London Design Biennale is open: Ini Archibong celebrates evolution of African heritage through Design

Credit Ed Reeve 

The Pavilion of the African Diaspora launched at London Design Biennale on (1-27 June 2021), ALT went down to the press day and spoke to Switzerland-based designer Ini Archibong, this is the first instalment of Ini Archibong’s Pavilion of the African Diaspora project. The vision of the Pavilion is born from the need for a space on the global stage centred on the voices and contributions of the African Diaspora. This traveling destination makes a bold statement of creativity and heritage through art, design and original programming.

Ini Archibong photo credit: Ini Archibong credit Julian Anderson and main image

Archibong, who is American of Nigerian heritage, hopes to elevate and facilitate the discussion of the value and importance of black voices and celebrate the global cultural influence of the African Diaspora. Resonance being the theme of the 2021 Biennale, immediately reverberated with Archibong when he was contacted in 2020 by the Biennale’s Artistic Director, Es Devlin. Archibong viewed it as an opportunity to use design as a catalyst for conversations around race and equality that are more critical than ever.  He originally trained as an architect but is best known for his work as a furniture and lighting designer, creating sculptural glass pendant lamps and curvy steel chairs with chubby upholstered seats.

“My intent with the pavilion was really to use the skills that I have to be of benefit to the multitude of people that represent the diaspora, a culture that has so often been marginalized, for them to express themselves.” – Ini Archibong

ALT: What is the inspiration for The Sail?

It actually, is quite simple, the people of the African diaspora, have long had a voice, and in some cases even been recognized for it, but not really in an organized way for life where, our contributions are recognized and we’re given some kind of inspiration to continue pushing forward in the way that we have through our ability to recognize in each other, the power that we have. So, that was the initial impetus, what inspired me to create this Sail, as you can see with the concentric arches representing the resonating voices of the people of diaspora carrying us into the future.

You’ve touched on how normally when you are asked to do work, it’s less about you please elaborate a bit more on that?

Normally when I’m designing something, whether it’s for a brand or for the gallery, even though I’m in it and I’m part of it, it’s not specifically about identity. So, this is the first time that I had to reflect and really think about what my identity is, and who, and what I wanted to make this Pavilion for. And this is the first time that I’ve been presented with the project as an opportunity to do that.

Do you think that the conversations or the question that you’re consistently being asked where are you from, will start to fade when we see more diversity in spaces like this?

Yes and no, I don’t think that question will ever go away. I think that the answer probably hopefully will be crafted to be more inclusive. Honestly, think that the question of where you’re from and when you’re a person that’s of the diaspora or a person, that is living in Africa, it’s a misleading question. Because Is where I’m from, if I say where my family lineages from, and if I use the word Nigeria, that’s a definition of space that the lines are drawn by people that are not from that place. So, the question of where you’re from to an African is a highly complex question.  I think that now in the day and age that we’re in, we can just accept it. If somebody asks me where I’m from, I’m from the African diaspora. I’m not living there I’m living in Switzerland. I have lineage that ties back to two different villages, that are from a certain area that’s located within the confines of what the British had decided was Nigeria. So, to answer that question simply, I’m a member of the Diaspora.

Can you tell us a bit about some of the materials that went into creating The Sail and how long did it take you?

I mean, the design of it took quite some time, but honestly, comparatively to a lot of other projects, I would say that it came together pretty well, pretty fast. It’s been about a year of working on it, design and manufacturer of the patent and erection here. We have learned a lot along the way. I’m impressed by what my team has been able to accomplish in such a short amount of time.

Credit Ed Reeve 


What do you think has  been a result of the  BLM movement in the last year as the volume turned up during the events of the George Floyd death is this a turning point for America?


I would say that the attention that has been placed on what has been going on in America for a very long time in relation to how, Black people have treated especially by the police and criminal justice system, I appreciate that there’s more attention on that.

What has lockdown taught you about you in the professional space?

I think actually, the lockdown went in waves to be honest. At the beginning it was very liberating and freeing in a lot of ways. I was able to focus on my creativity, focus on creating things without the distraction of constant travel and things of that nature. And, you know, as things evolved and Zoom became a major part of life and some of that freedom was taken away.


During the design process, Archibong looked to the Conch and Cowrie shells for inspiration. The Cowrie was once used in trade as a form currency across Africa and beyond; the Conch shell, knows as Triton’s horn, represents the hope for a resounding blast to resonate from a distant shore — a trumpet’s call, urging the people of the Diaspora to assemble and enact action.

Designed by Ini Archibong, and managed by Tamara N. Houston, with the architectural oversight of Perkins + Will, the first architectural “folly” of the Pavilion The Sail was unveiled on the River Terrace of the historic Somerset House in London with a planned international touring exhibition through 2023.

Managing Partner Tamara N. Houston image credit: ALT A REVIEW

The Pavilion of Africa Diaspora will appear in the form of three structures. THE SAIL now in London during the Biennale this June. This will be followed by THE WAVE in New York city in the autumn of 2021, and THE SHELL, which will debut in Miami for Art Basel in December 2021. The three follies will serve as a mobile destination spotlighting the diverse histories of persons of African descent. BOOK:




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