Celebrating Jomo Tariku: Pioneering Modern African Design

Jomo Tariku in his Nyala chair. Photo: Gediyion Kifle

In the world of modern African design, one name stands out as a beacon of innovation and cultural resonance: Jomo Tariku. An Ethiopian American artist and designer based in Springfield, Virginia, Tariku’s journey into the world of design was not merely a career choice but a profound exploration of his heritage and an expression of his artistic vision.

Born and raised in Ethiopia, Tariku’s fascination with art and craftsmanship was ignited by the eclectic collection of artifacts and souvenirs gathered by his family during their extensive travels across Africa and beyond. This early exposure to the continent’s diverse cultural tapestry planted the seeds of inspiration that would later blossom into a distinctive design philosophy, rooted in tradition yet infused with a modern sensibility.

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Meedo Chair which comes in a black ash with orange trims adopts the Afro Comb silhouette on its legs, assuming the object’s celebration of beauty and representation. Photography by Julie Lehman Photography.

Tariku’s artistic evolution began in earnest during his formative years in Ethiopia when he spent two summer breaks working at a local builder in Addis Ababa, immersing himself in the hands-on craft of furniture making. This experience laid the foundation for his future pursuits and ignited his passion for the intersection of art, culture, and design.

Following his academic pursuits, Tariku pursued a degree in Industrial Design at the University of Kansas, USA, where he delved deeper into the exploration of contemporary African furniture as the subject of his college thesis. Armed with a newfound understanding of design principles and a profound appreciation for his African heritage, Tariku embarked on a journey to carve out his own unique niche in the world of design.

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Nyala chair and Mukecha stool, Black Panther, Wakanda Forever set

Tariku’s furniture designs serve as a testament to his eclectic influences and his unwavering commitment to celebrating Africa’s rich cultural heritage. Drawing inspiration from a myriad of sources, including historical structures, traditional furniture, wildlife, and even hairstyles, his creations embody a harmonious synthesis of tradition and innovation.

One of Tariku’s most celebrated pieces, the Meedo Chair, has earned a place of honor in The Metropolitan Museum of Art‘s permanent collection, where it graces the Afro-futuristic period room, Before Yesterday We Could Fly. This visually striking piece not only showcases Tariku’s mastery of form and function but also serves as a symbol of Africa’s enduring legacy of creativity and ingenuity.

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Ashanti Stool, 2023 courtesy wexler gallery

Beyond the confines of museum walls, Tariku’s influence extends to the silver screen, where his designs have left an indelible mark on pop culture. Several of his pieces, including a black wood chair inspired by his African roots, were featured in the Marvel movie “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” seamlessly integrating into the film’s fictional world of Wakanda and captivating audiences with their futuristic yet deeply rooted aesthetic.

Tariku’s impact on the design world goes beyond individual accolades and achievements. As a co-founder of the Black Artists + Designers Guild (BADG), he has been a vocal advocate for diversity and inclusion within the design community, championing the voices of Black designers and artists and providing a platform for their creative expression.

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The Nyala chair in black. Photo: Julia Lehman photography.

In recognition of his contributions to the world of design, Tariku was honored with the 2022 BADG Maker Award, further cementing his status as a trailblazer and visionary in the field of modern African design. His work serves as an inspiration to aspiring designers and cultural enthusiasts alike, reminding us of the power of art to transcend boundaries and bridge cultures.

From his humble beginnings in Ethiopia to his acclaimed presence on the global stage, Jomo Tariku continues to redefine contemporary African design with his meticulous attention to detail, unwavering dedication to craftsmanship, and profound reverence for his cultural heritage. In his hands, furniture becomes more than just functional objects; they become vessels of storytelling, inviting us to explore the rich tapestry of African culture and celebrate the beauty of diversity in all its forms.

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