Making Africa @ CCCB Barcelona

Running until late August, the Centre of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona (Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona – CCCB) hosts Making Africa, one of the most extensive collections of Contemporary African design ever, in an impeccably curated exhibition.

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A diverse range of creative fields are on offer including object and furniture design, graphic arts, illustration, fashion, architecture, urban planning, art, craft, film and photography (both digital and analogue formats).

The exhibition showcases the work of over 120 African artists and creators and illustrates how design fuels economic and political changes. Making Africa speaks, from Africa, of a new continent “under construction” and places emphasis on its possibilities over its problems.

Consulting Curator of Making Africa Okwui Enwezor opens the exhibition with a wonderful statement on the exhibition statement on the CCCB website saying:

“Thinking about the future means thinking about our possibilities in the world. The future belongs to Africa, because it seems to have happened everywhere else already.”

Even before setting foot in the exhibition space I thought this view on the future of Africa was incredibly profound.

I really like the idea and optimism that Africa’s turn to take its deserved share of possibilities in the world is just around the corner. Other continents have already experienced their political, social and economic futures, so it only makes sense that Africa is next in line. There’s a simplistic beauty to this. A statement that no doubt gives hope to many and for others confirms what is already becoming a reality.


The contemporary works in the exhibition forge a link with the middle of the 20th century when a young generation of Africans celebrated liberation from colonialism and took their place in the world. Other more recent works sit beside them offering a chance to understand what’s changed in the intervening years and how it has fed into the creative processes and outputs of an entire continent.

The exhibition flows through 4 distinct areas weaving a story of African design under each of the themes.

Prologue looks to give examples of how contemporary graphic designers are representing Africa in a new and completely different way, challenging what we think we know about the continent. I and We delves into how Africans express themselves in the modern age and how younger generations have represented themselves in various unique subcultures. Space and Object is devoted to people and the places they live, and finally Origin and Future looks at Africa and the bright future it holds in its hands.


Walking into the first room of this exhibition Cyrus Kabiru’s series C-Stunners (2012) greets you, an interesting and thoughtful piece setting the tone for Making Africa, a sort of mish mash of art, performance, fashion and design.  An internationally acclaimed body of work, the Kenyan self-taught artist creates intricate sculptures from second hand, discarded materials.


These eyewear sculptures focus on transformation as a key theme. On a physical level, the ingenuity and creativity involved in transforming mundane items into something so attractive is transformationally impressive. On a more abstract level the eyewear represents focus, and narrowing of vision through lenses. However, this focussed and more narrow vision is not always positive, and in the case of Africa stereotypes and stigma persist, and are far less easy to put aside than a pair of glasses.

Moving between the artwork, lining the walls and dominating the middle of the expansive space, Studio R!ot’s work, in collaboration with Nosarieme Garrick, founder and creator of the documentary series My Africa Is… drew my attention.


The bold, colourful and simplistic but multi-faceted poster design depicts an African woman with her hair worn up into the shape of a black fist – a symbol of solidarity especially within African communities. The colour and design elements, particularly the blue pattern, pays homage to the African continent. It’s such a powerful poster design. I’m a big fan of colourful and minimal design like this, and luckily there was more to follow in this exhibition.

I and We

Sat in a glass case displaying graphic design and fashion were Karo Akpokiere’s Tokeria slip ons designed for BucketFeet. They, much like Garrick’s poster design, combine distinct African patterns and striking geometric shapes that really caught my eye, combined with aesthetics of Japanese woodcuts.   


Akpokiere has a keen interest in understanding how his drawings can be applied to other materials, such as clothing, to make them more accessible and visible. This chimes well with the purpose of BucketFeet who aim to make “wearable art”. The internet has become an essential part of how he connects with new audiences worldwide, but also in collaborating, sharing ideas and engaging people far beyond his immediate physical surroundings.

There’s an undoubted trend in the design work from Making Africa that I enjoyed the most, bold statements, bright colours and simplicity appeal to me a lot. Kabelo Ramasobane’s work Gaborone Couple struck a chord with me, the illustrator and designer having put this personal artwork together for a friend’s wedding.


Both characters are depicted with natural hair, a trend that is returning tracing its roots to the African Renaissance Movement. Coupled with the retro design and block printing/relief printing aesthetic, the outcome is two portraits that depict a confident and middle class urban couple in modern Botswana – a positive and encouraging image of modern Africa perhaps often overlooked.  

