Among the many eye-catching objects in the exhibition Jaime Hayon: Technicolor, the delicate etching, dangling earrings, and dazzling glass surfaces of Afrikando are particularly alluring. This set of seven glass vessels is on view for the first time in the exhibition of work by Spanish artist-designer Jaime Hayon. Designed by Hayon expressly for the Milwaukee Art Museum’s permanent Collection, Afrikando fuses the tradition of glassblowing with the designer’s delightfully fresh contemporary sensibility.
Hayon envisioned this work as a “family” of figures. Though the individual vases are unique, each shares qualities with the others, some more than others. For instance, the pieces Abayomi (Brings Joy) and Saidah (Fortunate) are two-of-a-kind, with the same basic column form and circular ears, but their different color and ornamentation also make them entirely distinct. This creates a tantalizing game of compare-and-contrast for the viewer, as the pieces suggest and simultaneously defy any sort of consistent decorative formula.
Afrikando also serves as a fascinating study in light and color. A mixture of translucent and opaque glass produces intriguing effects, as does the visual layering of stems, funnels, and attached decorations inside and around the vessels’ bodies. The various components that make up each piece are not fixed together. Instead, funnels balance delicately on the vessels’ mouths, and the red staffs that adorn Malawa (Blossoms) are held in place by two small openings in the vase.
As the title Afrikando suggests, the collection is inspired, in part, by the decorative arts of Africa. Hayon, who travels relentlessly, was inspired by collections of African masks and costumes that he has seen in museums around the world. This is evident in some of the vessels’ mask-like features. These, when observed closely, lend a somewhat more somber quality to the bright and cheerful figures. This is also apparent in the titles of the individual pieces. Wambua, a Kenyan name meaning “born during the raining season,” and Chausiki, a Swahili term for “born at night,” further emphasize a connection to African cultures.
These visual and linguistic references to African cultures speak to how such forms have been consistently appropriated and transformed since European modernists, like Picasso and Gauguin, began using them towards the end of the nineteenth century. Today, the aesthetics of primitivism are critically examined by scholars and artists, who understand the risks inherent in approaching non-Western cultural production from a Western viewpoint. With Afrikando, Hayon directly acknowledges the debt that modern Western aesthetics owe to African cultures, while also celebrating the cultural fusion that has resulted from the realities of globalism.
Afrikando demonstrate how globalism can manifest not only in aesthetic forms, but also though mediums and traditions of making. The glass studio that produced the work is part of a long and storied tradition of glassblowing on the island of Murano, off the coast of Venice, Italy. For centuries, glass has been produced on this island, with highly skilled artisans developing the techniques used to produce this work. The basic forms were shaped by blowing glass into molds, these were refined with additional “gobs” of molten glass, and then decorated by etching once cooled. (For more on the making of Afrikando, check out the video below.)
The Milwaukee Art Museum is thrilled to welcome Afrikando to its permanent Collection, both as a way to commemorate the exhibition Jaime Hayon: Technicolor, and as a significant contribution to the Museum’s robust collection of studio glass. Afrikando can be seen in the Bradley Family Gallery as part of the Hayon exhibition now through March 25, 2018. Following the exhibition, it will join other examples of studio glass from the Museum’s Collection on view in Baumgartner Galleria.
Jaime Hayon: Technicolor is organized by the High Museum of Art, Atlanta.
Hannah Pivo is Curatorial Assistant for Design. She works on acquisitions, gallery rotations, and exhibitions of 20th- and 21st-century ceramics, glass, textile, graphics, industrial design, and more.