'Wasp Nest' by Porky Hefer in collaboration with Stephanie Bentum in association with Mohair SA and Segard Masurel

Designer Renee Rossouw reports back on ‘Totemism: Memphis Meets Africa’ exhibition at Design Indaba 2013, curated by Li Edelkoort

Stacking and totemism are ingrained in African Culture. Look at some African woman, and the tradition of wearing long, thin necklaces that ‘stack’ their heads on their bodies, adorned with large hats that pout out to the heavens, on top of which they stack a few food baskets too. It’s quite unbelievable! 

Mali women

Then look at the bizarre stacking of colourful timber pieces that form a bigger harmony in one of Memphis’ most infamous designs, the Carlton bookcase. No wonder Li Edelkoort drew the strong relationship between the Italian design group, Memphis, and African aesthetics and principles. And patterns, of course. Both African culture and Memphis design culture use bold and expressive patterns, functioning as decoration to demonstrate a very strong and secure identity

My entry for the ‘Memphis Meets Africa’ exhibition was a set of ceramics that have interesting pattern relationships with each other, inspiring the user to constantly visually engage with his/her pieces.   

Ceramic design by Renee Rossouw
Ceramic design by Renee Rossouw

The shapes were very modest and recognisable; they had to serve as easily usable pieces which would gain their identity from colour usage and pattern. Having been inspired by some of the clothes I bought in 2012, I chose light pink pastel as my backdrop and primary colour and chose other colours that would complement it.  The patterns were designed post form, and once I had an idea of the colours I wanted to use, they evolved more organically. If you look carefully you will see the small steps and windows….probably fascinations that manifest from my work as an architect and having always been obsessed with Lego, i.e. stacking blocks of different bold colours, since I was a child. Then they can also stack, and so individual very simple patterns start to form a more complex and bizarre composition.

I think all South African designers can design African-Memphis. Our constant exposure to bright colours, patterns and bold forms ingrains it into our visually aroused subconscious; drawing from it seems close to the heart. All in all, it was a heartfelt exhibition.


Textile design by Vheke Kruger

Images courtesy of Marsel Roothman www.marselroothman.co.za

– Guest post by Renee Rossouw, participant in ‘Totemism: Memphis Meets Africa’ exhibition at Design Indaba 2013, curated by Li Edelkoort. The exhibition featured South African artists and designers exclusively. Read more about Totemism in Elle Decoration Issue 88, The Trends Issue, now on shelf.