Space and Object

This penultimate room in the Making Africa exhibition held the pieces of most interest to me. Partick Waterhouse and Mikhael Subotzky’s documentation of the life of Johannesburg’s Ponte City skyscraper is a tumultuous tale. The 54 storey building was once one of South Africa’s most fashionable buildings turned dangerous and decaying, but now on the rise again with increasing investment.


Viglism, otherwise known as Olalekan Jeyifous, displays his work Cardboard Cityscapes, digitally rendered images that question and examine the urban planning of large cities, the societal consequences and architectural tradition. According to the artist ultimately these “suggest the changing contours of urban settlements and an idea of a degenerate futurism.”


These fascinating images echo the typologies of the worlds biggest cities, such as Lagos, the capital city of Nigeria with roughly 20,000 people inhabiting every square mile making the total population of 8 million. The image uses cardboard to represent areas of the futuristic city plan, a nod to the inventiveness, ingenuity and creativity to many on the lower rungs of society living in the world’s megacities today. This is a lifestyle not settled upon by choice, but by necessity.

Finally in this section the portraits of Vincent Michea untilted (black with spot) and untitled (orange with chairs) with collage and strong graphic elements featuring to distort, conceal and enhance the characteristics of the subjects within, were fantastically minimalistic yet powerful. Created from things he finds in his native Dakar, these portraits change the seemingly unremarkable subjects into something quite different.

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For example, (black with spot) combines a piece of common local Dakarian architecture and semi profile to create a portrait where the subject appears to be Nefertiti-esque, transforming her into a “Grande Dame d’Afrique”.

Origin and Future

My own obvious interest in street art meant Haroon Gunn-Salie’s intervention video documenting his street art project in 2013 was a crucial piece of this exhibition. The short video of his intervention forces an interesting dialogue about the past and future of the central Cape Town district of Zonnebloem. Performed using vinyl stickers, the street signs of Cape Town were altered to read “District Six” in place of “Zonnebloem”.

District Six was a neighbourhood of the city that until 1968 was the only place where a closely knit, multi-cultural and multi-racial community existed peacefully. In 1968 it was declared to be a “whites only” community, creating one of the most iconic sights of forced removal during apartheid. The area was renamed as Zonnenbloem, or Sunflower, which it is still called to this day.

Gunn-Salie’s intervention brings to the forefront the concept of District Six as a place and idea and the contemporary politics that now surround the site. It’s an area precious not only in real estate but historically. Interestingly, months after the intervention was staged, authorities had yet to remove the stickers and restore the Zonnenbloem name…


UKB Guest Mix #39 – Laurence Nolan [UKB039]

Local DJ, producer and promoter Laurence Nolan is in the mix for an hour of house and minimal selections on the latest UKB podcast.

Weaved together on two Technics 1210s and a Xone:92, this all-vinyl mix showcases Laurence’s taste in music, his love of digging deep for forgotten records and his evident talent for building varied and well balanced sets.

Since 2009 Laurence has been playing throughout his hometown of Edinburgh, with gigs elsewhere in the UK and Europe now commonplace. He’s a familiar face on the Scottish clubbing scene and has spent plenty time on booth sides of the DJ booth at the vaults of Cabaret Voltaire and the famous booth at Glasgow’s Sub Club.

This wealth of dance floor and behind-the-decks experience has helped him develop his own Edinburgh centred party Etiket, which has brought talented artists like Hunee, Christopher Rau, Brawther and Jane Fitz to intimate venues.

The key ingredient of the Etiket headliner selection being quality above all else.


Paola Delfin – Raices (Roots) @ Montana Gallery Barcelona

Barcelona is a cultural hub of Western Europe. A city renowned for creativity in every form; architecture, cuisine, art, design and music. So with a city of such artistic distinction, it’s hardly surprising that it is also home to one of the most respected names in hardware –  Montana Colours – and its associated gallery space by the Arc de Triomf near Parc de la Ciutadella.


Within graffiti, street, urban and mural art communities the paint offered by Montana colours is synonymous with the scene. With such associations comes great respect and admiration from members of that community, and a certain level of gravitas from exhibiting within the four walls of its gallery. That is to say that an artist selected to hang work within the gallery is one of undoubted talent, with output high in quality and individuality.

