When I first met Emmanuel Olunkwa in 2015, he had been in New York for about a year and was working as an intern at Comme des Garçons while pursuing an undergraduate degree at The New School. Since then, he’s held several different jobs in art, fashion, film, and photography. As Emmanuel writes on his website, his work as a director, designer, and writer “brings deep study and surprising connection across culture, fashion, urban landscape, and social ecology.”
Fast forward to 2021: after a stint as an assistant to a major Hollywood producer and then as an editor at Artforum, Emmanuel is now Arts Editor at Pioneer Works, the legendary Red Hook, Brooklyn, arts space and cultural center. He’s also a founding editor of November Magazine, an online publication featuring interviews with practitioners across art, architecture, philosophy, and critical theory. Oh, and he just completed a masters program in Critical, Curatorial, and Conceptual Practices at Columbia University’s GSAPP.
Emmanuel recently launched his own line, E&Ko., adding furniture designer to his resume. Here’s a look at his flat, plus a Q & A. Photography by Matthew Williams.
RM: Tell us about the transition from all these other disciplines to furniture making.
EO: I started designing things out of necessity; it’s a form of problem solving. Anything I’m curious about, I pursue. I didn’t know that I could make furniture, but I explored it and it started to come together. I was looking to design my own furniture, but there was a problem—I was getting insane quotes.
RM: But you persisted.
EO: Eventually I found a fabricator who could translate my ideas into 3-d forms.
RM: What’s your guiding principle when it comes to furniture?
EO: Everything should be serious, but fun. Everyone should have a flower table. I made this thing that makes me really happy. When people come over, they’re excited to get to know it—to sit at the flower table.
RM: Sources of inspiration?
EO: LA designer Shin Okuda of Waka Waka talks about plywood as paper, this blank page, something you can really sculpt. Taking something that is so generic that has the potential to change into something else, that’s completely dependent on your imagination. It’s like a paper crane. The flower table defies its material reality.
RM: You’ve been living in New York since 2014, but you’re originally from LA. Has LA had any influence on these designs?
EO: LA taught me how to move intentionally. You have to know what’s next. You have to have a destination, it’s hard to wander. In LA I was a witness. New York taught me how to take action, that ideating is just step one.
For updates about E&Ko., you can follow Emmanuel on Instagram: @wordimagetext
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