A curated collection of intricately handcrafted basketware, jewellery, handbags, photography, ceramics, furniture and other glorious examples of contemporary African design will be showcased and for sale in Plettenberg Bay this summer. The Discoveries from Africa exhibition is the brainchild of Design Afrika’s founder Binky Newman, whose passion for exquisite baskets has taken her to many remote parts of the continent; and Suzie Ovenstone, owner of The Old House Shop in Plettenberg Bay, known for its beautiful homeware, accessories and clothing.
cover image: Victoria Bopheka and Victoria Ralasi of Dunoon Urban Weavers in the Western Cape. (Photo credit Kathrin Schafbauer)
The exhibition will showcase high-quality handcrafted items from Ghana, Rwanda, DRC, Tanzania, Mali, Ethiopia, Malawi, Burkina Faso and South Africa. It will take place at The White House in the centre of Plettenberg Bay, a beautiful venue owned by Suzie and often hired out for weddings and banquets. The White House is the second oldest property in Plettenberg Bay (after The Old House Shop on erf one) and was originally a dairy.
“We are planning an experience of the senses – sights, sounds and flavours of Africa,” says Suzie. “Having been in retail for the past 30 years I am constantly looking for new inspiration. My travels through Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands have brought just that to the mix.”
Says Binky: “We began discussing the wonders of Africa and how we would love to promote and expose the beauties of the continent. We realised I have the network to source products and Suzie has the stage. When I saw The White House, initially I thought it was huge, but later realised we would fill it in no time at all.”
She said both appreciate the architecture and artisanal skills found on the Kenyan island of Lamu, known for its coral stone buildings, dhows and mangrove timber. “The island’s bohemian, evocative atmosphere will be a strong inspiration for our show.”
The exhibition will include videos of projects and a collection of reference books: “There will be an educational element as we would like to inform visitors about the various cultures and their craft and design techniques.”
Binky will launch a jewellery collection that combines finely woven pieces made by a Rwandan master weaver, Pelagie Nyirahabineza, further embellished by a South African jeweller. She will also show a collection of beautiful Tanzanian Maasai jewellery, made entirely from white beads, from Sidai Designs in Arusha, Tanzania.
Kate Carlyle, who founded Mustardseed & Moonshine with its botanical-inspired ceramics, will launch a collection of brightly coloured bead necklaces as well as embroidered cushions. She is also collaborating with Binky on heavily adorned and embellished shopping baskets and handbags.
Nyanzabijou, a Rwandan jewellery brand, will supply handwoven vegetable fibre jewellery mixed with silver.
Binky is currently collaborating with the National Museum of Rwanda in the university town of Butare/Huye where master weavers pass on weaving techniques. They are creating a large collection of baskets in a project managed by museum guide Virgile Shirirungu.
Binky has also been working with WomenCraft, a social enterprise in Tanzania creating distinctive fair trade home décor. She has collaborated with women from Burundi, in Tanzanian refugee camps, to support the design of new products. “We will unveil the fruits of this collaboration at the exhibition.”
The Painted Dog Conservation organisation in Hwange, Zimbabwe, will supply goods from their income-generating basket-making project. “We’ve also just received our first shipment of baskets from People of the Sun in Malawi and will be showing those as well. Baba Tree of Ghana, with their very brightly coloured baskets and unusual organic shapes, will feature prominently too.”
Accessories and homeware
Akosua Afriyie-Kumi, a Ghanaian designer and entrepreneur who studied fashion design in London, will supply handcrafted, ethically-produced woven handbags. Akosua employs local raffia weavers and uses traditional African techniques to craft colourful creations under her AAKS brand.
Willard Musarurwa, founder of Feeling African in Cape Town, will contribute his well-known wire chairs, plus new furniture following a collaboration with Binky and Dunoon Urban Weavers. This project was established in the Western Cape to encourage traditional Xhosa weaving in an urban area. Willard has supplied the likes of Google South Africa and Weylandts, while exporting to the USA and Australia.
Furniture maker Richard Henley has spent most of his 40-year career in the Knysna area making furniture from indigenous woods, combining traditional joinery techniques with contemporary design. A cabinetmaker by trade, he studied for the City and Guilds of London advanced course in fine craftsmanship and design at Rycotewood College in England.
Le Ndomo, a studio and conservatory for natural dyeing techniques in
Ségou, Mali, will supply various African fabrics, such as contemporary mud cloth. There will also be chairs from Ethiopia and the DRC, and Ethiopian crosses.
Concern for conservation
Binky and Suzie plan to donate a portion of the exhibition turnover to The Tikki Hywood Foundation. Founded in 1994 by Lisa Hywood, The Tikki Hywood Foundation is a non-profit, rescue, rehabilitation and release organisation. It strives to bring recognition, awareness and sustainable conservation action to lesser-known endangered species, such as the highly endangered pangolin.
’We are both passionate about pangolins, which are the most trafficked mammal in the world,” says Binky. “The Foundation has committed minders who are each assigned one pangolin, and spend their days rehabilitating and walking the majestic mammals.”
Namibian-born, Amsterdam-based photographer Kyle Weeks, a winner in the Fine Art category of the 2016 Magnum Photography Awards, will also display his work. “His sleek, burnished images deal with the portrayal of masculinity and the African body in our globalised world – with a style that crosses documentary, art and fashion genres,” said Vogue Italia photo editor Chiara Bardelli Nonino, who nominated Kyle for the British Journal of Photography 2019 Ones to Watch.
Johannesburg-based photographer Nonzuzo Gxekwa is known for her spontaneous approach to photography, often snapping street scenes using her cell phone. “I am drawn to the gritty, not-so-beautiful scenes that people overlook sometimes. I love the street style in the CBD,” she says.
Ceramicist Theo Ntuntwana will also participate in the show. Theo has taken part in several exhibitions at the Cape Gallery, as well as the Irma Stern Museum. His work is in the permanent collection of the South African Cultural History Museum in Cape Town.
Well-known South African studio potter, Clementina van der Walt, is also taking part. Over the past four decades, Clementina has held many one-person shows and her work is represented in several South African and international collections.
Ruby Ovenstone will produce porcelain ware, while artist Myfanwy Bekker, whose work is collected by corporate and private collectors in the United States, Europe and South Africa, will create charcoal drawings. Both artists are based in Plettenberg Bay.
“My curiosity for innovative craft and beauty is inspired by what I see on our continent,” says Suzie. “To meet the people behind the products, to understand their backgrounds and bring a story home, in the form of a new item, is what makes my business so personal and heartfelt. The joy I experience when someone, in turn, discovers this very same article and takes it away as their newfound treasure, keeps the wheel of retail turning and catapults me into yet another trip.
“Having the opportunity to now showcase a collaboration of exquisite African finds this summer season is very exciting and the realisation of a long-held dream.”
Dates: Wed 11 Dec – end January, closed Sundays and public holidays.
Times: Opening day 11 Dec 5 pm, then open Mon to Sat 14h00-19h30.
Location: 6 Crescent Street, Plettenberg Bay
Payments: Credit cards and cash.