East African Contemporary Furniture

  • Mwaniki E. Wacuka University of Nairobi
  • Dr. Betty K. Mwiti University of Nairobi
Keywords: Three-legged chair, guild, black artists and designers, visibility


The East African cultural industries face many challenges including visibility in the international design scene. In fact, there is a myth that there’s ‘nothing’ happening artistically in Kenya or East Africa and a lie that has to be debunked that the only art forms in the country are curios often called souvenir or airport art. Surprisingly, there are still some Africanists who continue to perpetuate this lie. They still claim the only contemporary African art of merit is to be found in West and Southern Africa. And even now, when the global media is highlighting the surge of intense interest in Pan-African art, they are still largely ignoring East Africa. (Gacheru, 2017) Problem: East African contemporary furniture has not been represented in the international design scene. Many international design shows and exhibitions feature euro-centric designs and ignore Afro-centric designs. This has been a major challenge for East African artists as well as consumers. Objective: This paper aims to explore East African contemporary furniture, establish the challenges and opportunities in the creative and cultural sectors in East Africa and investigate artists groups as a means of supporting the creative and cultural sectors in East Africa. Design: Using desktop research this paper will determine and analyse findings on East African contemporary furniture. Setting: The study was carried out in Nairobi, Kenya. Subjects: The study will focus on Jomo Tariku a designer who was born in Kenya to Ethiopian parents, who has become a successful industrial designer specializing on East African Contemporary stools and chairs. Results: The study will highlight one of the biggest challenges that a black designer faces: visibility. The study will also demonstrate how the underrepresentation of black artists and designers in the international design scene affects both the designer and the black consumers. Finally this paper will demonstrate how Jomo Tariku was able to overcome this major hurdle and assist other black artists experiencing the same challenge. Conclusion: This study concludes that East African contemporary furniture is indeed more than the application of maasai shuka upholstery or animal skins but is a sophisticated blending of the culture and heritage of East Africa with ergonomics and industrial design principles to create products that must be represented in the international design scene. Through the formation of artist guilds and associations, designers can overcome the challenge of visibility and gain access to many other benefits.