A new exhibition has opened at the Design Museum showing off a body of work that you will probably recognise, but probably didn’t know that they were all the work of one man. London born and based Yinka Ilori comes from a Nigerian family, and that cultural heritage has informed his bold and bright colour schemes that range from small prints to huge outdoor commissions.

His outdoor work is dominated by the use of large patterned blocks aiming to bring a blast of colour to otherwise often neglected and run-down areas. Oh, and Canary Wharf, where he designed a temporary basketball court last year. And the stage set for the 2021 Brit Awards.

A recent public commission was the recent revamping of a shabby railway underpass into Happy Street. Some of the prototype panels used to clad the underpass are here, and it turns out they were made on the Isle of Wight by AJ Wells, the same company that makes the London Underground signs.

Something he didn’t make himself is on show — the name badge he wore while working at M&S for eight years while working to become an artist. He started as a solo artist in 2012, and expanded to a studio in 2017 working with a team of architects and designers.

A lot of his influences have been shown here, from record covers to the recorded music, and of course, the vibrant fabric designs that are so prevalent in Nigeria. The display highlights some of the most important aspects of Ilori’s work – such as his billboard graphics that promote joy – and places them beside key influences, including Nigerian textiles.

Oh, and do read the captions about the designs of the fabrics – the sparkplug is particularly amusing.

It also shows how he works with local communities, either developing ideas for large scale installations, but also reusing the materials from temporary displays, such as schoolchildren turning the Dulwich Picture Gallery pavilion into pot plant containers when the pavilion had to come down.

As an exhibition, it’s both a look at the work he has produced that transformed parts of London, but also at the journey he took to get to this point and the cultural motivations that drove his distinctive bold colour graphics. Over 100 objects, ranging from artworks, photographs and furniture, to textiles, books and personal possessions have been included in the exhibition, which wraps around the upper floor of the museum.

There’s an oddity about his art being in a museum, as he says that a lot of his motivation in his large public commissions is putting art in places where people who don’t go to museums and galleries can still find it. But in creating this exhibition, we’re now able to learn more about his motivations and why he does the work he does.

It might even encourage some of the “mueum-shy” who like his work in the streets to come and visit a museum.

So prolific is the artist’s work in London’s urban landscape that you’re bound to recognise some of them and finally realise who it was who designed them.

The exhibition, Yinka Ilori: Parables for Happiness is open at the Design Museum until the end of June 2023 and is free to visit.

Exhibition Rating


Design Museum
224-238 Kensington High Street, London
W8 6AG


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