Three questions to
Today we have the pleasure of talking to Kim Mupangilaï, a Belgian born, New-York based interior architect and designer. As curator of the ARCHITECT <==> DESIGNER Section 2024, Kim shares with us her journey into multidisciplinary projects and her vision for cross-cultural engagement.
COLLECTIBLE: You transitioned from interior architecture to furniture design; what motivated this change, and how has it shaped your global perspective?
Kim Mupangilaï: It all started with a curiosity towards my heritage. Having to grow up in a cross-cultural household yet Western world, it became my natural instinct to blend in with the Western culture that surrounded me. This resulted in never fully understanding nor finding my identity. My Belgian roots and Congolese heritage became the yin-yang of my conceptual process. This helped me shape my work into a montage of opposites, translated into a perfect amalgamation of my deep appreciation for primitive African artefacts and Western design.
Creating this body of work made me realise even more that we live in a fast-paced world of over consumption, content and endless access to information, so highlighting authenticity and deeper meaning is more relevant than ever.
I believe today’s global role of design is about preservation, communication, but it’s also about asking questions. If we look at the history of design, its purpose was mostly to fulfil functionality within its environment. Today, design is used as a tool to communicate, encourage conversations, evoke an experience and preserve cultures and their narratives. Today we have the luxury to richly contextualise our narratives and vocalise our viewpoints within design, so that design can be more impactful than our words and therefore force the audience to continually re-evaluate their understanding of design. We need more design that explores history which has largely been untold and has the ability to cross continents and push boundaries. I think it is unique that I was able to showcase my work in the US, as a European designer exploring my African heritage.
C: What have you been up to recently? Which recent project would you like to draw attention to?
KM: My solo show ‘Hue I Am/Hue Am I’ and a panel talk with Hannah Martin (Senior editor of AD USA) about my work’s association with Art Nouveau and the impact of the Belgian colonisation in Congo in the 19th century on Modernism in Europe and eventually the world.
I wanted this body of work to mirror the ambiguity and interpretation of my cultural identity. Therefore, the title ‘Hue I Am/Hue Am I’ and more so the word ‘HUE’ refers to the aspect of colours and gradation of shades which speak to the attribution of my heritage, the discernment of cross-culture and the dependence of ancestral storytelling.
There is no one specific message I intended to share with my body of work because interpretation is always subjective. However, I do want to emphasise the complexity of our identities as individuals and the endless lineages that come with that. I hope viewers relate, whether that’s on a cultural level or not. Our identities are so unique to us that it naturally evokes conversation.
The panel talk that followed was an organic result of my solo show. Both projects were an important reminder of cultural cross-pollination and colonisation within design - topics that are seldom talked about and need to be addressed more often.
C: In the context of decolonisation and cross-cultural engagement, do you believe there are opportunities for substantial improvements in the design industry, especially in terms of incorporating cultural influences and sustainability considerations?
KM: There is always room for improvement and new opportunities in the design industry. On a personal level, I’ve seen a positive response to my work in the education sector which has sparked my interest in how design can be taught. My design approach embodies and explores the amalgamation of different cultures and it is this cross-pollination that piques young peers’ interest. I’ve had several design students reach out with questions and perspectives on culture and cultural appropriation within architecture & design, and I was also asked to teach about such topics at the Parsons New School of Design in New York. These inquiries confirmed my beliefs that there is unfortunately a lack of education, and therefore ignorance on these matters. I strongly believe that there is a much larger conversation to be had when it comes to topics such as cultural appropriation, colonisation and vernacular design in the art and design world. This has fueled my aspiration to offer representation for POC and be vocal about these subjects with older and future generations in design.
I think it will be imperative for the future of design to focus on community and collectivity, but also on made-to-order products and durability in opposition to mass production, and with that: climate change. My work contributes to the future of design because it highlights and celebrates those communities that didn’t receive the recognition and credit where due in the past, which goes hand in hand with the impact of colonisation and oppression on art & design. I also believe focusing on ethically sourced materials to encourage sustainability and minimise the ecological footprint is imperative to secure a future in design.
Additionally, my work indirectly has the intention to indicate how we as a people conceive of our identities or present them to the world — we are all made up of so many aspects that only become visible upon closer inspection/introspection. It’s those interpretations that intrigue me, because from the very beginning I hoped these works would give space and opportunity for viewers to look inwards at their own heritage, upbringing and cultural landscape. I hope my work can inspire other unexplored narratives and uplift those underrepresented designers in the sector. All of this contributes to making the design world more accessible and pushing it into the public space.