What are you most scared of? What if your greatest fear is only a dark curtain you need to pry apart to reveal true beauty? What if “joy and tragedy, light and darkness, dreams and nightmares are connected” and not opposite concepts at odds with each other?
These are part of the questions South African designer, Rich Mnisi, seeks to answer with his first solo exhibition of collectible furniture, Nyoka, for the Southern Guild Gallery.
Nyoka is the Tsonga name for the snake, and it is this creature – which incidentally, the designer and his family were so scared of that “we couldn’t even look at them on TV” – that inspires the furniture design in this body of work. The idea to use the snake as the cornerstone of his creations came after a nightmare his mother had.
“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 god of vomit. 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.”
The snake is present in a console table made of blackened bronze and adorned with glass beads that hide its head from plain sight. It makes a more subtle appearance in the Vumboni sofas and Rivoningo wall sculpture but comes out again in full force in the Vutlhari chandelier. Not even the Nwa’Ntlhohe rug escapes the powerful clutches of the snake.
But none of the furniture pieces was made alone. Throughout the entire process, Rich Mnisi collaborated with other artisan groups including Monkeybiz, Coral & Hive and Bronze Age Studio, as well as Southern Guild gallery to bring everything to life. This spirit of community, of different elements finding new meaning in a different context, is also a central theme in Nyoka.
Nyoka: A solo exhibition of (Limited-Edition Sculptural Furniture) by Rich Mnisi will open up to the public from October 2 and run up till February 4, 2022. If you cannot make it to South Africa during this period, the Southern Guild Gallery has published a limited-edition, one-off magazine that not only captures the story behind Nyoka but is also a pictural gallery of Rich Mnisi, his life and work. To order one of the 750 copies available, visit the Southern Guild Gallery on Instagram for more information.