During my visit, Mexican artist Paola Delfin’s work occupied the gallery with roughly 10 -15 pieces hung in the diminutive but well utilised space, flooded with natural light from floor to ceiling glass doors at the street end.


Delfin’s art is defined by her exploration of organic forms, the beauty of these and feminine sensibility brought together in dreamlike compositions. These are evident in her paintings and illustrations, especially in this exhibition through her ink and acrylic paint on paper and canvas. Raices or Roots also included an in-situ piece from Delfin adorning the crisp white wall by the gallery entrance. A pity that the beer fridge blocked the view slightly, but you can appreciate the scale and connection that this larger piece makes with the theme from the photograph below. However, despite it’s impressive dimensions and workmanship, the other smaller pieces in the exhibition had more impact for me personally.


Speaking about her art, Delfin says, “my passion is to create, be available to tell a story with my hands and make it visible to everyone though images that involve you [the viewer] in that story. That feeling is what makes me love being an artist.”

On the title of the exhibition Roots she goes onto elaborate a little more explaining that “there are taproots that travel through lakes, valleys, meadows, mountains, forests, clouds, and tides, and there are other branched and tuberous roots that accumulate and store substances, regardless of their type or size. All of them always go beyond the confines of freedom and adhere to the depths of their spirit.”

We begin to understand fully her fascination with this concept and how detailed her exploration of roots is as she pulls us into her world telling us her story through her art. 





The beauty of organic forms, the trees and branches of trees wrap around the female subjects. In many cases her female subjects and the natural elements of the painting are seen as one, or become impossibly intertwined.

Highly impressive was the diptych ink drawing on display, titled Sembrando 1 & 2, or Ssowing. The title Sowing perhaps referring to the growth of the people from the ground that supports and develops them, with a child appearing in the background as the fruit of seeds having previously been sown.

This intricate composition, one of a series of delicate ink drawings, was very powerful. Her subjects sit submerged in a surrealist forest-like setting, a recurring scene, and form part of the flowers, shrubs and trees that surround them. The contours of the body are comprised of lines of ink that suggest the skin to be closer to the texture of bark than skin – making the strong link between human life and the roots that guide, support and feed us.


On the right hand side, a heart is suspended in mid air, both feeding and being fed by branches, reinforcing her idea that our roots and connection to the earth are of vital importance. A source of food, water, work, memories, but ultimately life itself. An interconnected system of strong foundations that keep us grounded and healthy as we develop and grow. 

The painted works, acrylic on canvas, titled Seeds 1, Seeds 2 and Roots keep strong on this connection between human life and the earth. This idea of our link to the earth being crucial brings up another possible connotation. At a time when political unrest in the region of Catalonia is so well publicised and almost tangible in Barcelona life, how much do our roots both geographical and familial,  influence our political beliefs. Perhaps not an intentional commentary by the artist on this occasion, but given the location of this exhibition, an interesting question to ponder. As I considered this question, Podemos (left wing Spanish political party, akin to Syriza in Greece) gathered and whipped a large crowd into a frenzy of chants not 100m away, quite aptly timed.  

The final piece worthy of note within the exhibition was titled debajo de la tierra, or underground. Noticeably different from the rest of the exhibition in that it introduced a brighter colour palette and thicker, chunky brushstroke. This gave the subjects defined blocky contours, and protruding bone structures, to an extent that they are almost uncomfortable to look at, perhaps looking malnourished or unwell in appearance. They reminded me of a less bulbous version of some of Peter Howson’s portraiture work.



The ground is a deep red, and the sky and foggy backdrop a misty blue. The choice of these colours I believe to be no mistake. Perhaps the deep red has been carefully selected to represent oxygenated blood within the body, the blue of the sky and mist representing the de-oxygenated blood allowing for a slightly different perspective on roots, acting as veins transporting vital blood. Oxygenated blood of course being pumped by the heart, or ground in this instance, to the trees, or humans, to ensure survival.

The exhibition as a whole is tightly themed, each piece with a clear link back to the main thrust, but exploring a different aspect of the metaphor at each turn in a number of different ways. Her intricate illustrations hark back to her early career in illustration, while her acrylic paintings allow her to explore the different ways of exploring her subject often with a surrealist twist, offering a slightly uncomfortable alternative view of the world in her mind’s eye. Despite being more inclined to seek out exhibitions with intricate illustrations like Paola’s, I think I actually enjoyed her paintings more, testament to their power and impact.

