Design as the sum of all influences
Design as the sum of all influences
Image: 123rf

Many moons ago I had the opportunity, for two years, to be one of the MCs at Design Indaba, which brought to Cape Town designers from an array of disciplines — music, fashion, art, furniture, architecture, and product design. I recall being particularly struck by Rwandese architect Christian Benimana’s work on the Butaro District Hospital in his home country.

Benimana spoke of how the design of the maternity and general wards ensured that there was ample sunlight, which has an impact on the healing experience of patients. In an interview with World Architecture Community, renowned Ghanaian-British architect and designer Sir David Adjaye echoes this thinking: “Our first principle is a desire to locate the project in the context of the place, in terms of its geography, but also in terms of its story, in terms of the narrative of the place, in terms of a kind of the sense of culture of the place.”

I am often told that my interests are haphazard and a little schizophrenic. I always choose to view myself as eccentric, even though it seems one needs to be rich, famous or both to be considered such — I am neither, but there’s still time. I will say I lean towards the “rich” more than the “famous”, simply because, the way I see it, riches would allow me to truly submerge myself in my eccentricities.

Anyway, the other day I shared my Pinterest boards (it isn’t just for wedding inspiration, random hobbies, and recipes) with a friend who epitomises the word “creative”. (Please note that I do not use it as a noun, but rather an adjective.) I have boards on book covers, sneakers, men’s fashion and accessories, art, product design, architecture, interior design, T-shirts, and figurines, and many more.

His first comment was that, if one wanted to get a picture of my “design aesthetic” and interests, all one had to do was go through Pinterest. I grew up in the home of a Ghanaian man who had lived extensively in Germany. When we went out, I would be forced to wear proper clogs, corduroy trousers, and a pink, tie-dye Ghanaian shirt with wide sleeves. I hated it. I wanted to wear my North Stars, shorts, and a T-shirt.

In a way, my father’s forcing me to engage with all the elements of who I am has influenced how I navigate my world — and the world of design

The décor at home was a mixture of African — masks, a zebraskin- covered drum/coffee table, fertility dolls — and European — I mean, we had a room divider with a full tea set on display. When I entered the media space as editor at a couple of men’s magazines, I got into the whole suit thing because it was expected, amassing a collection of ties that would put your average “English gentleman” to shame. In time, however, it felt uncomfortable; like a performance that didn’t quite reflect me, the man brought up with pan-African ideals.

This coincided with, finally, a shift in African design, across spaces. Design that reflects and draws upon, as Adjaye observes, geography, story, narrative, and culture within a contemporary context. Now, when I look through my wardrobe, or around my house, or at the art I’m drawn to, or at the jewellery that I wear, there is a clear thread: the marriage of all my influences, from the cultures in which I grew up to the creativity that inspires. The skull rings with the Ghanaian beaded bracelet, the suit with a Kenyan kitenge, and Adidas shelltoes.

In a way, my father’s forcing me to engage with all the elements of who I am has influenced how I navigate my world — and the world of design.

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