2016 African Art and Design Destinations

When it comes to African art and design, there are so many interesting exhibitions, taking place across the world, in 2016. We are absolutely carried away by the excitement! Every week, we share details of these events on our Facebook page so, be sure to join us there, if you haven’t already.

We are looking forward to spending more time on the African continent this year and here are a few African art and design destinations on our list.


Modernist architecture
Asmara, Eritrea

Architecture lovers will enjoy a visit to Asmara!

The art deco buildings are relics of the Italian influence from the region’s colonial past. Asmara was a blank canvas for the Italians to imagine the ideal Modernist city and this project was so successful that the city is on the Tentative List to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. According to UNESCO, it “represents perhaps the most concentrated and intact assemblage of Modernist architecture anywhere in the world”.

Here however, is a tension between Africa and the outside, that we often confront in our work. Mussolini’s modernist project did not pay any mind to the indigenous culture and design sensibilities, and the city itself was segregated, with much being inaccessible to its native inhabitants. It is interesting, and important, to also explore the historical context of these architectural achievements.

Get a taste ahead of your trip, with the photographs here.

Asmara Cinema Impero Sailko

Photo by Sailko


Design Indaba
Cape Town, South Africa
February 17th – 19th

The renowned annual design festival takes on a new format this year. Aside from the main event in Cape Town, there will be live simulcasts to 5 cities, as well as travelling exhibitions and an Emerging Creatives programme.

From the event site:

“Design Indaba presents a highly curated selection of the world’s most innovative thinkers across the creative sectors. Experience design stalwarts, exciting new creative renegades and designers transforming the world through creativity.

Independently curated with a focus on case studies and ingenious problem solving, rather than simply eye-catching portfolios, conference alumni are contemporary industry pacesetters. Despite its name, the Conference’s scope has broadened over the years to include all the creative sectors; in recent years it has been dubbed by some as The Conference on Creativity.”

Design Indaba Festival 2016


Dakar, Senegal
May 3rd – June 2nd

Dak’Art is the Biennale of Contemporary African Art – exclusively dedicated to showcasing the work of African artists, living on and off the continent. Very much in line with our Toghal ethos, Dak’Art is a platform for contemporary art with cultural roots in Africa.

Initially, the event alternated between featuring literature and art but, from 1996, the exhibition has been specifically devoted to contemporary African art.

From their site:

The Biennale of Contemporary African Art aims at being a space of different prejudice-free visions on approaches and inspirations to analyse in relation to a plurality of influences from both immediate and farther sources.

The environment itself is today characterised by its relative spatial limitations in spite of the strong influence of the immediate social environment. Dak’Art provides an occasion to fight the propensity to be prejudiced about contemporary art as expressed by some African creators by giving the floor to a different category of experts working at other levels of the visual arts world that refuse to confine themselves within some certainties and are concerned about a certain ethic.”

DakArt Dakar Senegal Contemporary African Art TaxiZinkpè

Photo: Taxi Taf-Taf by Dominique Zinkpè, Bénin presented at the Dak’Art 2002


Great Mosque of Djenné
Djenné, Mali

Considered to be one of the greatest examples of Sudano-Sahelian architecture, the Great Mosque of Djenné sits in the city of Djenné, on the flood plain of the Bani River. The current structure dates from 1907 (although the first mosque on the site dates back to the 13th century) and is the centre of the city’s community. One of the most famous landmarks on the continent and the largest mud-built structure in the world, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.

Sudano-Sahelian architecture covers indigenous architectural styles common to the people of the Sahel and Sudanian grassland regions of West Africa, south of the Sahara but, north of the fertile forest regions of the coast. Common features are mud bricks, adobe plaster and wooden-log support beams that jut out from the walls.

Great Mosque of Djenne Mali Architecture Africa Ruud Zwart

Photo by Ruud Zwart


Architecture, Art and Film
Maputo, Mozambique

Maputo too was the site of great interest from foreign architects who had grand designs for the city. However, unlike with Asmara, in the 1960s and 1970s, some of these architects fused the modernist ideas of the time with local art sensibilities, giving the buildings a uniquely Mozambican flavour.

Worth a visit is the Associação Núcleo de Arte – a major arts and culture centre in the city and the oldest collective of artists in Mozambique. Influential contemporary artists such as painter Malangatana Ngwenya and sculptor Alberto Chissano began their career there. The Núcleo became well known for their project transforming arms into tools and objects of art which, played an important role for reconciliation after the country’s Civil War (watch a short film about it below). Some of these pieces have since been shown around the world, including at the British Museum.

Maputo is also home to the Dockanema Documentary Film Festival, showcasing films from around the world.


Herero dress

The dress of the Herero tribe of Namibia is another product of a colonial past. The majority of Herero people live in Namibia and a few are found in Botswana and Angola.

European missionaries introduced Victorian dress which, the Herero people gradually adapted, for example, creating headdresses that resembled cow horns. In 1904, during the war with the German colonisers, the Herero collected and appropriated the military uniform of dead German soldiers – wearing them as trophies and to honour warrior ancestors. The result – these external fashion influences, adopted and transformed – are an act of subversion and an assertion of the tribe’s identity.

Herero Woman Namibia Jim Naughten

Photo by Jim Naughten

Do you have any other recommendations?
We’d love to hear about them in the comments.

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