Tasked with responding to the theme of “Care”, London’s Design Museum has selected a cohort of four female designers as this year’s Designers in Residence, an initiative now in its 13th year. Starting their residency in a post Covid19 environment, each designer will initially capture the early stages of their projects virtually, before creating an onsite installation.
The Designer in Residence programme seeks to nurture the design world’s emerging talent, and has previously featured designers like Asif Khan and Giles Miller. This year, the Designers in Residence are expected to explore a new collection of clothing inspired by the stories of West African women living in the UK, and look at empathy training, microbial diversity and mental health in Black British communities.
Production costs, a bursary and a commissioning budget will be provided to each of the selected residents by the Design Museum, enabling them to dedicate time and space to growing and researching their practice. Residents Ioana Man, Enni-Kukka Tuomala, Abiola Onabule and Cynthia Voza Lusilu will be enabled and encouraged to work on their own ambitious projects for the programme, with the theme explored differently by each.
London-based Finnish designer and Royal College of Art graduate Enni-Kukka Tuomala will use her residency with the Design Museum to explore the growing global deficit of empathy at the time of the Anthropocene. Her work aims to transform empathy from an individual feeling to a radical collective power for social change through installations, environments, tools and methodologies.
Tuomala plans to look at how we can incorporate empathy into our daily lives, designing an “immersive empathy training programme”, complete empathy gym and personal empathy trainer. This will fit in with her wider collaborative and international practice of interrogating the relationships between empathy, culture, space and systems.
Drawing inspiration from her Nigerian cultural heritage, London-based fashion designer Abiola Onabule plans to explore the stories of West African women living in the UK in order to investigate the exchange of craft and skills as an act of care. Onabule will work collaboratively with West African women, to hold conversations, share stories from the diaspora and explore the role of cloth and clothing in absorbing these personal experiences.
A hand-woven cloth created by the Yoruba people of Nigeria — known as Aso Oke — will act as Onabule’s entry point. Aso Oke is worn by men and women to mark major ceremonies such as important religious festivals, weddings and funerals. Research into this fabric will inform the design of a new contemporary collection celebrating cultural heritage, and the creation of a system which will enable diasporic communities to take part in its independent production and distribution.
Sense of place, mental health and emotional wellness are the focus of designer and researcher Cynthia Voza Lusilu’s transdisciplinary and collaborative practices. Voza Lusilu is proposing to design restorative tools and a new support system that helps build resilience and shape healing spaces. The designer has previously produced an MA project entitled “Healing Chronicles” which discussed mental health in Black British communities, and this topic will be explored further in her residency.
The fourth of the Design Museum’s Designers in Residence for 2020 is multidisciplinary designer Ioana Man, who works between critical practice, architecture and set design. Man’s proposal is to develop a new body of work exploring how architecture can work with biology to create a more sustainable built environment that embodies health and justice.
Through her work, Man aims to highlight the importance of microbial biodiversity in the built environment and the fair distribution of its benefits. Seeking to reduce environmental stressors, she intends to chart the ways in which current planning and construction practices create zones of biological inequality and to develop alternatives that can protect ecosystems and create community around urban nature.
The designs created by each of the 2020 Designers in Residence will play a crucial role in creating discussion around the ways in which we care for our planet, ourselves and each other. This is especially pressing as we enter a second period of COVID-19 regulations and a future of climate uncertainty, technological acceleration and new working patterns.
This year’s showcase will take place in March 2021, with each resident presenting work completed over the course of their Design Museum residency.
Article by Toby Buckley for The Net Gallery.