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David Adjaye (Sir)

Born, 1966 in Dar-es-Salaam

Kobena Mercer has written fulsome praise about the achievements of David Adjaye, a British architect born in Tanzania. Mercer’s comments opened his chapter “Diaspora Didn’t Happen in a Day”: Reflections on Aesthetics and Time - in “Black” British Aesthetics Today. Published by: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007.

“The architect David Adjaye recently held an exhibition at London’s Whitechapel Gallery (1). Highlighting his public commissions, the display featured maquettes of ten major projects that Adjaye Associates have produced since 2000, including the British pavilion for the 2003 Venice biennale, the Nobel Peace Centre in Oslo, Norway, and the Ideas Store in East London. Walking through the exhibition, I realised that Adjaye is actually producing three of the four new arts centres that will provide permanent “homes” for the black British art scene: the Stephen Lawrence Centre in Deptford, the Bernie Grant Arts Centre in Tottenham [www.berniegrantcentre.co.uk], Rivington Place in Shoreditch, and Rich Mix in Whitechapel. this is a considerable achievement for an indivisdual talent not yet in his forties…” Mercer then goes on to posit the view that Adjaye’s successes and workload “also reveals something about the future possibilities for “black Britain” in the visual arts.”

One of Adjaye’s illustrations (Concept Sketch, 2003) accompanied Mercer’s chapter.

In the Queen’s Birthday Honours list of June 2007, he was awarded an OBE for services to architecture. In the New Year Honours list of 2017, Adjaye received a knighthood.

David Adjaye collaborated with Chris Ofili on The Upper Room. Ofil’s series of paintings were shown at the Tate, in a wood panelled environment especially designed by the architect David Adjaye, for fifteen months between September 2005 and the end of 2006. The Upper Room was originally commissioned for the Venice Biennale in 2003, for which Ofili was Britain’s representative. (2) In 2003, Art Review named Adjaye as one of the new entries into its Power 100: The Art World’s Top 100 Players. Coming in at number 56, Adjaye was the only Black British person to make the 2003 list. He was described as, “A Royal College graduate and the son of a Ghanaian diplomat. David Adjaye, 38, is a breath of fresh air. Describing his work as “building a bridge between art and architecture”, last year’s walnut-veneered Upper Room at Victoria Miro and the red, black and green British pavilion at the 2003 Venice Biennale attracted as many plaudits as the Chris Ofili paintings they housed.(3) Several years later the Adjaye/Ofili collaborative work formed a central element of a major mid-career retrospective by Chris Ofili, held at the Tate, between January and May 2010. The exhibition was, to date, the most substantial undertaking by a Black artist at Tate Britain.

A quote from a lecture by Adjaye, that touched on his The Upper Room collaboration with Chris Ofili, was used in the gallery guide accompanying Ofili’s mid-career retrospective at Tate Britain, 27 January - 16 May 2010. That particular lecture was David Adjaye, BP British Art Lecture at Tate Britain, 2005.

(1) Adjaye’s Whitechapel exhibition ran 24th January to 26th March 2006.

(2) Chris Ofili: The Upper Room, Tate Britain, 13 September 2005  – 1 January 2007

(3) 56: David Adjaye, Art Review Power 100 Issue 2 2003, p. 34


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Related exhibitions

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»  Arnolfini

Bristol, United Kingdom

»  The British Pavilion, Venice

Venice, Italy

»  Whitechapel Art Gallery

London, United Kingdom