by Amy FrearsonJun 08, 2021
Biennales across the world have demonstrated how a work of art or design installation can be a powerful tool for change or a symbol of resistance. At the London Design Biennale 2021, the Pavilion of the African Diaspora strived to be both. Envisioned as a space for the people of the African Diaspora, the pavilion sheds light on the shared colonial history of the continent through stories and conversations. Out of the 30 plus pavilions by designers and curators across the globe, the Pavilion of the African Diaspora stood out for its exceptional design, and was awarded the Best Design Medal at the recently concluded London Design Biennale, which was open to the public from June 1 to 27, at the historic Somerset House. The pavilion was conceptualised and designed by Ini Archibong, an American designer with Nigerian ancestry, currently based out of Switzerland, and driven by Tamara N Houston from ICON MANN.
One of the many forgotten narratives from the pages of history is that of the African Diaspora, forced migration of enslaved African people during the transatlantic slave trade between the 16th and 19th century. It is a story of violence, oppression, and marginalisation that still lingers. There has been a growing response from people and organisations across the globe to address this neglected part of our global history. Amalgamating his own experience of discovering his African heritage, by exploring forgotten and neglected diasporic histories, the global context of migration, and the ongoing refugee crisis, Archibong felt the urgency to address the issues of racial identity, and equality through this pavilion. In an official statement, Archibong said, “We cannot continue to speak about culture and design without recognising how the African Diaspora has contributed to and influenced the creative industry. Black creativity has impacted every corner of the world”. The pavilion serves as a platform for the people of the African Diaspora to come together, celebrate, and have a conversation where their voices would be heard and respected. The pavilion also stands as a beacon of hope for the diaspora.
Archibong elaborated on his idea saying, “My intent with the pavilion was really to use the skills that I have to be of benefit to the multitude of people that represent the diaspora, a culture that has so often been marginalised, for them to express themselves.” Archibong weaves an interesting narrative as a response to the Artistic Director, Es Devlin’s theme of ‘Resonance’ which serves as his point of reference for the conceptual development of the pavilion. From this concept emerge two artefacts that hold great significance in different diasporic cultures. The conch and cowrie shells were the primary inspiration for the pavilion’s design. The conch is a musical instrument whose sound reverberates and is considered a wake-up call for people to unite and take action. The cowrie shells represent trade, commerce, and prosperity as they were used in various parts of the African continent as a form of currency.
The pavilion is conceived as a series of three architectural follies which will appear at three different locations throughout the year. The structure on display at the Somerset House is called ‘The Sail’. The other two follies will appear later this year in autumn in New York City as ‘The Wave’ and in December at Art Basel Miami as ‘The Shell’. Collectively, it symbolises a passage that guides and leads to a hopeful future. Throughout the year, the pavilion is intended as a participatory sanctuary for talks, events, and performances. The Pavilion of the African Diaspora is supported by The High Council, a group of leaders and creatives from varied backgrounds, and gained international recognition after it was announced as the winner in the Best Design category.
The London Design Biennale’s International Advisory Committee and Jury presented medals to three other pavilions for their exceptional contribution in demonstrating how design can act as a catalyst for change and provide solutions to our problems. The panel included Es Devlin, whose installation Forest for Change overtook Somerset House courtyard with 400 trees, Paola Antonelli, Aric Chen, Nipa Doshi, Christopher Turner, Suhair Khan, and Waldick Jatoba to name a few. The Chile Pavilion was awarded the London Design Biennale 2021 Medal for its overall contribution. The Venezuela Pavilion was awarded the London Design Biennale Theme Medal for creatively responding to the theme. Israel Pavilion was awarded the London Design Biennale Public Medal which was voted by the public, while the Germany Pavilion received a special commendation.
(Text by Khushboo Patel, intern at stirworld.com)