Yinka Ilori's creative practice explored for first time at the Design Museum

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Yinka Ilori's creative practice explored for first time at the Design Museum
Close up of the 1:75 model of the ‘Colour Palace’, 2019.

LONDON.- The first museum display exploring the work of artist and designer Yinka Ilori is now open at the Design Museum in London. It celebrates Ilori’s mix of cultural influences and unpacks the ingredients of a diasporic visual language. The free display coincides with London Design Festival 2022 and will run until June 2023.

YINKA ILORI: PARABLES FOR HAPPINESS (15 September 2022 until 25 June 2023) showcases key elements of Ilori’s vibrant aesthetic, which throughout his career have been drawn from a mix of cultures that came together in the north London diaspora community where he grew up. The display highlights some of the most important aspects of Ilori’s work – such as his billboard graphics that promote joy – and places them beside key influences, including Nigerian textiles. These African fabrics of his childhood are the foundation of his practice, and he regularly captures the colourful geometric patterns that feature in Nigerian design in his work.

Visitors will see over 100 objects, ranging from artworks, photographs and furniture, to textiles, books and personal possessions. Seen together, they offer an unprecedented glimpse into Ilori’s use of the power of design to absorb cultural influences and express London’s rich mix of identities.

Yinka Ilori is a London-based designer whose work enlivens the public realm with installations and murals in a playful combination of colour and pattern. He founded his eponymous studio in 2017. The display begins by introducing visitors to Ilori’s studio and the sources it draws influence from. It then highlights three main strands of his work: architecture, furniture and graphic design. PARABLES FOR HAPPINESS is the first time Ilori’s creative practice has been examined in a museum display.

Some of his key architectural projects can be seen, such as Laundrette of Dreams which was built from over 200,000 LEGO bricks. This is being shown alongside a maquette by the artist Bodys Isek Kingelez, demonstrating the utopian potential of architecture which resonates in Ilori’s work.

There is a spotlight on Ilori's fascination with chairs. One of his earliest projects involved refurbishing old chairs – hacking them to add colour, removing or replacing structural elements and adjusting their forms in order to convey narratives through them. Since then, his obsession with chairs as a medium for storytelling has continued to grow, leading to Ilori designing over 80 chairs to date. His furniture ranges from sculptural to functional and each chair brings Nigerian verbal traditions into conversation with contemporary design. On display are one of his chairs plus models of other examples, seen alongside a number of chairs selected from the Design Museum collection.

A highlight of the section on chairs is the Washington Skeleton Side Chair for Knoll. Featuring a dense geometric grid in a copper finish, it was designed by architect Sir David Adjaye. The Design Museum has collaborated with Ilori to acquire this chair, and other new objects, for its permanent collection. Within the display, they add new context to Ilori’s work and expand on our collection’s focus on the traditional canon of contemporary design.

Visitors will also find out about the creation of some of Ilori’s most recognisable projects, through key models, photographs, drawings and contextual material. These include an examination of the now-dismantled 10-meter-high Colour Palace pavilion for Dulwich Picture Gallery in 2019, and his multi-coloured transformation of 18 pedestrian crossings across central London. Other projects highlighted include his stage design for the 2021 BRIT Awards and The Flamboyance of Flamingos, which saw the transformation of an out-of-use play area in Barking and Dagenham into a colourful and revitalised play park.

Some of Ilori’s own items add a personal touch, from his name badge from Marks and Spencer, where, as an employee, he used to dream about opening his own studio, to a pair of trousers he wears while painting and which contain traces of the paint of some of his career-making projects. These are seen alongside objects reflecting his Nigerian heritage, which is central to his work, including a traditional Dùndún (Talking Drum) and albums of Afrobeat, hip hop, R&B and grime with lyrics in Yoruba or Nigerian. It is these albums and their personal connection which inspires the display’s title: Ilori breaks down the lyrics of these tracks and draws on the parables as inspiration for his work.

Priya Khanchandani, Head of Curatorial at the Design Museum said, “The diasporas of Britain are still finding their place in the cultural canon even though in-between spaces are essential to the fabric of who we are. A fast-rising star of contemporary design, Yinka Ilori’s unique aesthetic – drawing on Nigerian textiles with a nod to postmodernism – employs a mix of visual references that come together to inspire joy. This display is a testament to how cultural fusions, frissions and juxtapositions can be rich fuel for creativity and for generating more inclusive architectures in the city. We could not be more delighted to be presenting this story at the Design Museum.”

Yinka Ilori, said: "Over the years, my work has gained recognition for the strong use of colour, pattern and narrative that comes from my Nigerian heritage. However, it has often deviated from design trends and has been misunderstood. This display charts my inspirations and creative journey as I transitioned from furniture design to community driven public installations. I have been visiting the Design Museum ever since I was a student, drawing inspiration from their ground-breaking shows that have brought to life the work of some of the most influential figures in design. I am truly humbled and honoured to have my work exhibited at such an early stage in my career and hope the display provides inspiration for the next generation who might feel they don’t fit into the status quo."

Tim Marlow, Director and Chief Executive, Design Museum said: “The Design Museum’s programme has always championed contemporary designers, so we are thrilled to be the first museum to examine the practice of Yinka Ilori extensively. Yinka is undoubtedly one of the most exciting new creative talents working today. In a short space of time he has sparked so much energy and joy with his polychromatic work across London and beyond, as well as establishing a reputation as a critically important designer, and we are proud to able to showcase the range, depth and vitality of his talent at the Design Museum.”

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Yinka Ilori's creative practice explored for first time at the Design Museum

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