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Rich MnisiRich Mnisi
Rich Mnisi, "Alkebulan," photo by Hayden Phipps and Southern Guild.
Rich MnisiRich Mnisi
Rich Mnisi, "Nyoka (Snake)," photo by Hayden Phipps and Southern Guild.
Rich MnisiRich Mnisi
Rich Mnisi, "Vumboni I & II (Testimony)," photo by Christof vander Walt, courtesy of Southern Guild.
Rich MnisiRich Mnisi
Rich Mnisi, portrait by Ricardo Simal and Southern Guild.
Rich MnisiRich Mnisi
Rich Mnisi, portrait by Ricardo Simal and Southern Guild.
Design

Rich Mnisi Explores Duality in Design 

By Katy Donoghue

November 29, 2022

This week in Miami, Southern Guild is showing the work of Rich Mnisi, alongside other designers and artists, within its presentation at Design Miami/. The South African designer is known for his eponymous fashion collection, founded in 2014. Mnisi expanded into furniture design a few years later, bringing his signature mix of contemporary culture, African heritage, and personal narrative into seating, lighting, and more. Whitewaller asked him about the inspiration behind the work and how his process is led by intuition.

Open Gallery

Rich MnisiRich Mnisi
Rich Mnisi, "Nyoka (Snake)," photo by Hayden Phipps and Southern Guild.

WHITEWALLER: What was the starting point for the console, Nyoka, which you’re showing in Miami? 

RICH MNISI: This work began with a dream my mother had. She dreamt of a snake on her back. When she turned to face it, she saw this mammoth creature, frightening and fluid, dangerous and beautiful. Nyoka’s journey began there and eventually led me to Congo’s Bushongo mythology and to the story of Bumba, the god who birthed the world through vomiting. This is a story I had heard before and had always found fascinating. Tradition, symbolism, and folklore are integral to who we are—these symbols and stories give us roots and help mold our own sense of self. So many of these stories have been erased through colonial narratives. It is powerful and liberating to reclaim these symbols and rewrite our personal and collective histories through artmaking. 

From this maternal vision, I took our human capacity to confront our fears and find beauty within darkness. Through the collection, I intended to explore this tense duality between terror and beauty; a contrast that is so aptly embodied by the image of the snake. The visual essence of the snake, its fluidity and malleability, is present in each design. I am a fierce advocate for the embracing of change and the breaking down of boundaries. For me, this fluidity represents inclusivity, an ideology reflected through my love for creating for everyone. 

Open Gallery

Rich MnisiRich Mnisi
Rich Mnisi, "Vumboni I & II (Testimony)," photo by Christof vander Walt, courtesy of Southern Guild.

WW: What kind of dialogue did you want in the materials, between a fluid curtain of beading and bronze?

RM: The unique combination of textures is born of my relationship with the Xitsonga tribe. They are a people who do not shy away from playing with different color and texture combinations that are not commonly deemed as harmonious. I inherited this bold approach to materiality from my ancestors, which is explored through my own lens of a queer Xitsonga man living in a modern world. Through the choice of beading, we wanted to capture the essence of the Xibelani skirt traditionally worn by Tsonga women. Beading seemed like the best art form to capture a sense of dynamic movement.  

WW: How do you see your process in designing furniture in relation to your process designing your fashion collection? Does one inform the other? 

RM: The making of the collection felt like the product of a very natural creative progression. My process is led by innate intuition. As a designer, you are always going to have a certain visual vocabulary, aesthetic, and philosophy that is going to come through the work, regardless of its ultimate form. Fluidity is an element that informs all my work. Fluidity means inclusivity, in both fashion and design, and I want to make objects that invite all people to find joy and use in what I make. This openness allows us to challenge our preconceptions and deconstruct stereotypes that may inhabit our most authentic expression of self.  

Open Gallery

Rich MnisiRich Mnisi
Rich Mnisi, "Alkebulan," photo by Hayden Phipps and Southern Guild.
Design Miami/Rich MnisiSouthern GuildWhitewaller Miami

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