Yinka Ilori: Parables of Happiness at the Design Museum
Colour has a powerful effect on our mood, maybe more than we realise. It’s not an area of psychology with much research so far; colour theory still remains mainly the domain of Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen and his flamboyant ilk – but if you look closely, colour is used with intent throughout our world. For one example, a fast food restaurant is not designed to be lingered in and it uses colour to convey that: when they were first invented, they were decorated in red and yellow as the combination creates a sense of speed and urgency in customers. They usually stick close to that formula still.
Bright colour, then, can definitely lift the mood and that is the aim of British Nigerian designer and artist Yinka Ilori’s free display at the Design Museum, Parables of Happiness. The artist uses bold colour and geometric shapes for his distinctive aesthetic. The exhibition, curated by Design Museum Head of Curatorial, Pryia Khanchandani, has brought together around 100 objects that have been created by Ilori or have influenced him.
There is an example of late Congolese artist Bodys Isek Kingelez’s “extreme maquettes”, a model made of a building that was never to be built, that conveys a fantastical, utopian dream for architecture. There are fabrics from Lagos, Nigerian LPs, a Dùndún drum for visitors to play. The whole show is infused with a sense of play, from the sometimes clashing colours to the wildly diverse portfolio of projects for which Ilori has been commissioned. There is a model of his now dismantled Colour Palace that was sat outside Dulwich Picture Gallery in 2019. There are videos of him interacting with children playing in his designs. The Flamboyance of Flamingos is a playground with cute boxy flamingo designs for those springy wobbly things (technical term). There is a video about his Lego launderette in Bethnal Green built from a mere 200,000 bricks. He shows that municipal design doesn’t have to be grey and authoritarian. His output is the antithesis of hostile architecture, his designs are meant to encourage rather than discourage.
Designers love a chair, one of the most concise expressions of form and function, and naturally, there are chairs here. There are some from the start of Ilori’s career where he repurposed 80 old chairs with his designs. There is the striking Washington Skeleton Side Chair designed by mentor Sir David Adjaye.
The range and number of projects Ilori has been involved in show a powerful ambition and creativity at work. There can’t be too many designers who have their homeware designs stocked in Selfridges who also designed a stage for the BRIT Awards. Brands have fallen over themselves to commission him: Courvoisier recently named Ilori their “Ambassador for Joy”. You can see why: he is bringing more joy into the world through colour and design. It will be interesting to see what he does next.
Yinka Ilori: Parables of Happiness is at the Design Museum from 15th September until 25th June 2023. For further information visit the exhibition’s website here.