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.
YINKA ILORI: PARABLES FOR HAPPINESS 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 will be 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 will be 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 will 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.
YINKA ILORI: PARABLES FOR HAPPINESS until 25th June 2023, the Design Museum.
About the artist
Yinka Ilori is a multi-disciplinary artist and designer whose bold visual language draws on his British Nigerian heritage to convey new narratives through contemporary design. Drawing on Nigerian parables and verbal traditions, Ilori touches on a multitude of themes that resonate with a global audience. His work is underpinned by the belief that art and design should be accessible to all. Humorous, provocative and playful, his projects demonstrate how design can bring together communities and have a positive impact on society, evoking a sense of joy and optimism. Often using the city as his canvas, he reimagines spaces to encourage a sense of community and invites audiences to engage and participate in his work and its surroundings. A graduate of London Metropolitan University’s BA in Furniture and Product Design, Ilori’s work has been showcased globally through solo and group exhibitions, public commissions and set and exhibition design.