World-renowned Togolese industrial designer and artist, Kossi Aguessy, chats to us about his personal story and his dreams for the future.
Kossi Aguessy, why did you decide to become a designer?
First of all, unlike I’ve read lately, I am not a self-proclaimed artist. I was an artist before making the decision of settling Design as the core of my creation and production process in 2005. This was simply a decision driven by what I call the “The African Designer Syndrome” back in the days, where either we were inexistent or stuck in a box made of fantasies and clichés between primitive art, pastiches of “traditions” and a sort of bad remake of “Out Of Africa”. We had no names on the design field, out of this “African design” terminology I couldn’t personally refer to. It seemed to me without individuals capable of proposing their own vision of this African design in question, we were meant to be stuck with that condition forever.
Then came the decision of making design my official “business” for a decade. I felt it was the minimum required time for imposing a vision. Yet I’ve never given up on thinking, creating, producing contemporary art. I just happened to keep it private for 10 years.
Coming back to it and succeeding, maintaining the level I am at today is, for the human being I am, a blissful satisfaction, although I do think that the best is still yet to come.
Where do you find your inspiration?
For the one paying attention, inspiration lies everywhere. Everything is susceptible of being inspirational. Absolutely everything.
Although I must confess, Nature, Culture, Anticipation and Human are my favourite’s to draw inspiration from. The simple manner in which a person moves, can be as inspirational as en entire course about Art History? I do believe inspiration is a matter of observation and imagination. When both collide, whatever the source, it can produce amazing things.
Who is your favourite designer at the moment?
I do have a few names coming up in my mind, yet, for me; it is not a “moment” thing. I am a faithful person and some names have being echoing in my mind for a long time and will continue to. I think of David Adjaye, Ross Lovegrove, Joris Laarman and Joni Ivy from Apple Inc as well as James Dyson and Maarten Baas. I am touched by the work of true researchers, technically and emotionally. People who are not afraid of going far, using technology at its best, stretching what we know about craftsmanship to its limits and coming up with unexpected results catch my attention.
What do you love most about African design?
The fact is, it still has to be defined. “African Design” from a global perspective does not exist. It will exist when the day comes when we are capable of pointing out individuals instead of labels. A group exists if it members, taken individually, are strong figures. For now, we do not project this on African design. African craftsmanship does exist and the concept of everyday design exists in African traditional culture, although it hasn’t been giving that name. But if you look closely in our everyday life on the continent, you cannot see the presence of African Design. When it comes to names, identity and technologies in design, we refer to the Western figures.
At the moment, we have a blank page to work on and depending of how and what we fill it with, it could create the greatest pattern ever. The challenge is enormous, yet this is precisely what I am most thrilled about ‘African Design’: creating it.
How would you like to see the design scene change?
Globally, to try a little bit of adventure and creativity. I am tired of revamped copies of the 60’s masters’ works. In Africam we should be dropping the clichés we feel we have to perpetuate and instead create meaningful and thoughtful proposals inspired by our heritage. Last but not least, being serious about design, yet not forgetting to have fun. We need to bring life and rhythm into this business, because this as well, is part of our heritage.
What are the top five art works in your collection?
I have recently acquired a small group of aluminium sculptures from Marcus Egli. I do very much like an abstract triptych from CRD, a French Photographer, that I bought just before the summer. I also enjoy photographs from a young photographer named Tristan Bernabé who travels the globe and reports endangered traditions and lifestyles with splendid black and white works. Last but not least, an antique from the 18th century: a Zulu royal costume button made of ivory which I keep as a charm on me.
What have you been working on this year?
This year was quite busy, although I feel it is only a rehearsal compared to next year’s schedule. I have worked on about twenty contemporary art and design exhibitions plus the fairs and launching. The highlights were the Vitra’s Making Africa exhibition, then the Guggenheim Bilbao’s one, the Art Paris fair, Regnum, and Tabula 1 (my solo Parisian exhibition at the Vallois gallery).
Alongside these, I worked on the launch of my design brand, AGUESSY™, including a co-branded objects, a High Fidelity Stereo Sound System with Care Orchestra and an Italian acoustic label.
What advice would you give for aspiring African artists?
Forget the clichés, express yourself, sign your name and be individual in your propositions. This is the only way for us to go from “African artists” to “Artists from Africa”.
Kossi Aguessy’s artworks will be on show at the Joburg Art Fair from 9 – 11 September 2016.
Find out more about Kossi at kossiaguessy.biz