Showcasing emerging design talent

September 28, 2021

The work of 20 emerging young designers from around the world is being showcased in a prestigious exhibition at the Design Museum in London during September. A noteworthy piece selected for the exhibition was designed by South African creative, Siyanda Mazibuko.

The show is a collaboration between the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) and Wallpaper magazine. The show, titled ‘Discovered’ offers a series of personal reflections on the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic, while providing a platform for new creatives after a year in which the usual channels for exposure were inaccessible.

To develop their concepts, participants were invited to think freely about their experience of living and working in isolation, responding to themes of touch, reflection and strength, and to channel their own experiences into a piece that represents our functional and emotional connections to everyday objects. The designers considered ideas such as identity and cultural heritage, family and social ritual, the pandemic-induced need to adapt, and the inherent comfort of touch.

This resulted in a highly diverse selection of objects, ranging from functional furniture such as cabinets, tables and chairs to more abstract, sculptural works that inspire reflection. Taken as a whole, Discovered represents how the experience of isolation has inspired each designer’s personal and creative journeys, in what has been an extraordinary time for the individual, the industry and the world as a whole.

Selected from Wallpaper’s annual Graduate Directories and through AHEC’s network, the designers worked alongside design mentors and AHEC’s global manufacturing partners to each develop a new object made from their choice of four sustainable hardwoods: American red oak, cherry and hard and soft maple.

Throughout the project, designers have been supported and mentored by Wallpaper editor-in-chief Sarah Douglas and by AHEC’s European director David Venables, as well as a global group of designers including Tomoko Azumi, Maria Jeglinska-Adamczewska, Nathan Yong and Adam Markowitz.

‘Kumsuka’ (evolve your space) is the title of Siyanda Mazibuko’s piece, made from thermally modified American red oak. The inspiration for the Johannesburg-based designer’s piece included ‘isicholo’, a hairstyle symbolising tribal identity in several African cultures, and ‘indlamu’, a tribal Zulu dance practised in celebratory ceremonies. He paired these visual references with a reflection on themes of engaging, human behaviour, and the role of design in people’s lives.

“Engaging with other people is an intrinsic human trait,” he says, citing this as the reason for his design, a modular, layered seat imagined for public spaces. He took a practical approach, looking into ergonomics and function to create his bench, composed of interlocking strips of thermally modified red oak – timber that has been baked to a high temperature, making it suitable for the outdoors.

Reaching a height of 21m, with a trunk diameter of 1m, red oak is the most abundant species in America’s hardwood forests. Named for the colour of its leaves in the fall, this classic oak wood has a light brown sapwood, and a heartwood characterised by attractive warm reddish-pink tones. Red oak is strong, straight grained, coarse- textured and distinctive. Its porosity makes it a premium wood for bending and staining.

Check out a short video in which Siyanda Mazibuko explains the thinking behind Kumsuka...

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