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Wimbledon lecturer builds monumental gorilla stage for 15th annual Kwita Izina ceremony in Rwanda 

A large model of a gorilla with a woven face. The body is a bamboo and metal frame with struts exposed.
A large model of a gorilla with a woven face. The body is a bamboo and metal frame with struts exposed.
The gorilla stage under construction for the 15th annual Kwita Izina ceremony in Rwanda .
Written by
Sarah McLean
Published date
26 November 2019

Set designer Matt Deely has worked for the past 20 years creating stunning stages and performance environments for everything from opera and ballet to a stage for the Rolling Stones in Hyde Park.   

An associate lecturer across the performance design and technologies courses at Wimbledon, this summer he worked on a very special project in Rwanda, Africa, designing a monumental stage in the form of a giant mother and baby gorilla for the country’s annual Kwita Izina ceremony.   

This major public event celebrates the naming of newborn gorillas. It is part of a significant conservation programme, created in 2005 as a means of bringing attention both locally and internationally to the importance of protecting the mountain gorillas and their habitats in Volcanoes National Park in the Virunga Mountains in the north of the country.

A group of people on a stage under a bamboo shelter. Behind them is a large woven sculpture of a gorilla mother and child.
The 2019 gorilla stage completed and in use during the 15th annual Kwita Izina ceremony. - Credit: Matt Deely Caption

This year’s structure is expected to last for three years. Made from metal, wood and woven natural materials, the huge construction was a big undertaking for the team.

“We were given just six weeks to build the various elements of the stage” Matt told us. “My design office was me sitting in a car, in a field, with my laptop creating drawings! The challenge was to find quick yet, sound construction solutions to get it built. I used Rhino 3D software to create profile drawings, which helped visualise the metal under structure.”

A CAD 3D digital plan of the gorilla face with a grey background and contours showing in red, pink, black and blue.
A CAD rendering of the gorilla face. - Credit: Matt Deely Caption
A CAD 3D digital plan with green grid background showing a grey rendering of plans for the a stage with large model of gorilla mother and child.
A CAD rendering of the 2019 gorilla stage. - Credit: Matt Deely Caption
A large model of a gorilla under constraction. The face is woven material. The body is a bamboo and metal frame with struts exposed.
The gorilla stage under construction. - Credit: Matt Deely Caption

“I then sent the designs to the builders on site who referred to these drawings on their iPads, to create the gorilla stage.”

The construction team was made up of 10 professional metal workers and 10 carpenters, working with 110 local workers including talented weavers, who created the surface.

The 2019 ceremony took place on 6 September, and saw 25 baby gorillas given their names. The names were announced by a panel of celebrities, conservationists and politicians including Arsenal ambassador Tony Adams, supermodel Naomi Campbell, American singer Ne-Yo and Amina Mohammed, the UN Deputy Secretary-General.

Watch the ceremony on RwandaTV’s Youtube channel:

Speaking about the project in The New Times, Rwanda’s leading daily newspaper, Matt said:

“I love my job as a designer and I get a lot of pleasure and satisfaction in seeing it all come from paper to reality. I also enjoy the experience of working with local workers whom I would like to thank for their commitment and team work.”

Find out more about Matt’s work for stage and screen on his website

Find out more about studying at Wimbledon on our undergraduate course page