Designers explore colourism, nature, futuristic themes at Nairobi Design Week

Chuma Anagbado showing his triptyach at Nairobi Design Week held in Karen.

Photo credit: Kari Mutu | Nation Media Group

The eighth edition of Nairobi Design Week (NDW) brought together an eclectic collection of Kenyan creatives and designers.

Titled "It’s What We Make It", NDW had multiple exhibitions, workshops and programmes, showcasing both physical and digital creations.

“The exhibition is about sustainability and resources, with designers coming from Kenya and across Africa,” said Naitiemu Nyanjom, the festival lead since 2019.

The festival happened at the Opportunity Factory in Nairobi’s Karen, a centre for crafts and artisanal goods. The opening weekend was buzzing with activities, music, entertainment, and displays.

Adrian Jankowiak, founder and design director of NDW, noted a growing trend of creatives becoming increasingly more valued.

“Nairobi is the only African city that is a member of the World Design Week,” he said.

Over 40 design weeks are held worldwide annually to promote collaboration between design communities and support new product development.

“A festival like this has a huge impact as an incubator of ideas and also hopefully does lots of collaborations.”

Wanjira Kinyua at Nairobi Design Week held in Karen.

Photo credit: Kari Mutu | Nation Media Group

One of the flagship partners of NDW 2023 was Kairos Futura, an art collective led by Abdul Rop, Lincoln Mwangi, and Ajax Axe. At NDW, they resembled astronauts dressed in space suits and metal masks, imagining a far-off future where people live in harmony with nature.

Their initiative, called the Nairobi Space Station, continues the successful Lamu Space Station art installation in 2022.

“NDW has great community reach with creatives in Nairobi,” said Ajax. “We wanted to connect with organisations and individuals to collaborate on initiatives in the coming months.” Kairos Future is driven by a desire to solve ecological challenges and rewild city spaces.

Illustrator Wanjira Kinyua, one of the Space Station crew members, is a nature-lover who recently took to discovering little animals. Her self-designed space suit resembles a butterfly.

Tracing the Wild is a fascinating exhibition, a triptych that demonstrates the intersectionality of arts and science. Artist Chuma Anagbado created a tall wooden sculpture etched with the faces and movements of three collared lionesses living in the Maasai Mara.

He used data from research done by the Kenya Wildlife Trust (KWT) in collaboration with technology firm Sovereign Nature Initiative (SNI).

Real-time topographic information on lion movements and human-wildlife conflict was turned into an interactive artwork.

“Artists can use scientific information creatively and interpret it differently,” said Seth Bockley, director of creative engagement at SNI. “It helps us to value nature differently.”

Chuma’s skill at wood etching is admirable, and further enhanced by augmented reality art where visitors can view superimposed text and graphics on the wooden panels with a click of a smartphone.

An extension of Tracing the Wild has a continuously running audio clip that features sounds from the bush, overlaid with conversations of people living alongside wildlife.

“This is a place of convergence of sciences and arts, and to see how we can use technology tools to tell our stories,” said Naitiemu. Some of the funds collected at NDW will be used to support KWT.

Artist and fashion designer Virginia Wakianda presented a fantastic art installation called More Melano or Less that appeared at the Goethe Institute in 2022.

Kairos Futura installation at the Opportunity Factory in Karen where the Nairobi Design Week was held.

Photo credit: Kari Mutu | Nation Media Group

Curated by Emmaus Kimani, Melano is Wakianda’s way of examining the challenges around skin colourism and ideals of feminine beauty.

Different activities were slated on different days of the week until it closed on March 19, including digital art, pottery, bead making and screen printing.

The Kibera Fashion Week, initiated by fashion designer David Avido, exhibited their clothing collection. Resident artist Wanja Gathungu, founder of Nakshi glass, had a selection of her glass art and jewellery pieces.

Weavers from Africa Collective Textiles are showcasing large woven tapestries made of fabrics obtained from discarded clothing, a method that encourages a circular textile economy.

Festival visitors can watch the women at work on the upright looms and also try their hand at weaving.

This article was first published in the Business Daily.