An interview with Tola Ojuolape, 1-54 Lounge designer

Among 1-54 special projects: Blue Cloth, an immersive experience featuring traditional batik techniques and indigo dyes coming from the ancient artistic heritage of West African Coast

For their October issue, NewAfrican published an interview with Tola Ojuolape, the designer behind the Lounge Commission at 1-54 London 2019. As part of our media partnership with NewAfrican, we’re sharing it here.

On the occasion of 2019 edition of 1-54, the London-based design studio Distill2710, by Tola Ojuolape, will present Blue Cloth, a project inspired by the unique concepts in Yoruba heritage and African art and influenced by the ground-breaking work of Nigerian artist and pioneer Chief Nike Okundaye. The communal lounge in the heart of the fair will display Nigerian batik and Indigo dyes reviving the centuries-old tradition of West Africa. Blue hanging cloths will fluctuate from the ceiling creating a unique and really suggestive space where 1-54 visitors will be able to rest and relax.

Blue Cloth is supported by leading furniture brands such as Verpan, Fritz Hansen, La Palma and Established & sons and will see the collaboration of the acclaimed London’s first Nigerian tapas restaurant, Chuku’s. To make this experience even more complete, the founders and siblings Emeka and Ifeyinwa Frederick, will join forces crafting a menu featuring authentic Nigerian flavours such as caramel kuli kuli chicken wings, beef ayamase and moi-moi vegan tarts.

Giving us some insights on her upcoming project at the Fair, Tola has explained us what hides besides her creative process and her own practice.

How did you first hear of 1-54 and why did you send your proposal for the 1-54 Lounge?

TO: I have been following 1-54 for years and have been incredibly inspired by Touria’s (1-54 Founding Director N.d.A) work in championing African Art and the expansion over the years. I sent my proposal because I thought I could contribute to the narrative of African art in a contemporary manner combining my skillset in Interior Design.

Not many in Nigeria (and abroad) know the unique life and story of Chief Mrs Nike Okundaye: a talented woman with no formal education but lectures at Harvard and other top universities in America and Europe, and the face behind the popular Nike Arts Gallery, the largest of its kind in West Africa. What do you most admire of her life/career and how did she influence your current project?

TO: Chief Nike Okundaye is a pioneer artist in Nigeria and for our generation. Her drive to educate young women through the arts using skill and craftsmanship as a tool to empower is a great source of inspiration. I heard about her works through my family learning about her contributions to textiles art and Adire cloth materials. Adire is a unique indigo cloth that requires skill, creativity and craftsmanship dating to thousands of years. And particularly the Indigo Blue cloth colour has been the source for the Lounge project, especially looking at how it can be translated in a contemporary manner.

As young entrepreneur woman, who are the creative figures who inspire you?

TO: Yinka Shonibare, Note Design Studio, Studio Moross, Kengo Kuma, I am constantly driven by different personalities and works that range across art, design, fashion, architecture, politics. It’s important to have diverse sources of inspiration and even more learn what it takes to be a maverick in your field of work.

Your design agency works across various fields, from interior design to furniture and branding design. Could you tell us more on how you first started it?

TO: It has been a natural progression as my multi-disciplinary background in Interior Architecture and Brand Design has given me a field of knowledge to look at design through many lenses.

By using Nigerian textiles and the craftsmanship of cloth as a backdrop and source of inspiration, your project explores the ideas around Community and the Africa diaspora. How important is for you to bring up these issues in the international context of 1-54?

TO: It’s imperative to include these themes when designing the Lounge’s as they are at the heart of being an African in diaspora. As global hub for African art, 1-54 is the perfect space to explore these topics and connect all the dots. My personal experiences also stem from the ideas around community, family and network and are the source of my vision and process.

London is alive with African culture, from home decor and design, to fashion, theatre, music and art. What do you think of this growing African “new wave” and its influence on contemporary society and culture?

TO: I believe it’s a great time to be a young woman of dual heritage: the arts are bursting with creativity, culture, talent and we appear to be going from strength to strength. On the other side, it’s a double-edged sword as we need to ensure we protect our creativity, being strategic in sole ownership and owning our own content and narrative. This is a succession plan for generations to come.

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