A new exhibition from one of the leading voices in contemporary design, Simone Brewster, encourages viewers to reconsider their perception of everyday objects and how we interact with them.
Most of the time, we just think an object is an object. Yes, we imbue certain items with sentimental attachment, whether that be a scarf our nan knitted us or a ticket stub from a special gig. But apart from these odd exceptions, we don't really think of everyday stuff as any more than...stuff.
Acclaimed designer, architect and visual artist Simone Brewster is here to boldly challenge those assumptions in a new design commission, The Shape of Things, at NOW Gallery in Greenwich, London.
Simone's work has previously been exhibited both in the UK and around the world, including at the British Embassy during the London 2012 Olympic Games, The Royal College of Art 175th Anniversary Exhibition, and Collect at the Saatchi Gallery.
Now her latest exhibition explores the power of objects to communicate societal expectations of beauty, representation, and the talismanic qualities of objects we use to empower ourselves. It draws on the concept of 'intimate architecture': the effect of texture and three-dimensional form on memory and emotion.
In other words, the Shape of Things is an emotive display of objects that gain significant personal meaning from the tension and interaction between itself and its audience.
West meets Africa
As part of the African Diaspora, Brewster's work marries Western and African visual languages, bridging the gap between these histories and the material shapes and forms that are imbued with cultural history and tradition. These dialogues of heritage, memory, race, gender, tradition and form are embodied in some of the key centrepieces of the exhibition.
Brewster is particularly invested in the tensions between the objects, architectural spaces and the viewer, looking at how race, gender, memory and personal histories shape our understanding of design. These quiet political designs raise significant issues regarding race, gender and visibility in design and architecture spaces while celebrating black British design and African heritage.
The exhibition presents new works alongside a selection of Simone's most notable pieces, from furniture to jewellery and sculpture, that investigates the hidden linguistics behind design that are inherently entwined with societal norms and ideas of race, gender, equality and more.
The jewellery from the exhibition is available to purchase, and visitors to the exhibition are invited to create their own artworks by using stamps designed by Brewster that echo the bold shapes of the sculptural pieces in the exhibition.
Deconstructing the body
As part of the display, Brewster presents a chaise lounge titled Negress. This embodies a Modernist perspective on a deconstructed view of the black female body, referencing and questioning the primitivist and cubist interpretations of the subject. The piece was acquired by the Smithsonian in 2022 and invites the viewer to re-examine their ways of interacting with the uncanny form of the chaise lounge.
In addition, Simone is showcasing a series of vessels titled Tropical Noire that reference the totemic statues and traditional Greek vessels, as well as Sub-Saharan African sculpture and colonial artefacts. Visitors can also view brand-new comb sculptures inspired by African hairstyles, which are wearable and celebrate the designer's heritage.
"I am so excited to have the opportunity to present my work at the Summer Design Exhibition," says Simone. "NOW Gallery is the perfect space to show the diversity of my work across many different media. While my paintings have been featured in the Royal Academy, furniture at the Museum of London and Jewellery at Collect, this is the first time they are being shown together.
"This is a wonderful opportunity to illustrate how the themes present in my work – race, womanhood, function, beauty – span the different media in which I work while taking on many different forms, from the architectural nature of Tropical Noir to the fluid strokes of my painting."
"There are so many elements of Simone Brewster's work that make her perfect for our Summer Design exhibition," adds gallery curator Jemima Burrill.
"From her joyous painting to her complex objects, all examine her design world of carefully considered history, identity, social construct, and feminist discourse. Her interest in the essence of shapes and their place in design shines through in this exhibition, and this element will be an interactive part of the exhibition. With Simone's rich and profound design philosophy and her architectural understanding, she will use NOW Gallery as a vitrine to portray a treasure trove of design and social issues."