Southern Guild is thrilled to announce Rich Mnisi’s first solo exhibition of collectible furniture, titled Nyoka, which runs from 23 September to 11 November. The collection – comprising seating, a console, chandelier, rug and other objects – is a bold exploration of shape and fluidity, brought vividly to life in a rich array of materials including bronze, wool, resin and glass. Nyoka draws on Mnisi’s family history and African mythology, and plays with the duality of fear and beauty epitomised by the image of a snake, which gives the show its title in Xitsonga.
Like Mnisi’s most recent fashion collection, Ku Huhama, Nyoka finds its origins in a dream. He explains:
“This started with a nightmare. My mother dreamt of a snake on her back. When she turned to look at it, she saw an intense green creature, frightening and fluid, dangerous and beautiful. My journey started here, and led me to Congo’s Bushongo mythology and its creator god, Bumba, the first ancestor. He vomited up the sun, Earth, moon and stars, and then the rest of the natural world from that acidic pain and discomfort. Unlike most of our world’s origin stories, this one proposes that the beauty and life of our world could be purged instead of birthed.”
Nyoka wrestles with the idea of beauty distilled from darkness. “To live is to embrace this duality. To accept that joy and tragedy, light and darkness, dreams and nightmares are connected, orbiting and defining each other,” he states.
Mnisi’s broad design vision – encompassing fashion, creative direction, film-making and furniture – is underpinned by an aesthetic and philosophical fluidity. His visual vocabulary is defined by strong shapes, organic forms and snaking lines, from the anthropomorphic curves of his Nwa-Mulamula Chaise to the swirling patterns of his textile designs. His design process is intuitive, and his fashion collections are free of gender and seasonal prescriptions.
A sensuous dynamism runs through Mnisi’s designs for Nyoka. A curved console is punctuated by the winding form of a bronze snake, its storage cavity concealed by a richly patterned beaded curtain. A large, asymmetrical rug, woven in karakul wool and mohair, combines voluminous tufts with intricate flat-woven areas in clashing colours synonymous with Mnisi’s iconic clothing. Twisting sinuously down from the ceiling, the twin branches of a bronze chandelier hold resin bubbles of light and the sheepskin pelts covering a pair of low-slung seats are articulated by a continuous line of black leather that traces the rise and fall of the seats’ forms.
Mnisi worked closely with Southern Guild to realise his vision, collaborating with several artisan groups including Monkeybiz, Coral & Hive and Bronze Age Studio, in close alignment with the designer’s mission to promote craft and South African handwork in his practice.
A designer at the very forefront of African fashion, Rich Mnisi founded his eponymous label in 2015. Born in Kempton Park, Johannesburg in 1991, he graduated from LISOF School of Fashion in 2014 and was named Africa Fashion International Young Designer of the Year at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa that same year.
Widely heralded for his fusion of contemporary pop culture and traditional African heritage, Mnisi’s designs infuse his own personal narrative into extremist yet minimalist structures. He works across genders, seasons, geographical lines and creative disciplines, with a twin devotion to craftsmanship and experimentation. He draws influences from film, music and photography, and frequently art directs editorial and campaign shoots.
Mnisi made his furniture debut with two pieces for Southern Guild in 2018: Nwa-Mulamula’s Chaise and Nwa-Mulamula’s Tears. These organic-shaped pieces are an extension of his Nwa-Mulamula fashion collection – a homage to the memory of his late great-grandmother, an ever-present guardian whose teachings have lived on in his family through storytelling generation after generation.
Mnisi’s second seating collection, Alkebulan, was commissioned by Southern Guild in 2019. In the same year, he won Emerging Designer of the Year at the Essence Best in Black Fashion Awards in New York and also made the 2019 Forbes #30under30 List.