‘A smiling face dispels unhappiness.’ This is but one of the many Nigerian sayings that can be found in the Design Museum’s new exhibition ‘Yinka Ilori: Parables of Happiness’. Open from until 25 June 2023, the free display charts the creative journey of British-Nigerian designer, Yinka Ilori. Skilfully weaving together furniture, graphic design, and architecture the show invites visitors to engage with West African culture.

Portrait of Yinka Ilori at Design Museum

Bursting with colour, the solo show follows Ilori’s unconventional voyage into the world of design. Here visitors can view his community-focused commissions, murals, and installations. Projects such as the vibrant play area ‘The Flamboyance of Flamingos’ and early career furniture can be seen alongside more notable work such as a sample of the maze-like 2021 BRIT Awards stage. In the exhibition, visitors can watch a short film on the ‘Brick Laundrette of Dreams’ made from 200,000 LEGO pieces and find out about the now dismantled ‘Colour Palace’ Dulwich pavilion, while learning about Ilori’s humble upbringing in North London.

The exhibition showcases over 100 items which include a selection of artworks, fabrics and key reference material that help give context to Ilori’s work. As you meander around the Design Museum, a copy of the discontinued Black lifestyle magazine DRUM can be seen paired with British rapper Kano’s debut album Home Sweet Home. ‘I remember looking outside my window dreaming of design as a kid and playing ‘Sometimes,’ ‘P&Qs,’ ‘Reload it’,’ says Ilori.

Yinka Ilori Design Museum Display

In the display, a traditional talking drum named the Dùndún can be found on the same level as a striking maquette by Congolese artist Bodys Isek Kingelez. These objects provide an unprecedented glimpse into the mind of Ilori. The Design Museum worked with the designer to acquire pieces such as the elegant Washington Skeleton Side Chair designed by Sir David Adjaye for its permanent collection to showcase furniture that inspires the British-Nigerian designer in the exhibition. Adjaye has acted as a mentor to Ilori and encouraged him to tap into his West African heritage throughout his work.

One of the most powerful parts of the exhibition is Ilori’s gold name badge from when he worked at British retailer Marks & Spencer. It is a powerful reminder for designers to not give up or stop pursuing their dreams. ‘I grew up in a council estate in North London and I think sometimes people see what I am doing now but don’t quite know my story’ says Ilori.

Yinka Ilori Design Museum Display

At the heart of the exhibition is the belief that art and design should be accessible to all. For this reason, the display is in the atrium of the Design Museum, a democratic zone that is free for visitors. ‘If you are going to tell a story about inclusive design then there isn’t a better space to show it’ says Design Museum Head of Curatorial, Pryia Khanchandani. ‘I want museums to be accessible for people like me and I want to open doors for kids that have a passion for design,’ states Ilori.

‘Yinka Ilori: Parables of Happiness’ celebrates the designer’s rich portfolio of work while unpacking the key components of his iconic visual language. ‘The exhibition is a clever fusion of cultural references that demonstrate that Ilori’s work goes much deeper than simply injecting colour into spaces’ states Khanchandani. The display shows the world that Ilori’s projects aren’t simply an exercise in colour but a powerful amalgamation of Black identity and West African culture. The carefully curated show illustrates how Ilori uses design to evoke feelings of empowerment, hope, and love and aims to put a smile on the face of its visitors. §

Vlisco textiles on display as part of Yinka Ilori’s Design Museum exhibition

 

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