background in performance art. Collaborating with Pantheone Audio’s futuristic speakers and sculpturist John Fuller, Ribane’s reintroduction is the epitome of moving forward. 

“I’ve always gravitated towards futuristic design and minimalism. There was a strong alignment between Pantheone and myself, with a space to collaborate. That is the spirit of design; collaboration of design and innovation,” says Ribane. 

Expect all five senses to be enticed by Ribane’s approach to understanding the language of minimalism. Note Japanese design philosophy Wabi-Sabi as the tool for living an intentionally, minimalist-styled life.

“Wabi-Sabi plays a role in all five senses for me. It’s the understanding of ‘less is more’ but with more meaning,” said Ribane. “You live with the importance of creating a space we connect with and understanding the clarity that comes with a sense of being and breathing in a space.” 

As a guest on the event’s creative panel, Ribane’s Afrofuturist mind will add to the exploration of technology, sustainability and a potential post-pandemic world. 

An Afrofuturist flavour paints an optimistic view of what we can see for the future of South Africa’s place in the global field of design. 

Hang around: Mia Mélange brings sustainability to the business of weaving baskets

A craving for Design Joburg

Set in the courtyard of 44 Stanley, Acre Studio is launching a new dawn of sandy colours and textures at Design Joburg. 

“The industry is craving an event like this. We haven’t interacted with each other or really our clients unless it’s over the phone. So I know we’re all looking forward to such a big event,” says Acre Studio cofounder Lindy Swart. 

“There was a four-hour-long line going into the Sandton Convention Centre because everyone was delivering their set-ups,” she says. 

“There’s a lot of work and effort that goes into it — from set-up to set-down — the lighting, the fixtures, and the pieces themselves.” 

Expect Acre Studio’s launch of its new collection, Kalahari Dawn, to shift away from its usual darker, neutral colour palette to a lighter, earth-toned and colour story. This new dawn for the studio features ochre yellow sofas, armchairs, a grooved “ripple server” and a reimagined version of its popular fold table in timber. 

Liebh makes unusual interior art such as ‘Orchid Dream’ of blue-purple bronzes in iron

An eclectic influence

A Kramerville design district local, Cocoon Lifestyle is the studio bringing effortless elegant spaces to homes in Steyn City, Sandhurst, and the Level 7 restaurant at the Radisson Hotel. 

Founded by Bilala Kanye Mabuza, Cocoon Lifestyle is showcasing all things luxury and bespoke to Design Joburg. 

Cocoon Lifestyle’s work will show Design Joburg guests the power that design has to enhance a way of living. 

Referencing the “art of design” philosophy, the studio’s approach blurs the line between sophisticated and comfortable spaces. Cocoon Lifestyle’s eclectic influence has shaped its approach to creating experiences at Design Joburg. 

The Mabuza-led studio illustrates how a close relationship with good design creates a sanctuary for collecting, curating and celebrating a highly personal space.

Form and function: Manthe Ribane’s ‘The Art of Living’ represents futuristic design and minimalism.

Weaving sustainability

If you have ever found yourself walking the streets of Stellenbosch, you may have walked past the large studio window on the pavement, where a team of people behind sewing machines are surrounded by colourful cotton baskets. 

Mia Mélange, a basket-weaving studio, literally brings transparency and sustainability to the forefront of trendy baskets, planters and woven home goods. Cotton woven baskets in fruity pastels, vibrant neons and soft neutrals are on display, both in the store and in the spaces and homes in which they find themselves. 

South Africa’s design universe is abundant in its pursuit of sustainability, designing for good, and ethical production. This is evident in the work of Jeanneka Malan, owner of Mia Mélange, who has a background in architecture and urban design.

Silky-smooth functionality

If you’ve ever dined at KL Izakhaya in Hyde Park, Tang in Sandton or had a seat at a long communal table at an Exclusive Books, you have interacted with Umdabu’s functional wooden art. 

Umdabu is Zulu for the origin or the root of something. Umdabu is a studio that celebrates materials as they come, from where they came. Embracing naturally occurring textures and shapes to turn wooden slabs into sleek, polished surfaces Umdabu’s designs deliver silky-smooth functionality. 

“We don’t try to hide anything. If the wood has a crack in it, we leave it,” says Umdabu cofounder Robert Cunningham. “We’ve created a lounge. We are bringing a cosy lounge installation to Design Joburg.” 

Umbadu has always focused on lodges in South Africa. “Oak and leather chairs, a hand-carved cedar bench, and beautifully reclaimed wooden shelves and mirrors will be on show at Design Joburg,” says Cunningham.

Weylandts furniture has functional and attractive lines, such as can be seen in this outdoor chair.

Exploring society through art and performance

At 44 Stanley, the new home of First Thursdays in Johannesburg, guests will rub shoulders with emerging artists and be enticed with good food, wine and a one-woman cabaret. Femme is Fatale, a live performance by Elzabé Zietsman, is debuting at the Bioscope independent theatre from 19 to 21 May. Zietsman’s musical performance will take guests through stories of gender-based violence and femicide that plague South African society. A harrowing subject, but an important one that cannot be ignored. 

Across the courtyard, Sowetan-born artists behind the My Loves movement, Fhatuwani Mukheli and Sthu Manaka, are opening their new studio for all to mix and mingle with their art — and the artists themselves. 

On a typographic journey through art, The Gallery will showcase the relationship between image and text in the Between Text and Image exhibition. Curated by artist and illustrator Balekane Legoabe and 44 Stanley’s The Atelier, the exhibit features work from Boemo Diale, Chloe Reid, Nano Le Face, Sam Kentridge and Seth Pimentel. 


Win tickets to Design Joburg

#MGDesign and Design Joburg, presented by Sanlam Private Wealth, are giving away three pairs of tickets to Design Joburg. To stand a chance to win and see all the exhibits, tag the friend you want to attend Design Joburg with and make sure you are both following @mailandguardian_friday and @designjoburg. The competition closes on Friday 20 May at midnight. 

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Kimberley Schoeman
Kimberley Schoeman is a sophisticated and eccentric wordsmith at the Mail & Guardian. A tastemaker in the making, she is in pursuit of the best in culture, fashion, and style.

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