Author: Luisa Nannipieri
At Sharjah Architecture Triennial, African practitioners are going strong. Out of the 29 artists, architects and designers who present their projects, on the theme ‘The Beauty of Impermanence: An Architecture of Adaptability’, curated by Nigerian architect Tosin Oshinowo, 13 come from the continent or its diasporas. The following is a non-exhaustive list of their works, spread through the six venues of the exhibition, spanning from the city to the desert.
Lagos based architects Papa Omotayo (MOE+AA) and Eve Nnaji (ADD_apt) choose a narrow tree-lined space, wedged into an industrial area of Sharjah city-state, to install their tall structure made of 2300 birds houses. Consisting in a scaffold covered in plants which blend into the foliage and surround the core walls made of birds’ nests, this project is both a resting place for migrant workers and a peaceful oasis where migrating birds can stop to recharge. The creative duo was roaming in Sharjah’s industrials neighborhoods to find an idea for the Triennial, when they stumbled upon a group of workers taking care of several caged birds, near this small green back-street alley. This moving view, in an otherwise cold and dehumanized landscape, sparked their imagination and gave them the idea to create a resting place for both peoples and birds. They also found a vegetal waste disposing site nearby and decided to build the nests mixing those scraps with paper. The hand-made process was completed in about one month and can be replicated and implemented everywhere.
The idea behind Ghanaian practice Hive Earth’s project, installed in the courtyard of The Al Qasimiyah School, is to show the versatility and the potential of a simple earth wall. The studio comprises of architects and designers who explore since 2017 the possible use of rammed earth – a mix of earth, gravel, slit, clay, agro-waste and sometimes cement – in architecture. For this Triennial, they started by building with local soil two simple rectangular walls that were then carved to obtain others simple forms. Scattering those forms, they shaped a multipurpose and multidimensional space. A half circle turned into a platform, a small stripe into some steps. Mixing aesthetic and functionality ETA’DAN, meaning mud wall in Fante, redefines the perception of rammed earth.
Known for his community-led, ethnographic conscious design approach, Lagos based creative Nifemi Marcus-Bello, brought to Sharjah a small exhibit showing his research process and a concrete solution he already applied in Lagos. The exhibition displayed some of the innovative anonymously-designed objects that the community of the continent created to generate inventive and contextualized solutions. Like the ‘Meruwa’ cart, made of used bicycle tires and wood, used to transport and sell water around Lagos. The concrete solution takes the modular Waf Kiosk, first designed by his studio, adapting locally made Beninese blinds called “kosinlé”, and translates it in the emirate setting. The pavilion was weaved with the local technique used to craft dome shaped cage fishing nets, called gargour. Every month, the arrangement of the structures will be changed, to reveal modularity in both form and experience.
This breathtaking pavilion takes over one of the larger unfinished properties in the EAU: the Sharjah Mall. It is the first big installation outside the continent for the collaborative spatial design practice Limbo Accra. Founded in 2018 by Dominique Petit-Frère and Emil Grip, the practice aims to raise awareness on the concrete skeletons and unfinished architectures dotting African cities and to unveil their untapped potential. This pavilion, designed with architect Anne-Lise Agossa and Ivorian fashion house Super Yaya, is a reminder that those pockets of void exist and can be ‘activated’ everywhere in the world, even in the extremely wealthy Emirates. The project uses fabric drapes, which evoke the plastic sheets of construction sites, to recall the beauty of impermanence with grace and poetry. Responding to the curator call on carefully considering the afterlife of the material used, the fabric will be later repurposed to make clothes or as furniture inserts.
Visual artist Olalekan Jeyifous gives life to a retro-futuristic vision of Sharjah. Imagining how the city-state could have evolved if the oil boom never happened, he designed an installation occupying the abandoned shops and the interior corridor of the old Al Jubail vegetable market, built in the early 1980s as a long, curved, naturally ventilated arcade. Inside his reimagined world space, set at the end of the ‘80s in an alternative timeline, is the development of the riverbank that shapes the city, where modernist architecture and traditional aesthetics intertwine. The scenography reveals a tapestry of possibilities and suggests a social and cultural development turned toward the East instead of the North. For example, by picturing Sharjah as the host of a prestigious cricket tournament featuring India, Pakistan, and the West Indies. An inventive work that reshapes the narrative of the present, envisioning an alternative history and evolution.
This is not just an installation, but a real-scale tailoring lab, reproducing the one in Kampala where the fashion label BUZIGAHILL operates. Founded by Bobby Kolade, BUZIGAHILL is a clothing brand that works between art, fashion and activism, redesigning second hand clothes and advocating against waste colonialism. Their labor-intensive upcycling process makes a resource out of fast-fashion waste, reselling it in the Global North, were it was originated. For the Triennial, they even sorted out more than 1700 pairs of jeans to make the exclusive tote bags handed over to the international visitors during the inauguration days. Conceived as a performance and a defiant act towards the fast fashion supply chain, RETURN TO SENDER put the spotlight on the consequences of an economic model that is not only hurting the people and the environment, but also the local textile economy of southern countries like Uganda.
Nairobi-based practice Cave_bureau chose the Sharjah’s old slaughterhouse to present the ninth instalment of their Anthropocene Museum. This strand of their research series revolves around the relationship between humans and cattle, that is usually consumed in the city without a thought for the origin of the animals or how they are processed. The immersive exhibition is a journey through different areas of the almost abandoned facility that retraces the path of the animals to the slaughter. Sounds, projections, drawings and installations, such as Adrian Pepe’s impressive work with inflated Awassi sheep’s pelts, will push the visitors to reflect upon the impact of the consumeristic process and how it is deeply embedded in the human consciousness. As curators of this exhibit, Cave_bureau’s co-founders Kabage Karanja and Stella Mutegi hope that the experience will make them reconsider their own consumeristic habits at the end of the tour.
Western idea of progress and civilization doesn’t leave any place to dust. Houses must be immaculate, roads must be paved and well maintained, instead of dirty and muddy. This concept has been especially promoted in Africa by the colonizer’s administrators, living in the formally built and proper cities while natives stayed in the dusty and informal neighborhoods, shaping little by little local mentalities. Interdisciplinary artist Sandra Poulson, who lives between London and Luanda, reflects about the way dust is influencing Angola’s socio-economic landscape, enforcing class division in the urban environment. But, following urbanist Abdoumaliq Simone who states how the dust can be an accidental gift for the city, she uses her narrative to recall how something seemingly unwanted is also an essential part of the local economy, as many activities focus on erasing its traces. Her installation uses cardboard and starch to create ephemeral objects like chairs, dried fish, bread or clothes that seem covered in dust. She reproduced the entrance of Luanda’s Kikolo Market and invites visitors to navigate the non-paved space, moving through soft and hard surfaces and questioning their ability to do it, as well as their mindset.
Images by Danko Stjepanovic. Courtesy of Sharjah Architecture Triennial.
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