The idea of roots is an interesting one, with many different strands coming to mind. From our spiritual home, to sustenance offered by the ground, and our belief systems and to our ability to move freely, as a UK citizen this is particularly poignant.

Although the artist may not necessarily have intended for some of these, the timing and geographical location of this exhibition makes it all the more interesting and thought provoking.


Kulturcast episode 3 – Morvern Cunningham, LeithLate

Now I’ve had a bit of time off I’ve managed to get Kulturcast podcast episode number three recorded which features a conversation with Morvern Cunningham.

Morvern runs Edinburgh-based art festival LeithLate and we caught up at the Out of the Blue Drill Hall in Leith to chat about the organisation LeithLate and the festival of the same name.

The festival runs between the 23rd and 26th of June 2016, over 4 consecutive days making it the biggest LeithLate yet, but more on that in the podcast.

We spoke about how LeithLate came to be, what is on this year’s agenda and what’s to come in future, including a really interesting early doors partnership of LeithLate and Deptford X festivals.

Morvern was very busy so I really appreciate her taking and hour or so to chat to me about what she and LeithLate are doing. It was a really interesting conversation, and I hope you’ll find it just as enlightening!

Check out some of the previous public artworks organised by Leith Late and Morvern below.

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So, on we go with Kulturcast episode 3 with Morvern Cunningham.


UKB Guest Mix #38 – Kov Rah [UKB038]

An hour of slick micro house from Kov Rah, Paris based DJ and producer.

After striking up conversation over one of the older UKB Guest Mixes we decided to sort out his own guest appearance – this hour long techno-y microhouse mix.

Like many who enter into production, his musical background and motivation doesn’t trace its origins to a specific instrument(s), but to a place.

The place, not Paris, but London.

It was nights out at the much missed Cable and Fabric as well as 2 or 3 raves during his time there that triggered a huge desire to, as he puts it, “press a few buttons”.

Press a few buttons he now does, and with some considerable talent too.

Kov Rah swiftly followed up his London time with stints in two of my favourite European cities, Berlin and Marseille.

These days he finds himself back in Paris, a city that has definite pedigree in terms of dance music, but lacks the “culture” of those other places, in his mind.

“Historically, Paris does not have a big culture of clubbing. But it’s undeniable that there have been plenty of initiatives in the recent years.”

“A lot of clubs regularly have big names and summer is full of pretty cool places like Ferme du Bonheur, Cracki and Pavillon du Dr Pierre. But for now it’s still just a trend and has yet to become a real culture, and not a business.”

Cue this one up and let Kov Rah guide you through an hour of his selections for UKB038.


Dazzle Ship – Edinburgh Art Festival 2016

I suppose one of the appeals of ‘urban art’ is that it can crop up anywhere, really. By far the most unique example I’ve come across (in more ways than one) has to be Ciara Philips’ “dazzle ship” as part of this year’s Edinburgh Art Festival.

As astonishing as the design is, the story behind the ship is just as amazing.


The MV Fingal, now docked at the Prince of Wales dock in the historic port of Leith, sticks out with its striking design and bold lines and colours. Amazing then, that this type of design was used in the first and second world wars as a form of camouflage.

The design from Glasgow-based Turner Prize nominee Philips was inspired by the team of women who worked under British marine artist Norman Wilkinson, inventor of the “dazzle” technique.

It’s a little known fact that most of these designs were devised by women, and included in this piece is a message in Morse code embedded within the pattern in retro reflective paint reading “Every Woman a Signal Tower”.



Characterised by brilliant, glaring geometric patterns these designs were widely used in both world wars.

Instead of aiming to make the ship invisible to the enemy, it set out to confuse their attempts to sink it by making it difficult to accurately gauge the distance, direction and speed of travel.

A brilliantly outlandish stroke of genius. I wonder what happened during the meeting where that idea was brought up…



Ciara’s ship design won’t be blending in down Leith way.

Instead it stands bright against the bland port surroundings, and is a welcome addition to the area, having briefly departed to Queensferry for the Battle of Jutland commemorations this weekend.

A really spectacular sight to see in person.







Check it out now, and read more about the project on the 14-18 NOW website which includes a number of other designs across the UK.