Giles Tettey Nartey creates communal table for pounding and serving fufu

Communion table by Giles Tettery Nartey

Pestles, mortars and bowls are integrated into the surfaces of the Communion table, created by designer Giles Tettey Nartey specifically for preparing the West African staple dish fufu.

Carved from American maple, the monumental furniture piece consists of a central serving table surrounded by five workstations for pounding boiled cassava and plantain into a dough.

Communion table by Giles Tettery Nartey
The Communion table was designed for preparing fufu

This dough is then formed into small parcels reminiscent of dumplings, from which pieces are torn and used to scoop up soups and stews.

Tettey Nartey, who was born in South London but lived in Ghana for much of his childhood, designed the sculptural table to reframe the everyday act of making fufu as a ritual with tremendous social and cultural significance.

Close-up of workstation with large pestle and mortar
Each of its workstations incorporates a large pestle and mortar

“This practice of one person pounding and one person kneading the mixture, for me, is beauty in itself because it’s a dialogue,” he told Dezeen. “It’s the preparation of food, but it’s also a sound, it’s music.”

“It’s always held a particular resonance for me and bringing that into a new light, to some degree, feels like a responsibility,” he added.

“I feel a responsibility to view West African ways of living and inhabiting the world as something important, something sacred and something, which is as relevant and as substantial as most of the things that we hold up to a high value within the West.”

Close-up of wooden table with carved surface
Bowls are carved into its surface to hold water, cassava and plantain

Much like making fufu is a communal activity that brings people together, Communion was designed as a series of separate components that are joined to form a functioning whole.

Each of the workstations is a self-contained unit, consisting of an oversized pestle and mortar – a woma and woduro – accompanied by a three-legged stool modelled on those made by the Ashanti people of Ghana.

People miming the act of making fufu on Communion table by Giles Tettery Nartey
The boiled plantain and cassava are pounded into a dough to make fufu

Within arms reach, bowls and indentations are carved out of the maple wood, some for holding boiled plantain and cassava and others for holding water.

“Water is added to the mixture periodically to turn it into a fluffy slushy mixture,” Tettey Nartey explained. “So when someone is sat on the stool, they’re able to reach into the bowl to spoon water into the woduro and grab the ingredients from the outer bowls while the other person is pounding.”

Manufactured with the help of London furnituremaker Jan Hendzel Studio, the whole setup including the stools measures nearly four metres in diameter.

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


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

The project is the latest to be born from Tettey Nartey’s doctorate research, exploring the rituals of domestic life in Ghana from a diasporic perspective.

Communion follows a bench presented at last year’s London Design Festival that doubles as a giant game board for playing the West African strategy game Oware.

Workstation of Communion table by Giles Tettery Nartey
Tettey Nartey also created a three-legged stool for each workstation

“The research is about looking at these really quotidian, everyday acts like playing a game or making food, and actually viewing them as the things that bring us together, that we remember when we are away from home,” he said.

“And through that reimagining, these everyday acts get transformed into something which holds so much more weight,” he added. “So it’s not just a practice, it’s something which transcends that and becomes almost spiritual.”

Close-up of surface texture on carved wooden table
The table was manufactured in collaboration with Jan Hendzel Studio

This idea of loss and rebirth is reflected in the black stain that coats the furniture – a nod to the historical Ashanti practice of “blackening” the stool of a person who has passed away.

“More often than not, seat stools aren’t just inanimate objects,” Tettey Nartey said. “To some degree, they hold parts of the essence of the person who owned it or the person who used it the most.”

“The blacking of these objects is a way of mourning what’s been lost.”

Overhead view of carved wooden table
It was exhibited at the Triennale for Milan design week

Communion was created in response to a commission from the American Hardwood Export Council and presented at Milan design week as part of an exhibition at the Triennale.

Other standout projects from the festival include an inflatable gaming chair from IKEA and a collection of furniture made from scrap aluminium by seven different designers.

Milan design week took place from 15 to 21 April 2024. See Dezeen Events Guide for an up-to-date list of architecture and design events taking place around the world.

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