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Spotlight on Algeria at the Museum of African Design

"D'Zair: Art and Craft A Johannesburg" features Algerian-made works from 13 artists

by David Graver
on 01 February 2016

We've been following the Museum of African Design (MOAD), in Johannesburg, since its inception in 2013. As the first museum on the continent dedicated to contemporary design across Africa, it celebrates the past, present and future of visual understanding developed at home. For their first exhibition of 2016, "D'Zair: Art and Craft A Johannesburg," MOAD has partnered with the Algerian Ministry of Culture. Some 13 Algerian artists display works commissioned by the Ministry, curated by Hellal Zoubir. From product design to textiles and furniture, there are refreshing creations on view that convey the vibrance of Algeria's design scene. As MOAD director Aaron Kohn makes clear, many North African designers seek to break into Europe and America. Bringing their work to South Africa, however, provides not just exposure but also a cross-continental unity.

Perhaps what's most important about all the works on display is the handmade nature behind them. Many of the future-forward designs were constructed by hand, by local artisans. It's a blend of tradition and innovation, that hints toward the lack of machine prototyping in Algeria while reflecting the quality of the human touch. There are also multi-cultural flourishes within, a product of Algeria's history and relationships with Europe and the Middle East.

When MOAD launched, one of its core principles was to explore the question, "What is African?" While visiting the Dak’Art Biennale in 2014, Kohn met Algerian video artist Amina Zoubir. The artist would connect Kohn with her father, the aforementioned Hellal Zoubir, a design curator based in Algiers. The two began planning—with a view in mind to convey works that crossed borders and languages. Hellal Zoubir involved both the Algerian Ministry of Culture and the Agence Algérienne pour le Rayonnement Culturel. The rest is not history, but rather an exhibition of bright colors and curious shapes on view for the next two months.

All of the pieces on display were made in Algiers. The crops of artists, some of whom hail from Ecole Supérieure des Beaux-Arts d'Alger, represent Algerian makers who've drawn global attention. And, as the name hints, there is an element of craft to the works, but artistry is the primary takeaway. Whether it's by way of floor lamps or desk chairs, wall tapestries or web-like shirts, there's a cross-cultural craftsmanship that is true to Algerian design and its influences—while being a welcome tutorial on the north, in the south.

"D'Zair: Art and Craft A Johannesburg" is open now through 3 April 2016, at MOAD, 281 Commissioner St, Johannesburg, South Africa. Admission is free.

Images courtesy of the Museum of African Design, Johannesburg

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