Strange and often humanoid is not a phrase that you commonly see associated with furniture. Yet, it’s somehow a perfect fit for the superlatively authentic design practice, Nulangee Design. Started by Babacar M’Bodj Niang, this Senegalese furniture design studio, based in Dakar, created thought provoking pieces that aren’t your typical fashion and furniture pieces.
Niang’s craftsmanship was self-taught and perhaps not to everyone’s taste. Cathy O’Clery, the creative director of Platform Creative Agency in Cape Town, indicated this in her tribute piece to the designer. ‘[T]he sculptural furniture requires considered observation, as there is much to take in. There is an immediate sense of discomfort at its anthropomorphic nature – a pointed human foot or a gnarled hand-stump at the end of a chair leg or arm. The work suggests something dark and disturbing. I have seen some people recoil from touching it.’ But those that were captivated by its unconventional beauty, fell hard for its exceptional playfulness. A fact highlighted by Meyers of R & Company, a New York art gallery that showcases the work of inventive international designers from the 20th & 21st centuries. “[I]t was exciting to find this level of uniquely exceptional, self-taught craftsmanship coupled with such a pure and joyful sense of form and structure.”
But it was playfulness that came with ingenious engineering. From afar, it may appear that emphasis rides solely on creating an elegant form. A closer look divulges the thought that went into making them functional pieces that gently works to accommodate the human physique. As if the creations themselves were living entities, albeit frozen in time. The different collections draw you in largely due to their unapologetic sense of identity; a commodity that seems scarce in a world plagued with mass production. Remarkably, it’s something he managed to accomplish with local materials such as brass, wood and leather that are common to the continent. Yet, the end product is far from the norm, resulting in delicate sculptural art pieces with a multiform quality to them. Babacar M’Bodj Niang’s designs, in particular his speciality of benches and chairs, often channel enigmatic West African carnality through their improbable shapes; be it his plaited leather chairs or fragile bowed-legs on some of his pieces.
The late Babacar passed on in 2015 at the age of 51 at the pinnacle of his success. Nevertheless, he continues to live on through his contemporary creations that have been distributed worldwide for collectors and fans alike on the continent and across the world for them to continue to appreciate. His younger brother, Balla, relaunched the design company, Nulangee Design, and launched a website to feature his work so others can continue to discover the creative genius that was Babacar Niang.
It’s hard to fully describe the richness of his craft but there’s always the suspicion that we aren’t to be told what to think about his pieces. That they are meant to inspire each and every one of us in our own individual own way. We’ll leave you with just a snippet of his work but do share your thoughts on this nonpareil design impacts you.