The TRUE AFRICA 100 is our list of innovators, opinion-formers, game-changers, pioneers, dreamers and mavericks who we feel are shaping the Africa of today.
Stephen Burks is an African-American furniture designer. His passion for traditional craftsmanship has led him to countries like Senegal for inspiration. He has a New York–based studio called Stephen Burks Man Made, where he produces furniture and lighting fixtures working between industrial manufacturing and contemporary design.
He has designed exhibitions for a range of international companies such as including Swarovski, Roche Bobois, Missoni, Parachilna, and Moroso and has exhibited in museums like the Studio Museum, Harlem. Stephen was the recent recipient of a 2015 National Design Award for product design.
‘Design has to address the other places in the world, the other markets, and not just from a market perspective from a cultural perspective’.
Can you talk more about how this applies to African markets?
As design-driven brands begin to expand their reach all over the globe they must begin to have a cultural dialogue with the local markets they find themselves in and Africa is squarely in their sights. In general, Africa and the myriad of hybrid cultures that influence the voices and choices of the continent are often grossly misunderstood. People speak about Africa and brands target the continent as if it were one country with one people speaking one language. When, in fact, it is comprised of 54 fully recognised sovereign states or countries with over one billion people speaking nearly 2,000 languages.
How do we designers leverage the great diversity of African culture to offer African specific products, experiences, expressions and business solutions?
The question is not if design should begin a dialogue with Africa but what is the best strategy for beginning that dialogue and how do we designers leverage the great diversity of African culture to offer African specific products, experiences, expressions and business solutions to meet real African needs and solve real African problems.
What country has been particularly inspiring for you when designing?
I think I’d be really putting my foot in my mouth and alienating 53 other countries if I answered that one! However, I’ve had an infinite number of inspirational moments in the two countries I’ve visited most, which happen to be Senegal and South Africa.
Who is your African of the year?
Even though he’s technically American, I’m probably not alone in saying Barack Obama. Regardless of the adversity he faces on a daily basis, he always manages to rise above it, maintain his dignity and express his humanity. Every moment of his presidency is an inspiration to us all, especially those of us of African descent.
Check out Stephen’s work at stephenburksmanmade.com
Come back tomorrow for the next TRUE Africa 100 and keep up to date using the hashtag #TRUEAfrica