Lagos, Nigeria is the next hot design scene

Mmanwu chair by Aga Concept.

Over the past ten years, Nigeria has become a pin on the cultural map of the world. Burna Boy, Orange Culture and Victor Ehikhamenor are now household names for culture vultures everywhere, and its largest city, Lagos, is gaining a reputation as an incubator for new talent. This new international buzz particularly inspired Titi Ogufere, originally from Lagos.

“It became increasingly clear that although there was exciting design being produced across Africa and particularly in Nigeria, there was little recognition,” says the interior designer in several strokes. union, product designer and general advocate of Nigerian design. “So I’ve made it my mission to unite the community, harness talent and grow the industry to show the world the exciting and relevant work happening here.” In 2007, before the global hype, she founded the Association of Interior Designers of Nigeria, the country’s first professional design organization, with the aim of connecting creatives in the industry and setting standards of design and possibly a license program. In 2019, it launched Design Week Lagos, its first official celebration of national design work and those who make the most of the best.

This year, just like in music, art and fashion, it feels like the world is finally starting to notice the breadth of design talent that Ogufere has long championed, and rightly so. A new Netflix documentary series, Made by design, which was created by Ogufere and directed by Lagos-born, Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Abiola Matesun, is being launched in conjunction with this year’s ongoing festival and spotlights a handful of Nigeria’s rising stars, including Tosin Oshinowo, Osaru Alile and Theo Lawson. which soon, too, should be household names. Rooted in traditions of exceptional craftsmanship yet representing a full range of aesthetic varieties, materials and design ideas, the Nigerian design scene is one to watch.

Tekura furniture, presented at Design Week Lagos 2021.

Their work is innovative, beautiful and fully deserving of international recognition, but what also sets Nigerian design talents apart is the resilience with which they approach it. Designing in Nigeria is an unfathomable challenge for many of its global counterparts.

One of the fastest growing cities in the world, Lagos’ population is growing by an average of 275,000 people a year, and it is the most populous city on the African continent. However, at just 61 years of age, Nigeria is still an emerging nation and its current infrastructure is unable to support the amenities for this growing citizenship that are considered essential to contemporary industry: a guaranteed 24-hour power grid, complex manufacturing systems and a middle-class population of skilled workers.

What Nigeria does have, however, is a rich culture of craftsmanship, drawn from the traditional art of over 300 tribes, including Yoruba, Igbo, Ijaw, etc., living in its lands before English colonization and learned from their master artists, and the dedication to innovation found in a place where an extreme wealth gap means that 40% of the country lives below the poverty line and fights for daily survival while at the same time the wealth combination of Nigeria’s five richest men could end poverty for the entire nation with just one donation. Despite what could be major setbacks for any creative, the next generation of great contemporary Nigerian designers are those who have attended colleges abroad and have chosen to return to their countries to help drive change.

The facade of the American International School Lagos staff quarters by MOE+. Photograph by Ọlájídé Ayẹni.

“If I had stayed in England like my peers,” shyly admits industrial designer Nifemi Marcus-Bello, a Lagos native who graduated from the product design program at the University of Leeds, “I know I might have had much easier to succeed in the design industry.Instead, he brought his family back to Africa and set out to create an open source database of Nigerian manufacturers that helps him, as well than others, to create African design in Africa itself. Her peers, such as furniture designer Lani Adeoye, work directly with artisans and traders to rework traditional crafts like weaving and metalwork into elegant and And others, like the architect Lawson, are working to put good design on the agenda of city government.After ten years of debating the validity of his proposal to transform the prison abandoned Colonial Lagos into a public gathering space and arts complex with the powers that be, Lawson finally prevailed in 2010. Freedom Park, in the heart of downtown, is now one of the most exciting places to see a concert, grab a bite to eat and contemplate the tense nation’s history.

In turn, the project created an appetite for investment in other public cultural projects. Led by Seun Oduwole, architecture firm SI.SA is renovating the pool at the John K. Randle Community Center a few blocks away and expanding its program to include a library, green roof and museum dedicated to Yoruba culture. Its design is an example of the building vocabulary that Nigerian architects today are exploring: as always, concrete structures (steel is an expensive commodity) but mixed with local clay and in natural shades and the geometric patterns found in traditional African art, and at the root of modernism itself. It’s a push towards a design style more of the place, rather than the previously lauded colonial copies.

A photograph in progress of the John K. Randle Community Center.

“Nigeria is a young nation, and our economic infrastructure is really influenced by colonialism – we are set up to export raw materials and import goods,” says Ogufere, noting that times are changing thanks to creatives from before. -garde, like the aforementioned, who choose to be at the forefront of building its design scene and pushing for designs and materials sourced from the nation and the greater African continent. “Creative production is not as easy here as in other design capitals of the world, and while that certainly presents many challenges, it also means that the work here is unique, as it is born out of a creative process. which requires almost constant adaptation”, she continues.

For emerging designers in Nigeria, it is important that contemporary Nigerian design presents a true vision of Nigerian traditions to an international audience. Gone are the days of passing Dutch Ankara wax printed as “African” patterns. If non-native materials, fabrics or designs are used, it is with intention and spirit. A hotbed of creativity, the new design scene in Lagos presents the world with true beauty, functionality and innovation.

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Abdul J. Gaspar