Cheick Diallo is considered a pioneer of contemporary African furniture design. Much of his work combines a rich heritage of hand-woven craft with modern minimalism.

Cheick Diallo trained as an architect in France where he worked for many years. In 2014 he returned to Mali to live permanently. Photo: Image by Jac de Villiers, courtesy Southern Guild

Cheick Diallo: Form and simplicity | Industry News

Cheick Diallo trained as an architect in France where he worked for many years. In 2014 he returned to Mali to live permanently. Photo: Image by Jac de Villiers, courtesy Southern Guild

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Diallo’s furniture designs speak to a local tradition of weaving and manufacturing lasting objects from the everyday ephemeral. The Malian designer, born in 1960 in Bamako, returned to his hometown four years ago to establish his own studio. From there, he brings together the skills of artisans from across Africa to construct entirely new ways of thinking in terms of conceptual design. “Luxury is a form of purity,” he says. It is about “simplicity.”

'Ballou' armchair, steel and nylon thread Photo: Image by Adriaan Louw, courtesy Southern Guild

Cheick Diallo: Form and simplicity | Industry News

'Ballou' armchair, steel and nylon thread Photo: Image by Adriaan Louw, courtesy Southern Guild

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Installation in Diallo's workshop in Bamako. The designer uses only locally sourced materials. Photo: Image by Adriaan Louw, courtesy Southern Guild

Cheick Diallo: Form and simplicity | Industry News

Installation in Diallo's workshop in Bamako. The designer uses only locally sourced materials. Photo: Image by Adriaan Louw, courtesy Southern Guild

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TLmag: Owning the African narrative, "on our own term," is a popular discourse amongst a new generation of designers from across Africa. How does that filter into furniture design?

Cheick Diallo: What I see in African cities right now is that modernity is reinventing everyday between the rural and the urban. The observation and analysis of the street nourishes my practice. For example, in the piece Sansa, what inspired me was the chicken cages coming from the market. While observing that I got the idea about the shape and the weaving of this particular item. I did some prototypes and someone was in my house and it was not finished but he still used the prototype and fell asleep in it. Without waking him, I took some measurements, and from the position of his body I created the base of the armchair. So I think this is how this filters into design—it is really this observation of the African street.

Nylon Wire Chair (top), Diallo Chair (above); Photo: Image by Adriaan Louw, courtesy Southern Guild

Cheick Diallo: Form and simplicity | Industry News

Nylon Wire Chair (top), Diallo Chair (above); Photo: Image by Adriaan Louw, courtesy Southern Guild

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TLmag: Light and sculpture play an important role in your work. Why is that?

C.D.: I try to make a visual object. Something that is attractive in the way that it occupies the space. Light and shadow and shade are major factors in this.

TLmag: Today, African designers are embracing the cultural wealth of the continent but also redefining it—of which you've always been considered at the forefront. Do you consider yourself a part of that creative wave?

C.D.: Of course I can inscribe myself as being in this movement. Africa is this fishbowl for constantly generating new ideas. From what I see, from where I live, any African is creative by necessity. In Bamako people invent their lives everyday. They have to find ways to do things. And that creativity comes from the fact that people have to be super adaptable which it is in this spirit this new generation are working. Europe is getting very similar and uniform and this is where this movement of bringing African identities is interesting in terms of the global language.

Dibi chair (2015), shown with Dokter and Misses Sweat lamp; Photo: Courtesy Southern Guild

Cheick Diallo: Form and simplicity | Industry News

Dibi chair (2015), shown with Dokter and Misses Sweat lamp; Photo: Courtesy Southern Guild

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TLmag: You once said “I don’t have an interest in design if it is only to remake what already exists.” Can you elaborate?

C.D.: Yeah, the difference between artisan art or artisan practice is that the artisan is about repetition and mastery of the same moment of making. And design is definitely about conceptualisation and the thinking intention. By definition, design is thought to be about inventing. So I use my training as a designer to propose things that did not exist before.

'Poto Poto brut' rocking chair (top) and detail (above) made of compacted welded cans; Photo: Cheick Diallo & 50 Golborne Gallery, London

Cheick Diallo: Form and simplicity | Industry News

'Poto Poto brut' rocking chair (top) and detail (above) made of compacted welded cans; Photo: Cheick Diallo & 50 Golborne Gallery, London

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TLmag: Your collection displays a particular affinity for fishing wires. What is it about this material?

C.D.: The material is actually from rural Mali with the river Niger people are either fisherman or they herd cattle. In the old days the fishing nets were used with sisal [agave] and then they began to use nylon, then they were imported from Japan and now they are all coming from China. What I found interesting in this material is you can use it inside and outside which is important because inside certain places in Africa it's good with humidity and it's a good material to use for a very specific Malian skill of weaving. So it's basically to reconstruct the old traditional technique of weaving with a new material which is abundant, and my idea was to show to people–especially to the middle classes who are buying copies of European designs–that with very simple materials you can do things that are totally modern and beautiful.

Group of 1:54 armchairs, 2015 (top); Armchair 1:54, 2015 detail (above), made from recycled metal and nylon wires. Photo: Image by Adriaan Louw, courtesy Southern Guild

Cheick Diallo: Form and simplicity | Industry News

Group of 1:54 armchairs, 2015 (top); Armchair 1:54, 2015 detail (above), made from recycled metal and nylon wires. Photo: Image by Adriaan Louw, courtesy Southern Guild

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TLmag: What’s next for you?

C.D.: I've been spending a lot of time trying to create a centre for design in Bamako which will be a mix of a workshop, design courses, et cetera.

Cheick Diallo exhibits in Design stories between Africa and Europe. Flow of Forms / Forms of Flow at the Museum für Völkerkunde Hamburg from 6 April 2018 until 19 August 2018.

Interview by Nosmot Gbadamosi