The London Design Biennale is a prestigious global festival of design, where the world’s most ambitious and imaginative designers come together to respond to a specific theme, displaying their projects in pavilions set in the ground of London’s Somerset House.
Es Devlin, London Design Biennale’s artistic director, has chosen resonance as the 2021 theme. Devlin explains:
“We live in an age of hyper resonance, the consequences of which are both exhilarating and devastating. Everything we design and everything we produce resonates. Each idea we generate has the power to reach a mass digital audience undreamt of by previous generations, while the lifespans of the physical products we create often endure long beyond our own.
In our global, digital era, design can instantly permeate borders and bridge cultures. It can positively alter behaviours and transform societies. Attitudes can evolve and lives can be improved when new ideas resonate and are adopted by extended communities.
Designers, thinkers, artists and makers have the power to influence and amaze their audiences into profound shifts of perspective, using the mass networks available to them to resonate ideas and practices to help build a more sustainable future.
As a community of designers approaching shared global challenges from culturally diverse viewpoints, the collective resonance of our ideas and our actions has the power to be truly transformative.”
Although originally scheduled to take place in September 2020, the unprecedented impact of the Covid-19 pandemic led to the London Design Biennale being postponed until June 2021. The initial disappointment was replaced with increased motivation and focus: current world events have heightened the relevance of themes which will be explored.
Amplify, is artists Alice Asafu-Adjaye, and Chrissa Amuah’s response to the exhibition theme. Amplify focuses on the ‘what ifs’ and ‘maybes’ of an imaginary balanced cultural interchange of ideas and trade that could have happened instead of slave trade and colonisation. Amplify demonstrates how mutual growth and development benefit all.
The venue: Somerset House
The London Design Biennale 2021 will take place in the historic grounds of Somerset House. Inspired by this prestigious venue, we chose to delve into Somerset House’s own history. What we discovered resulted in our decision to make Amplify, a site-specific concept.
In 1603 Anne of Denmark, wife of James I of England, moved to Somerset House, and it was renamed Denmark House in her honour. Once in England, she threw her energy into patronage of the arts, creating a cultural salon that attracted leading painters, writers and thinkers. In 1609, she invited Inigo Jones and other architects, to redesign and rebuild parts of the palace. The work continued until her death in 1619. She was said to be an assertive, independent and dynamic patron of the arts who constructed a magnificent court.
As two black African women, operating within the male-dominated worlds of architecture and design, and continuing the tradition of African female craftsmanship and design, we recognised Anne of Denmark’s power and determination to centre the arts at Somerset House. The legacy of which, still exists there today.
Anne of Denmark’s focus on nurturing the arts, at Somerset House, existed in a thriving socio-cultural European economy, within an equitable environment with British counterparts. The foray of the Danes into the new world, as they explored Africa, was far from equitable.
The installation will explore and manipulate materials, space, light and textures, provoking an evolution of attitudes and ideology. The essence of Amplify speaks very much to the current times and the need for a new discussion about the celebration of Africa.
Our goal is to create a public facing pavilion that not only makes Africans and people of African descent proud, but that will speak to our shared humanity and desire for a future that nods to cultural and societal exchanges that are both celebrations and tools of learning.
Our long-term ambitions include for the exhibition to travel to Denmark, Ghana and the United States. Before then, we look forward to inviting you to the exhibition in London in June.
Support the project
We are both currently in Ghana to further the project’s progress and have been documenting our journey on the Amplify Instagram page (@amplifyghana2021).
The impact of the Covid pandemic included a loss of sponsorship pledges. Whilst we have secured a number of generous donations and some corporate sponsorship, we are still short of our fundraising goal.
About the designers
Chrissa Amuah: Chrissa Amuah is the Founder and Creative Director of AMWA Designs, an Adinkra-inspired* luxury homeware and interiors brand. 2021 will see the launch of her collection with multi-award winning, Bernhardt Design, one of America’s largest and highly acclaimed textile and furniture manufacturers.
Chrissa also founded AFRICA BY DESIGN to showcase and celebrate the best of Africa’s design talent. Since its launch, AFRICA BY DESIGN has exhibited in five cities across four continents. She is an MA graduate from Chelsea College of Art and Design, University of the Arts London.
Alice Asafu-Adjaye: Alice is the founder of Mustard, a boutique architecture studio in Accra, Ghana. She established Mustard in response to a growing demand for refined spaces and objects by an increasingly discerning clientele in the region.Prior to launching her own practice in Ghana, Alice worked for nearly two decades in the United Kingdom with Foster + Partners and Adjaye Associates; she also launched the latter’s studio in Ghana.
Alice is a RIBA Council Member representing Middle East and Africa and retains a seat on the RIBA International Committee. She also holds memberships with ARB, GIA and ARC. She trained at Nottingham University and at The Bartlett, University College.
*Adinkra are symbols of proverbs used in Ghanaian textiles and pottery