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David Adjaye Selects: Works from the Permanent Collection

Start Date 19 June 2015
End Date 14 February 2015
Venue Cooper Hewitt Museum, Smithsonian Design Museum
Location New York, USA
Curator David Adjaye

Geography, African culture, Textile, Identity, Design, Construction, Colour, Decoration, Site, Heritage 

 When invited to explore Cooper Hewitt’s collection, I was immediately drawn to its African textiles. My design process is strongly connected to the way I respond to a physical environment—topography, climate, vegetation—as well as to the human, historical, and cultural aspects of a place. Textiles, which are a vital element of the visual language of West Africa, embody this interplay between geography and culture, and are rich sources of inspiration for my design work. The nature of the available local materials, such as plant fibers and dyes, defines the textiles’ construction. Yet the creators of these textiles have combined these materials with varied techniques to express a diversity of visual, conceptual, and spiritual ideas. Materials and ideas imported from abroad or through trade within Africa are also reused and reinterpreted, revealing an evolving story of creation, adaptation, and change.

Like architecture, textiles protect, enclose, and communicate the identity of their users. Through color and scale, organization and repetition, their patterns exert power over how we perceive space. In my design for this exhibition, I chose to call attention to the abstract and architectonic qualities of the textiles. I hope to offer new ways of thinking about space, in which seemingly disparate historical legacies can be unified and recombined to create a dynamic, globally relevant whole, one that acknowledges the contributions of African vernacular culture to a broader, more inclusive definition of modernity.