This month I had the pleasure of asking a few choice questions of Ms Tola Ojoulape of Aràtuntun, a well known name in the African diaspora, synonymous with celebrating all things Africa, and design.
Last month, our Creative Director and Founder, Catherine Arhin was interviewed by the lovely Tola, for her upcoming platform for Aràtuntun. In a similar fashion, we wanted to get to know the personality behind this exciting new platform, and give our readers a heads up on its imminent arrival. The site will be a hub of social media, featuring various designers who represent Africa in a contemporary, exciting way.
So Tola, my first question is regarding the name, ‘Aràtuntun’. I asked; your blog defines Aràtuntun as meaning ‘an innovative idea, or new concept’. In your mind, what constitutes as an innovative idea?
‘I consider an innovative idea to be a new perspective that may not have been seen and explored by others; a new medium, form, style of storytelling or vision, depending on context. For Aràtuntun, we see the artists and designers we promote as drivers of new idea and innovators in their respected fields, such as architecture, art and design. The name itself stems from a Yorba word ‘arà’, meaning ‘wonder’, and ‘tun tun’, meaning ‘something new’.’
What do you look for in the designers you’re looking to profile?
‘An engaging story, a definitive aesthetic translated in form, colour, pattern, architecture. This is the driver for all the artists and designers we profile. Their style of work and aesthetic as designers, artists or architects should seek to change and re-define how we perceive our surroundings. A change agent, someone with maximum potential, and passionate about the African story. This is not necessarily for all the work we feature, but ideally it is the story we would like our blog to tell.’
Why do you think it’s so important to draw attention to African design, both inside and outside the diaspora?
‘I strongly believe that many principles in the world of the design and art (worldwide), stem from African art and design – whether acknowledged or not. Over the last decade, the continent has changed, and the economic landscape is paving way for designers to have a voice, pursue design art and architecture as a profession (and be successful at it). The continent has not had a structured archiving system that I am aware of for designers and architects. There are so many talented people are not getting the recognition and profiling they deserve. Platforms such as mine seek to change and transform that.
I believe it is also imperative for designers/architects of African descent to understand and maximise the potential we have. What we have is so much greater that what we have been told or have seen and I sincerely believe the best is yet to come. It is also about taking ownership of who we are whether you are inherently African or of African descent. Safi Mafundikwa’s spot on ‘TED Talks’ regarding Africa is poignant to the story and vision for the blog’
What excites you about the progression of African design in a contemporary sense?
‘The talent and potency of art and design that exists on the continent is undeniable and bringing them to the forefront is what blogs like Aràtuntun seeks to do. Over the last five years, African fashion has emerged in mainstream media through the works of creative directors such as Omoyemi Akinrele of the style house files yet there is very little on architecture & design. We know very little about young contemporary designers nor do we give them a platform to exhibit and promote their talents enough. I love finding new designers, new artists and giving them a shout out. There is so much we have to offer as countries yet alone a whole continent and I just love searching for discovering them all.’
What have you learnt from your travels and talks with designers and figures within African culture?
‘Thus far, I have learnt that we possess something that is so much greater than who we are. Our perception about our talents, gifts, innovation has not been maximised but the landscape is changing and people are becoming more aware and are taking note especially in the diaspora people are starting to take ownership of their culture, passions ambition and many designers and artists I meet want their voices heard more than ever before and there is a zeal to start a whole new revolution in the African design world.’
What do you think really epitomises African design and sets it apart from other influences?
‘I believe that there are many things that epitomise African design. Our strong aesthetic translated through colour and pattern. This can be seen in fashion is Ankara prints or art forms like South African Ndbele art. The boldness and confidence our work evokes and the sheer beauty and aesthetic it carries.’
‘Being a designer by profession and being raised in an environment where Africans were a minority, I started travelling and wanted to go back to Africa and started researching artists, designers and architects on the continent. I had no idea that there was so little information and being an avid reader of blogs and platforms like dezeen and wallpaper I realised there was a niche. When I went to Lagos, my thoughts were further solidified as I was in awe of the many great talents and designers I met and I had to share them with the world.’
Are there any new and exciting people in African design you have come across recently to look out for in the near future?
‘Many, I recently hung out with Samuel Mensah Carter of SMB studios (British – Ghanian) an art director and graphic designer who currently works as a designer for Nike and runs his own design studio SMB. He is defnitely one to watch, he has accomplished so much and he will be working alot on the continent over the next few years and he is an amazing talent and a sweet guy. I know he is the buzz of the African design world, but I have to mention Yinka Ilori for his sheer talent determination and hard work and he is one of the most personable and humble guys out there. I really like the work of South African illustrator, Karabo Poppy Moletsane and how she engages you with her visuals and aesthetic but there are many from all over the continent.’
When does Aratuntun go live and where can we find out more about it?
‘June 2014 we will be relaunching our platform. You can check us out on our social media platforms including Instagram where I post on architecture design and art Tumblr – our moodboard which is a great opportunity to define our aesthetic and demonstrate what we love so much about the continent and also have other touchpoints such such as fashion which is an area we have chosen not to explore on the main blog Also find us on Twitter and Pinterest.’
Last but not least, what’s your favourite drink, favourite country and what do you do to relax and unwind?
My favourite drink is water, if that can be classified as a drink? But I do love a nice cocktail and when im in need of a sugar buzz, a can of coke always does the trick! My favourite country – hard to determine as there as still so many to explore and visit but I love Italy and Nigeria if I can pick two. To relax and unwind, I seldom do that but i would say chilling at home and doing girly things like putting on a facial and painting my nails and watching vlogs on youtube and listening to Fred Hammond.
On behalf of the team hear at Arhinarmah, I’d like to thank Tola for her time, and I think you’ll all agree her outlook and perspectives are interesting and relevant in the efforts to promoting African talent.