Yinka Ilori At Browns East
Looking to brighten your mood? Look no further than the entrance of our Browns East store, where contemporary design star Yinka Ilori has created a vibrant hub of his signature brightly coloured artworks for visitors to enjoy, part of our wider celebration of Homecoming 2020. Comprising multiple chairs atop coloured pedestals, Ilori’s work is not only a feast for the eyes, but also a meditation on design, heritage, culture and space; an autobiography told using chairs. We caught up with Ilori to learn more.
Yinka Ilori's installation at Browns East
Hi Yinka! Can you tell us a bit about your installation at Browns East?
It’s a retrospective of the chairs I’ve designed over ten years. I was trying to highlight those particular stories that shaped my career and led me into design, and then look at the chairs I’ve been designing over the last two or three years. Seeing what’s different in terms of composition; the colours I was using; the stories I was telling.
Did you have any “aha” moments in the process, about something you’d learned or your former self?
Yeah, definitely. I think the earlier pieces were me trying to reflect on my past experiences, whether good or bad. Also trying to relive childhood memories so people can understand my experiences and get a sense of my life.
What was your route into design and how would you describe what you do now?
My first love has always been chairs and furniture - I studied furniture and product design. Over the years I’ve taken on more commissioned projects that are part of the public realm, doing things like pavilions and skate parks and exhibition designs. I feel like [the studio approach] works so well for me because you can go into fashion, you can go into installation, you can go into music. That’s the beauty of storytelling in different design disciplines - there’s no limit to where the stories can go.
Yinka Ilori with his work
Your work sits on the intersection of art and product design and furniture - you make works of art, but you also make community work like your COLOURAMA skate park in Roubaix. Can you talk about this marriage of form and function in your work?
When I left uni I was less bothered with functionality - I was more worried about the art form and also what message I could interject in these objects. In terms of doing the furniture, I was more interested in sculptural pieces of work that would go into galleries or be exhibited in public spaces. But those were there for a few weeks and weren’t permanent.
What I really enjoy now about doing public realm projects and community spaces is that I get to work with the communities that experience and interact with the work; you have this cultural exchange of ideas and experiences. The installation becomes something that belongs to them and doesn’t belong to me, because it’s a collaboration. When you wear a pair of trainers you wear them in and they have a narrative and a story - in the same way that when I do a project in a skate park in Lille or a bridge in Battersea, the community get to wear it out and put their own imprint and experiences into that space. Over the years it becomes this layered mesh of stories and memories and people passing by.
Are there any other artists or designers that you look up to and why?
Sir David Adjaye. He’s someone I’ve looked up to and admired for his career and his journey and the impact he continues to make in the design industry - not only for me but also for a lot of young Black designers.
How do you feel like your dual heritage influences you creatively?
My Nigerian culture is loud, it’s expressive. It’s really trying to let the world know that I’m Nigerian - we’re colourful, happy people. Anyone that sees my design can instantly know it’s telling you a story and it makes you happy. That’s a very important thing for me in my practice - that the first thing you do when you see my work is smile, and you go away thinking about it. I think what’s interesting in the Homecoming collection for me personally is that there are also elements of that in the designers’ collections.
What would be your dream project and where?
Probably to design a hotel in Nigeria or West Africa.
What advice would you give those aspiring to a career like yours?
Always keep your integrity. Don’t be misled or sidetracked by what’s happening around you. If you’re really keeping your vision and your craft and your narrative, that will always shine through.
Yinka Ilori’s exhibition will be on display at Browns East until Tuesday 15th September 2020.
Click here for more information about what’s on at our Boutiques.
Interview by Georgia Graham