Rich Mnisi’s first solo exhibition of collectible furniture, titled Nyoka, runs at Southern Guild from 2 October, 2021 to 4 February, 2022. The collection comprises seating, a console, chandelier, rug and other objects. Overall it’s a bold exploration of shape and fluidity brought 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.

Rich Mnisi Monkeybiz Picture Bruce Buttery

Bushongo mythology

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 adds.

Mnisi’s broad design vision encompasses fashion, creative direction, film-making and furniture. 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.

Rich Mnisi Nyoka exhibition
Rich Mnisi

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.

What: Rich Mnisi Nyoka exhibition
Where: Southern Guild, Silo 5, Silo District, V&A Waterfront, Cape Town
When: 2 October 2021 – 4 February 2022
Call:  +27 21 461 2856