Geography of Design / by aaron kohn

(Included in the catalog for D'ZAIR: ART AND DESIGN A JOHANNESBURG)

Sometimes coincidences seem planned. Like the fact that at dinner one night in Dakar, Senegal, I was introduced to a young Algerian video artist – Amina Zoubir. The cohort of Algerians who were participating in the 2014 Dak’Art Biennale were pretty amusing; a few mentioned that this was their first visit to “Africa”; other artists featured in the Algerian Pavilion really did not practice in Algeria anymore.

Of course, the Algerian situation is no different from the rest of the continent. Perhaps the ties to Paris, the Mediterranean world, and the Middle East are more pronounced in Algeria, but the idea of being multi-continental practitioners of the arts is ever more normal across the creative fields.

At the Museum of African Design, we constantly attempt to convince African designers living in New York and exhibiting in Paris to come for a project in South Africa. Even more difficult is to convince someone in another part of Africa who is actively trying to break into Europe or America, to see Johannesburg as an attractive space for exhibiting, working, or selling. When you introduce franco/alngo/lusophone barriers the connections seem more reluctant and difficult to forge.

When Amina Zoubir mentioned at dinner, that her father is a design curator in Algiers, I didn’t exactly believe her. How could there be design curators in Africa who we haven’t collaborated with? Without meeting in person and in really poorly written French emails to Hellal Zoubir, the vision for a “North” African exhibition in “Sub-Saharan” Africa was developed.

The uncanny collaboration between Algiers and Johannesburg shows (at least, I think), just how easy it can be to make amazing things happen when the right people are involved. We are truly indebted to Hellal for his willingness to propose a monumental exhibit in a museum he had never visited. I hope this is a sign of more “North” / “South” projects within the continent to develop.


-       Aaron Kohn

Executive Director, Museum of African Design