Malian Remix: Cheick Diallo repurposes recycled materials into 'everyday objects'

France 24 screen grab | Portrait of Malian designer Cheick Diallo

Malian designer Cheick Diallo uses recycled materials and local craftsmanship to create unique, contemporary pieces of furniture that are exhibited both in Africa and in the West. FRANCE 24 met him in the Malian capital Bamako.


From old tyres and soda cans to bottle tops, Cheick Diallo mines discarded objects and turns them into unique pieces that are subsequently exhibited in galleries and museums in cities like Paris and New York.

In an open-air junkyard in the heart of Bamako’s old town, Diallo and his team of artisans redesign and repurpose old car parts received from Europe. Diallo calls this concept "return to sender", he explained to FRANCE 24 correspondent Anthony Fouchard.

“We revive them,” Diallo said of the car parts. “They came here to die, this is their cemetery. We rework things that come from Europe and redefine them as everyday objects.”

Diallo, 56, is one of Mali’s leading designers and architects. He studied in Rouen, France, at the École nationale d’architecture de Normandie and at the École nationale supérieure de création industrielle in Paris.

His work featured in the seminal "Africa Remix" exhibition, which was presented at the Kunst Palast in Düsseldorf (Germany), the Hayward Gallery in London, the Pompidou Centre in Paris, the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo and Moderna Museet in Stockholm over a period of three years. His pieces also grace the French and Belgian embassies in Bamako.

When Diallo was based in Rouen he returned regularly to Bamako to collaborate with local craftsmen on his designs. In 2014 he returned to live permanently in the Malian capital, where he is considered a pioneer and the grandfather of contemporary African design. Today he lives in the house that his architect father, Seydou Diallo, designed in the 1960s and offers design workshops in Mali, Ivory Coast and Senegal.

For the inauguration of the Rencontres de Bamako (Bamako Encounters) photography biennale in early December, Diallo transformed the ground floor of his house into a showroom where he presented his furniture.

His pieces – including chairs, tables and lighting – reveal a contemporary sensibility that plays with Western influences, drawing inspiration from the likes of American architect and designer Frank Gehry; the Israeli-born, London-based industrial designer Ron Arad; and French designers Philippe Starck, Patrick Jouin and Constance Guisset.

Diallo reinterprets and remixes Western ideas with a Malian twist, which includes painting the structures of recycled parts and adding weaving and braiding. Building an armchair can take around four days, he said.

As a member of Design Network Africa – along with Kenya’s Adele Dejak and Hamed Ouattara from Burkina Faso – Diallo endeavours to place Malian design firmly on the art world's map.

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