The relationship between art and architecture remains strong. For me, they are the same. Moreover, the value and credit of creative professionals, particularly from the African diaspora is often underplayed, undervalued and misrepresented. The term ‘Western Architecture’ conjures up images ranging from Greek Temples to Post Modern high rises for many. However, African architecture tends to be viewed through a very narrow prism; a stereotypical hut is usually what comes to mind. Moreover, African architecture is rarely observed with reference to antiquity or to exemplary contemporary architecture. Unfortunately some African architecture is seen by some as predominantly non-African influenced and executed by external cultures . For example, Ancient Egyptian architecture despite history and this region’s origins as part of a larger Ethiopian nation of pyramid builders comes to mind. It’s fascinating to see the surprise look on some people’s faces on being informed of other pyramids in Africa. We can explore and debate the way in which history is written as we know there can be bias in its recording. Moving forward, it is very important for me to highlight the efforts of Architect Livingstone Mukasa, currently documenting innovative, functional and sustainable designs emerging across the African continent. Livingstone kindly answered a few questions I posed to him regarding the Afritecture initiative:
Why did you start Afritecture.org ?
Afritecture as an idea is quite old. I have always been toying around with the concept of showcasing examples of successful architectural projects that had a strong African vernacular. The website itself was launched in 2009. The term Afritecture, implying Africa in architecture – rather than African architecture, came to mind almost immediately when I decided a web resource would be the best way to house these projects.
How long have you been collating resources of design and master planning projects from the continent?
The cataloging began while an undergraduate in architecture school. I was thinking of ways to impart on my projects certain stylistic elements from my background. I found much of the celebrated work we had to study bland and not representative of the world from which I came from, or the ways many people I knew lived and built their environments. This was 20 years ago and I am still at it.
Africa’s social, political and economic development continues to have a rather distorted image in the media. How far do you feel you can support a more positive and progressive picture of what Africa is really like?
Architecture is the most visible art form. Everywhere you go, you experience it. And over the centuries Africa has contributed immensely to the architectural world, even as recently as the modernist era. It is this recent influence that remains largely unknown, or under reported.
From the late 1800s, thousands of African sculptures began arriving in European museums in the aftermath of exploratory expeditions and colonial plunder. The aesthetics of these traditional sculptures soon became a powerful and well-documented influence among avant-garde artists like Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. At the time, these artists didn’t understand the meaning and functional nature of these sculptures, but they instantly recognised the spiritual aspect of the composition and quickly adapted these qualities to their own efforts to move beyond the naturalism that had defined Western art since the Renaissance. So art that was previously labeled and regarded as primitive anchored the modern art movement.
This influence soon transcended into architecture. Trailblazing European architects like Le Corbusier, one of the founders of modern architecture, and De Stijl pioneer Theo Van Doesburg used well-organised geometric and cubical forms from African art and West African spacial organisation in much of their notable works giving rise to the International Style – then considered unconventional, unprecedented and innovative.
Yes, [western] media has its preferences when it comes to reporting not only on the continent but also on communities of African descent wherever they may be. But anyone curious about something knows not to seek information from a single source. So it is incumbent on all of us with stories to tell to develop and maintain multiple sources of information that can, collectively, change the prevailing narrative.
For further information please visit Afritecture.org
This week I had the pleasure of visiting friends in Denmark to explore contributing to a very worthwhile project this autumn. Fingers crossed, there will be more to reveal shortly.
In the meantime, it was great to catch up with a number of exhibitions and events in Copenhagen including ‘Rebuild by Design.’
When Hurricane Sandy landed on the American East Coast it left behind chaos and destruction. ‘Rebuild by Design’ was a competition created to find solutions to repairing the damages and making the coastline more resilient to future storms. The exhibition presents a series of 10 solutions. Among the winning projects were OMA and Danish firm BIG who both provided innovative solutions to making the coast a safer place to live.
I was impressed with the many case studies included in the show such as New Meadowlands and Hoboken in New Jersey. I was most impressed with Hunts Point Lifelines, a collaborative project involving Penn Design, Barretto Bay Strategies, Buro Happold and McLaren Engineering amongst others. Hunts Point Lifelines sees jobs and the City’s food supply as critical resilience infrastructure, and communities as powerful integrators of economic, social and ecological potential to strengthen the whole, rather than the water’s edge alone.
The exhibition is supported by Realdania and is developed by Rebuild by Design in cooperation with The Danish Architecture Centre. The show runs until 9th April 2015 but for further info please visit the Danish Architecture Centre website.
The year has started well with a number of opportunities to collaborate on very worthwhile community art projects. I’ve also been once again inspired by a number of artists featured in galleries and exhibitions. This included the recent Artrooms event at London’s Melià White House Hotel. One of the artist groups to feature in the show was The Cult House, a newly formed collective based in London and pioneered by Brazilian born JA Neto. I’ve been closely observing the Cult House’s activities over the last year, struck a rapport with a number of its artists and look forward to seeing its rise during 2015.
Why did you start the Cult House?
I tried to get out of the business world for while but, since living in London, I’ve recognised the massive interest and potential of public art events. Pretty much everything happens here. I found myself as part of an audience and not playing a decisive role in any of the art fairs and events platforms. I decided to create one that suits myself and serves all kinds of audiences- one that exists without the need to be part of an existing art collective and one that is fully accessible to the public as a whole. That is what The Cult House is progressively creating.
How do you distinguish yourself from other organisations and initiatives promoting art and artists?
We do not pick the artists based on what we can take from them or their style or art fields. The community is designed to help celebrate and spread art to a wider audience. We want artists willing to join our group to grow with us. Our criteria is very simple – if you are serious with what you are doing and working hard towards that, you can join us. We will help as much as we can, particularly if it is beneficial to promote what you’re doing for the whole community.
Progressively we are organising and partnering with different groups to create a variety of events from popup shows and exhibitions to music events and art fairs. You can check some of them on our website past events tab, where our artists are encouraged to participate and at the same time to build their own network. This is proving to be a fantastic formula. Immediately after our events we can see on our social media channels the interaction between the artists and the results of what they learn from each other. It’s very rewarding and gives us a solid base to keep going and develop more and better events.
Much has been said of the modern art and the industry. What’s your overall opinion on the industry, particularly in the UK?
This is a never-ending subject but in my opinion there are places for everybody in the industry! The goal is always to put the art out there, making it accessible to audiences and to give the opportunity for artists to be able to create more and more art! It doesn’t really matter where or if it is for a selected group because in this society people will always find their special place!
The UK art scene is centralised in London and a few other cities like many countries. The good thing here is everyday you’ll find new groups/activities/artists/events trying to get their ‘place in the sun’, making it possible for artists to survive and improve their work. The UK government has many ways to help and support good initiatives but it is not easy! If you have a dream and work hard towards that, in the UK there are more opportunities than in many other countries to succeed!
What are your plans over the next 5 years?
That’s a lot to answer but I will try to make it simple. We will soon celebrate our first year with so many success stories during this period; two pop up shows, our participation at ArtRooms,130 artists from 12 different countries, music events and our first collective exhibition coming out soon to close this first year! Watch this space!
All those achievements have come without people asking what exactly are we doing; They’re simply trusting and willing to be part of a new movement. Now we are moving to a second stage of our project with the ultimate goal of making The Cult House a strong enough platform to make the difference in many artists life’s, careers and communities.
In the mean time we will keep building our community, promoting art and artists, creating a range of pop up shows and collective exhibitions taken nationwide.
For further information please visit The Cult House website.