I-LAB Design: 100% African-made

by | Jan 25, 2022 | Interviews

It is a real change of scenery that the ILAB-Design space offers us, nestled at the end of an arcade on rue des Vollandes in Geneva. This “100% African-made” concept store was launched in January 2019, on the initiative of Véronique N’Daw Dunoyer and Besigin Tonwe-Gold. The duo exhibit the cream of the crop in terms of contemporary art and African design. Sonia Jebsen went to meet these ambassadors of a modern Africa.

A story of art and friendship

Besigin Tonwe-Gold is from Nigeria. She arrived in Geneva as part of her medical studies (her diplomat parents were residing there at the time) and specialized in infectious diseases. She traveled all over West Africa during her youth. After 25 years of practice, questions about her professional future led her to her other passion: art. Life does things well because it put Véronique N’Daw Dunoyer, French of Senegalese origin, into the path of Besigin. Véronique has followed various career paths due to her interest in several fields. With her Masters in Classics, History and Art History in her pocket, she obtained a degree in ethnology, then trained in journalism and marketing. She worked mainly as a freelancer. Thanks to their children attending the same school, the two women met and quickly discovered similar tastes for artistic creation.

I-LAB Design studio

I-LAB Design: Innovative Luxury African Brands

Véronique and Besigin merged their skills, and at I-LAB Design they present a selection of artists and creators spotted during their African journeys in Senegal, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Morocco. The works of art and objects are acquired directly from the artists. To promote and sell them, they make it a point of honor to meet the artists in their environment and to create a cordial relationship, based on respect and trust. The works of recognised artists as well as emerging talents are the subject of “museum-quality exhibitions”, to quote a passionate visitor.

 Moustapha Baidi Oumarou : Acrylique et Pigments sur toile
Dimensions: 180 x 120 cm
2020, Œuvre encadrée

A quality selection

Most artists still reside in their country of origin. While some cannot travel due to lack of financial means, for others it is a decision that is not easy to make. They are in great need of honest and effective representation internationally. Many of them have had bad experiences with European or American galleries in the past. They felt abused in their trust and their work. On the other hand, the younger generation (from the 80s and 90s) dare to put themselves forward. Aware of their value, young talents are less reserved than their elders. Thanks to social networks and international artistic showcases, they have quickly understood the advantages, but what about the pitfalls? The subject matter of their art is inspired by the environmental and societal problems of this vast continent (pollution, overpopulation, poverty, status of women, conditions of children, etc.) which are still very topical.

Kheraba Traoré : Communication (2020) Mixed media
170 × 140 cm

The creators

The mezzanine floor is reserved for craftsmen, far from the stereotypical objects gleaned here and there during tourist visits in Africa. Véronique and Besigin have place a high importance on excellence and originality in jewelry, fashion accessories, table decorations, tableware, textiles, and furniture. AAKS, the Ghanaian artist, works with raffia in lovely bags with natural pigments. The jewels of the Nigerian Adéle Dejak, based in Kenya, are made of copper and bronze, creating masterpieces which Besigin wears frequently. Then there are the refined ceramics of the Senegalese Fatyly. They are inspired by a tradition of the portrait under glass dating from the 17th century. Adorned with female heads or antelopes, they are made of Limoges porcelain and are a hit in Europe. All the selected designers convey a human story with an added touch of luxury.

Mèdéric Turay: Sculpture “The Gate Keeper 2” Oil on metal 2019. 151 cm x 50 cm x 8 cm

Their vision of the art world

The artistic world has witnessed in recent years an international recognition of the African contemporary scene, which has become a veritable incubator of trends in fields as varied as the textile industry, design and the luxury industry. This recognition is global: it can be seen in Europe but also in Asia, China, Japan and the United States. The founders of I-LAB believe that the phenomenon is permanent. The dynamism of contemporary African creation is very widely relayed by art galleries, foundations, museums and institutions. It is interesting to note that the rise to power of African artists has become more gendered. There is a spectacular emergence of female African artists, and also in the area of curation. In this context, there are many interesting exhibits to come at I-LAB.

More information about the latest exhibitions at I-LAB can be found here.