The London Design Biennale kicked off at London’s Somerset House on 4 September, this year’s theme being ‘Emotional States’.
Teams from 40 countries have been asked to create an exhibition exploring how their country is revealed through design; and how design affects every facet of our lives, from our identity to our relationships, and our experiences and emotions.
Somalia’s entry is titled ‘What Remains’. Created by a group of four Somali architects and designers, the exhibition explores the country’s rich architectural heritage; a structural history that has shifted and evolved – and fallen into ruin – due to the ongoing impact of the civil war.
Through a series of images and video, ‘What Remains’ traces Mogadishu’s architecture from pre-colonialism to the present day. Along the way, viewers will see Italianate flourishes on Euro-style structures, luxury seaside hotels, makeshift housing, modernist government buildings and bomb-ravaged wrecks.
Of course, the dive into architecture will frame the human experience within it; touching on the social impact of foreign rule, civil unrest and poverty, among other issues.
The minds behind the exhibition – Yusuf Shegow, Madina Scacchi, Iman Mohamed, Ahmed Mussa – could be said to reflect the same themes as the Architectural motif. They are part of the diaspora (in the UK, Italy and USA to be precise), and thus represent a legacy of destruction and displacement.
However, their talents speak of a different future. All four are part of Somali Architecture. Founded by Yusuf Shegow, a graduate of the Manchester School of Architecture, the project digitally recreates buildings and monuments from Mogadishu’s pre war era.
Shegow was inspired to start the project after visiting Somalia five years ago, where his grandfather told him about the architectural beauty that used to be common throughout the country’s capital. Shegow hopes that by presenting Mogadishu as the flourishing economic capital it once was, Somali Architecture can play a role in making it one again.
“By focusing on how the city used to be, we’re also asking where the city is going now,” he told the Guardian. “The diaspora are coming back now, and we need a cohesive idea of where the city is going.”
Another member of the team, Madina Scacchi, joined Somali Architecture after discovering the project’s Instagram through a friend. She believes it serves as “a way to feel less separation” from her heritage.
Every concrete action to have ever taken place has started with a vision. Even if Somali Architecture’s ‘What Remains’ currently exists in a London gallery, it has the power to inspire real change.
As long as young Somalis have the will to rebuild their homeland, the prospect of it happening grows stronger.
The London Design Biennale was on show at Somerset House from 4th September – 23 September 2018.