In 2015, British architect David Adjaye, who had recently completed the design of the acclaimed National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, was invited to curate an exhibition for the museum’s Selects series. Adjaye, who was born in Tanzania and raised in Ghana, has traveled to nearly every African nation and chose to focus on the museum’s collection of West African textiles, including works from Ghana, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, and Mali. “I was very inspired by the wide array of geometry, textures and forms I found in museum’s collection of African textiles,” he said. “It struck me that together they really told the story of the diversity of these regional traditions of craftsmanship.”

In conjunction with the exhibition, Adjaye designed a collection of textiles for Knoll inspired by the museum’s collection. Combining Adjaye’s unique perspective on abstract geometric pattern systems with Knoll Creative Director Dorothy Cosonas’s deep knowledge of woven and print techniques, the collection presents an exceptionally rich and varied range of patterns and textures. Each textile is named for an African city and reflects Adjaye’s personal love of African geography, nature and culture.

Aswan, an upholstery with a plush surface, combines the formal composition of Ewe strip-woven prestige cloths from Ghana with the soft color effects of digital printing to create something utterly new.


Susan Brown is the Associate Curator of Textiles at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

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