Get To Know Yinka Ilori
Looking to brighten your mood? Look no further than the work of contemporary design star Yinka Ilori, whose colourful sculptural installations took over the entrance of Browns East back in 2020 as part of our Homecoming festival celebration. To celebrate the launch of his brand new homewares offering, created during lockdown, we revisit our conversation with the artist and discuss his new collection.
Yinka Ilori’s 2020 installation in the Browns East exhibition space.
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.
What inspired your move into homewares?
I think for a lot of people during lockdown, their home was their place of worship; their shrine; their gym; their restaurant; their cinema. So it was just trying to work out how we can make our home this sacred place that brings us this element of joy and love and hope. I was trying to use everyday objects that we use within our home to make you feel special and joyful and happy. I think lots of design objects, especially within interiors, don’t always focus on feelings or emotions or memories. But during lockdown, we were all at home with families or loved ones - or with your dog or your cat - those who gave you joy.
What about the exclusive Browns pieces with the slogans?
The inspiration was a previous project I did last year. I was commissioned by Jack Arts, and the commission was for the Chelsea and Westminster hospital Emergency Department. I printed this text during lockdown that said: “Better days are coming, I promise.” And then the other slogan was: “As long as we have each other, we’ll be OK.” It started off as a public art commission on billboards around London, and I think people really connected with the artwork and it gave them a sense of hope during lockdown.
Can you tell us a bit about your 2020 installation at Browns East?
It was 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.
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 as a designer?
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.
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