African Designs Go Mainstream: Jomo Tariku Showcases The Birth Chair II at Dubai Design Week

By Leila Rafei
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From Mali to Morocco, ancient African designs infuse this new line of functional art.

Meet Jomo Tariku, the trailblazing Ethiopian American designer that has spent the last 20 years on a mission to bring African designs to the mainstream furniture market. He's crafted several lines of contemporary African furniture that are sleek and modern, yet historic in influence. 

Various African cultures from each end of the continent infuse Jomo’s work. He draws inspiration from the Dogon masks of Mali, Ashanti stools, Maasai jewelry and Kente cloth from Ghana. Even architecture influences his design philosophy, from the ancient buildings of Timbuktu to Islamic patterns and interiors from Morocco. 


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Photo credit: Gediyon Kifle / Photo GK

 "I believe Africa with it diverse cultures and long history is an endless and untouched resource for my design inspirations," says Jomo. "It’s a matter of spending more time reading and researching and willing to get out of the box of the usual stereotypes." 

For those of us living on other continents, we're used to seeing African pieces displayed as decoration without function. But in Africa, furniture often becomes functional art out of necessity. "What I love about African furniture designs is the fact that they serve a dual purpose," says Jomo. "They serve functional use and as decorative household items." The beauty of functional art inspires Jomo in his continuous creation of new contemporary African furniture designs.

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Photo credit: Gediyon Kifle / Photo GK

Jomo’s latest design is The Birth Chair II, inspired by African birthing chairs. These chairs are still used for childbirth in some parts of Sub-Saharan Africa and date back to ancient Egypt, where they were painted on temple walls in Luxor. Jomo’s model uses a single bent piece of wood with clean lines for the seat and a sliding back rest with artistic carvings on the front and back. The modular backrest can be switched out and hung on the wall for decoration. This interchangeable functionality allows for creativity in decorating a room of one's choice.

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Photo credit: Gediyon Kifle / Photo GK

The Birth Chair II encompasses trendsetting ideas that Jomo hopes to use as a platform for bringing contemporary African designs to homes around the world. Jomo will showcase this piece and others from his line at Dubai Design Week - Downtown Design, in Dubai, UAE, on October 24-29.

Jomo Tariku was born in Kenya to Ethiopian parents. He grew up in Ethiopia and completed college in the U.S. with an industrial design degree from the University of Kansas. He has designed a series of renowned contemporary African furniture lines, among them: The Axum Series, a living room set with Axum chair, coffee table and ottoman, inspired by the architectural styles of the Axum stelae in Axum, Ethiopia; and The Berchuma, a line of stools which bring out the unique styles of contemporary African design as functional art pieces. For more information on Jomo and his designs, visit www.jomofurniture.com.

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Photo credit: Gediyon Kifle / Photo GK

Leila Rafei

@leilarafei

Leila is a writer working in international development with a soft spot for arts and culture.

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