Monday, 12:00pm
29 March 2021

Books received #44

Africa State of Mind; The Paper by Christoph Niemann; Modern Heraldry; and Abbatt Toys, Modern Toys for Modern Children.

Time to shine a light on some fascinating books about design and visual culture that have been piling up in a dark corner of Eye magazine’s office since the first lockdown.

Ekow Eshun’s Africa State of Mind (Thames and Hudson, £39.95) is a collection of work by a African photographers who question the boundaries of gender, identity and the legacies of colonialism. Structured in four thematic sections – ‘Hybrid Cities’, ‘Inner Landscapes’, ‘Zones of Freedom’ and ‘Myth and Memory’ – this book provides an insight into contemporary African identity. From the work of Omar Victor Diop, who recreates a series of early European paintings of African men, via the Invisible Borders Trans-African Photographers Organisation, to striking work by Nobukho Nqaba and Lina Iris Viktor, Africa State of Mind is a survey that brings welcome attention to a ‘new wave of African photographers’.

Cover of Africa State of Mind, design: Sarah Boris.
Top. Illustration from Christoph Niemann’s The Paper

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Spreads from Africa State of Mind showing photography by Lina Iris Viktor. 

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Spread from Africa State of Mind showing photography by Nobukho Nqaba.

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What good is a newspaper? To glance at Christoph Neimann’s exquisite little hardback, The Paper (Abstractometer Press, €30), you might think the answer is to hide behind. In spread after spread, archetypal Niemann avatars peer over the top of a broadsheet while all manner of mayhem erupts. A dinosaur browses quietly while the front page splash shows a meteorite approaching the earth; a mouse reads a newspaper full of cheese. Some stories are sequential, with a punchline several pages later.

Cover of Christoph Niemann’s The Paper, published by Niemann’s own Abstractometer Press. Design: Ariane Spanier. 

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There’s a serious purpose to the jollity, since Niemann made this book to support the charity Reporters without Borders [RSF]. The entire book is wordless apart from the colophon. In an accompanying note sent to purchasers, Niemann states that ‘we need a press that can ask the relevant questions, without fear of threats, persecution and violence.’

Spreads from Christoph Niemann’s The Paper, published by Abstractometer Press. Design: Ariane Spanier.

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The second volume of Modern Heraldry (£9.50), by Counter-Print founders Céline Leterme and Jon Dowling, is a collection of traditional, heraldic symbols used in contemporary corporate identity. The carefully presented visual subject matter includes fabulous beasts, shields, flowers, crossed keys and crowns – symbols redolent of the shields and pennants of earlier, more divided times updated to give instant recognisability and implied dignity to banks and start-ups alike.

Cover and spreads from Modern Heraldry: Volume 2. Design: Jon Dowling and Céline Leterme.

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Abbatt Toys was a successful London-based company formed in 1932 that lasted for more than 40 years. The brainchild of Paul and Marjorie Abbatt, it manufactured and sold modern children’s toys that were elegantly designed, robust and developmentally appropriate. The logo – of a silhouetted boy and girl holding hands – was designed by their friend Ernö Goldfinger, the Modernist Hungarian-born architect, as was their shop in Wimpole Street, which first opened in 1936. Abbatt Toys included both small and large items, from wooden picture trays and jigsaws to double-sided easels, work benches and rocking boats. Abbatt Toys: Modern Toys for Modern Children (Design for Today, £25.00), written by Alan Powers, is extensively illustrated and charts the emergence and ethos of the design-conscious toy company in the context of 1930s Britain.

Cover of Abbatt Toys: Modern Toys for Modern Children by Alan Powers, published by Joe Pearson’s Design For Today.

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Ernö Goldfinger’s logo design for Abbatt Toys.

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Spreads from Abbatt Toys: Modern Toys for Modern Children, showing some of Goldfinger’s sketches.

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Spreads showing posters and catalogue covers for Abbatt Toys.

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Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues.

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