Dezeen Magazine

Interplay bench for playing Oware by Giles Nartey at Powershift exhibition by Poor Collective at London Design Festival 2023

Giles Nartey reimagines traditional West African bench as giant game of Oware

Designer Giles Nartey has presented a communal bench as part of a POOR Collective exhibition at the London Design Festival, with an intricately carved surface that doubles as a game board.

Interplay was designed for two people to straddle while facing the centre, where neat rows of holes called "houses" are hollowed out of the black-stained ash wood.

Close-up of ridges and patterns carved into wooden bench
Giles Nartey's Interplay bench was on show as part of London Design Festival

These are needed to play the West African strategy game of Oware, taught to Nartey by his grandparents when he lived in Ghana as a child.

The designer created Interplay as part of his postgraduate research at London's Bartlett School of Architecture, where he is exploring African craft cultures and how they work to embed rituals into objects.

Oware game carved into Interplay bench by Giles Nartey
The seat has an Oware game board carved into its centre

"This piece specifically is looking at the traditional West African typology of a bench-bed, which was created typically by the Senufo people from Mali and the Ivory Coast," Nartey explained.

"What Interplay is trying to do is reimagine it as a place for communal interaction and convivial play."

Overhead shot of person playing Oware while sat on a bench
The game involves moving pieces around two parallel rows of six holes

Oware is played by moving 48 seeds around two parallel rows of six holes, with each player aiming to capture more pieces than their opponent.

In this case, the seeds take the form of small brass pebbles and the holes serve both a practical and decorative function, forming part of a larger topography of patterns carved into the surface of the seat.

"I wanted the piece to feel like it had been sculpted by a multitude of interactions, each leaving behind traces of their presence," Nartey told Dezeen.

"The bench's design draws inspiration from the rich tradition of African skin marking, akin to the practice of scarification," he continued.

"It uses these moments of engraved and carved marks as a way of firstly referencing the piece as an extension of the African skin but also a piece imbued with cultural significance and meaning."

Close-up of patterns carved into wood
Other patterns are carved into the surface of the bench

At the London Design Festival, Interplay is on display as part of a group exhibition by POOR Collective – a social enterprise focused on involving young people in the design of their communities, which took home London's emerging design medal this year.

The show also featured a duo of tables created by Em Lemaître-Downton and the V&A's emerging designer Andu Masebo as part of a six-week mentorship program organised by POOR Collective.

Interplay bench for playing Oware by Giles Nartey at Powershift exhibition by Poor Collective at London Design Festival 2023
The bench is made from black-stained ash

Oware – also known as Ayo in Yoruba-speaking parts of Nigeria – has been reimagined by a number of designers in recent months.

Yinka Ilori sold a colourful pink-and-red version of the game at this Christmas pop-up last year, while fashion designer Ozwald Boateng created a high-end board with marble feet as part of his recent collaboration with Poltrona Frau.

The photography is by Andy Stagg.

Interplay was on show as part of the Powershift exhibition at the Brompton Design District from 16 to 24 September. See our London Design Festival 2023 guide on Dezeen Events Guide for information about the many other exhibitions, installations and talks that took place throughout the week.