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With 'HUE/AM/I - HUE/I/AM,' Kim Mupangilaï pays homage to her African heritage
The HUE/AM/I - HUE/I/AM exhibition by Kim Mupangilaï at the Superhouse gallery NY
Image: Luis Corzo

With 'HUE/AM/I - HUE/I/AM,' Kim Mupangilaï pays homage to her African heritage

The interior designer and architect debuted her furniture collection Kasaï at Superhouse gallery New York, expressing nuances of her cross-cultural identity with the exhibition.

by STIRpad
Published on : Jul 10, 2023

Can the creative discipline of design aid in reconnecting with one's ancestral roots and cultural heritage?

The Superhouse Vitrine art gallery in New York unveiled interior designer and architect Kim Mupangilaï's first furniture design collection called Kasaï in a solo exhibition dubbed HUE/AM/I - HUE/I/AM, on view from June 28 - August 20, 2023. In the show's title, the term 'Hue' alludes to skin tone as a homage to Mupangilaï’s ancestry. Born to a Belgian mother and a Congolese father, Mupangilaï was raised in Europe, which ensued in losing contact with her African heritage. The New York-based designer rediscovers her multicultural identity through this memorable and succinct furniture collection, underscored by an intention to inspire viewers to examine their own ancestries.

“Growing up in a small town in Belgium with a Belgian mother and Congolese father, it became my natural instinct to blend in with the Western culture that surrounded me. This resulted in never fully understanding or finding my own identity. Therefore, I perceive every piece in the collection as a personal cross-cultural experience,” shares Mupangilaï. The collection comprises seven furniture designs including the 'Bina' chair design, table designs, and daybed, the 'Mwasi armoire, the 'Mayi' bench, and the 'Brazza' screen. Each piece is crafted from natural materials including teak, stone, rattan, and banana fibre, finding distinction in their local use in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Banana fibre reference the leaves frequently used for cooking, serving, and food preservation, rattan is traditionally used to craft baskets, rugs, and textiles, while teak and stone highlight the nation's abundant natural resources.

By sculpting the natural materials by hand into curved and abstract pieces of wooden furniture, the Antwerp-born designer defines a tactile and whimsical visual language for her objects. The titles of the objects contain the words Mwasi, which means ‘woman,’ and Bina, which means ‘dance’. The furniture designer therefore, investigates with care and compassion, concepts of femininity, geography, history, and culture. The resulting collection is at once visually arresting and introspective. The furniture from the Kasaï collection is functional while perhaps, conveying the impression of being unconstitutional. This contrast draws attention to the designer's background and underlines her method of approaching design, one that places aesthetics on equal footing with purpose and use. “The collection is a fresh perspective on art furniture, which for any artist or designer is no easy feat. I am overjoyed with bringing Kim’s unique voice to Superhouse’s audience,” shares Stephen Markos, founder and director of Superhouse.

The custom wall and floor treatment aligning with the theme of the exhibition was done by Belgian artisans Håndlayer. The Håndlayer team collaborated closely with Mupangilaï to create surfaces that imitate traditional Congolese architecture, altering the art gallery and highlighting the product designer's intent. Mupangilaï's debut furniture collection receives limelight owing to the gallery’s aim of featuring functional art and basing its programming on a thorough understanding of design history. Due to an alignment of ideologies, Mupangilaï showcased to the world her African heritage and nuances of her cross-cultural identity, physically manifested through the exhibited product designs.

Kim Mupangilaï's solo exhibition ‘ 'HUE/AM/I - HUE/I/AM' will be on view from June 28 - August 20, 2023, at the Superhouse Vitrine art gallery, New York.

Text by Ria Jha

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