Milan, Senegal/Dakar, Italy

Moroso takes Milan on a trip with M’Afrique

At the beginning of the 21st-century, the functionality and affordability promised by 20th-century Modernism have probably been pushed about as far as they can go. What’s next? Italian design company Moroso may have answered the question with their M’Afrique exhibit at the April 2009 Salone del Mobile in Milan. All of a sudden, Modernism is looking looking younger, more casual, refreshingly irreverent, and African.
Owner Patrizia Moroso, married to a Senegalese man and long interested in African cultures, chose 2009 as the year for Moroso to talk to the world about how “multifaceted, modern Africa deserves to be known and valued for the originality of the creative languages with which it enriches global culture. When applied to design, they engender products which exude tradition and modernity, innovation and history, form and beauty.” 
She asked multitalented American industrial designer Stephen Burks to channel her African vision into M’Afrique, a heady 5,000 square foot installation of Moroso furniture, created by accomplished European, American and African designers, and the work of four African painters and photographers. Moroso’s well-known focus on design and quality combined with African élan to Africa form a contemporary environment at once stylish, exuberant, grounded, and welcoming. 
Burks sees this combination as a direct translation of his experiences in Dakar, where he designed four Moroso mini-collections of outdoor stools, ottomans, chairs, and tables. He describes the street life there as “Colorful and bohemian, but real. In the markets, the outdoor cafes, the streets, people approached us constantly to sell something, but it felt like play rather than solicitation. There seemed to be more shared experience and openness amongst the people in Dakar, especially, that maybe we’ve forgotten in our urban lives.” He was drawn to the low seating in many of the cafés, and to the relaxed body language of lounging customers. “Stretching out and enjoying yourself makes everything more casual and relaxed. This may be something Europeans and Americans are looking to gain from “the Continent” – this sense of casual chic.”
Burks’ designs join other Moroso outdoor products designed by Tord Boontje, Patricia Urquiola, Bibi Seck and Ayse Birsel. All are handmade in Dakar from the durable plastic twine used for fishing nets in coastal West Africa. The shapes encourage sharing, and many are designed to accommodate more than one person. The colors do not shy away from the dizzy brights that can be achieved only with technological materials. The overall effect is optimistic and warm. Madam Dakar, for example, the enormous, rounded, colorful armchair designed by Seck and Birsel, cradles up to three people in its generous embrace. Boontje’s Shadowy chair finishes in a curling canopy of bright woven twines. It’s hard not to smile.
Moroso presented indoor product as well. The most striking shape in this category is the Binta armchair by Philippe Bestenheider. While its form evokes the bottom-heavy baobab tree, its “real Dutch wax” upholstery fabric from Vlisco (see page 8 for related article) soars with humor and color. Some of Moroso’s classic designs from Ron Arad and others were also covered in Vlisco fabrics – making even minimal cube ottomans into African jewels.
Is there room for all this happiness in the contemporary design world?  If design’s mission is to create what we need most, the answer should be yes.
For more information 
about Moroso, visit 
www.moroso.it.To learn more about Stephen Burks, see www.readymadeprojects.com

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