Michele Washington Shares A Glimpse of The African and African Caribbean Design Diaspora Festival

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  • Cool Britania (A Modern Portrait Of Britain), 2009
    Styled by Haiden Medina
    Photo: Michael Mapp

  • Neon Digital drawing of African Map on view at the Hospital Club

London is one of the hottest and most creative cities, bristling with a multicultural community. Yet its Black artists and designers have remained largely untapped. That is until now. Just this past September, London was booming with design festivals showcasing innovative furniture, objects and fabulous fashions. Among them was the latest installment of the African and African Caribbean Design Diaspora Festival, a hotbed of new ideas, inspiration and creativity. This year’s theme, “?Choices!,” attracted some 22,000 visitors (2,000 more than in 2010). The AACDD festival took place from September 9 to 25, coinciding with the London Design Festival and constituted AACDD’s second successful year. It was the latest project launched by the British European Design Group’s (BEDG) three-year initiative, which is playing an increasingly important role in diversifying London’s creative community.

The festival director, Karin Phillips, Design Director Clemens Hackl, and Nigerian-born designer and curator, Emamoke Ukeleghe, orchestrated this production. The artists represented included roughly 100 graphic designers, multimedia artists, illustrators, industrial and product designers, and visual artists of African and African-Caribbean descent working in the U.K., Africa, the Caribbean, Japan and the United States. Hackl explained, “These artists and designers made a huge impact on visitors with their innovative works.” And thanks to funding from the London Arts Council, this year the AACDD Festival reached more people through a well-designed festival guide, website and social media platforms.

AACDD’s festival took place in three main locations: BargeHouse in OXO Towers in SouthBack, Hospital Club, and the Re-Loved Lounge at 100% Design. With 1,333 square feet of raw warehouse space, the BargeHouse served as the perfect blank canvas setting for browsing art lovers. It featured four floors of curated work by fine artists, illustrators, graphic designers, fashion designers, multimedia artists, and photographers. On one floor, Below the Surface, a photographic project by young black teenagers from London’s African and African-Caribbean communities, was a whopping success. The teenagers documented the colorful facets of everyday life, and produced an eye grabbing collection shot with disposable cameras given away through AACDD’s tweets and Facebook postings.

The technology exhibition housed at the Hospital Club featured digital drawings by multimedia artists using iPhone and iPad apps. This virtual collaboration worked in sync with artists in London and artists at the ihub collective in Nairobi. “But,” Hackl said, “technical problems hindered full connectivity.” On the last day, Hospital Club visitors got to watch a live streaming of TEDx Soweto 2011 –The Future is Inevitable

Re-Loved Lounge, the hippest venue at 100% Design, was awash with an eclectic mix of upcycled furnishings and objects. Emamoke Ukeleghe curated this installation that functioned more like an interactive café, but with a homier flair. Visitors gladly could touch, feel or sit, and some languished in the playfully designed space curated with upcycled functional furniture and objects. Emamoke challenged designers to re-love and breathe new life into discarded furnishings and objects. Such design shatters the ethos of our culture’s wasteful consumption patterns, in favor of eco-living. In the video interview here, textile designer Emamoke Ukeleghe discusses her work and that of industrial designer Alexander Mulligan and his different levels of inspiration and constructs. Emamoke defines her furniture and textile style as “Africaness” with a “British twist.” She describes Mulligan’s super-long dining table as being not so glaringly made of discarded furnishings, but it is. Re-Loved Lounge ended up being the key attraction.

Clemens Hackl is confident AACDD will create a fertile landscape for Black British artists and designers to be increasingly more visible, not just in London, but throughout Africa, the Caribbean and the United States. Phillips and Hackl both hope to showcase a few designers at the ICFF in May 2012.


Michele Y. Washington is a design critic, writer and design educator. She maintains a design consultancy, officeofmichelewashington, that focuses on branding strategy, design and cross-cultural research. She is also co-chair and moderator for the GLIDE’12 symposium, which functions as virtual hub for global design research. Washington recently received an MFA in Design Criticism at the School of Visual Arts and she previously received a Master’s Degree in Communication Design from the Pratt Institute. Her essays have appeared in D-Crit Chapbook, Print Magazine and she writes a design column for the International Review of African American Art. More of her writing can be found on her blog, Cultural Boundaries.