feature: south african illustrators redefining the afro-aesthetic

July 25, 2014

The Afrocentric aesthetic has become a cliché within itself. It’s been muffled with defunct and ill-informed iconography and filled to brim with afros, fists and animal prints referenced from overly exhausted templates that expired lifetimes ago. For countless centuries the creative products of Africans have been ornamental to the lives of middle classed Europeans with postcard knowledge of their origins. With our cultural symbols being diluted and simplified to match the drapes of the disinterested tourists who consume them. A captivating movement of young black illustrators, alternative designers and urban artists has recently emerged South Africa; and it aims to remedy the semiotic misconceptions of Africa by redefining Afrocentrism one pixel at a time. No more shall Africa be enlisted as an influence in the footnotes of visual history. Our story will be read in our own fonts and embellished in our own imagery. We refuse to let our environment be prescribed by diasporic and colonial pasquinades about our nature. Africa has a dynamic new face, and these are the young names behind it.

By Edward Kgosidintsi, AFROPUNK Contributor *

Modise Sepeng

As the 24 year old founder of design and illustration brand Negritude Republic, Modise is already a force to be reckoned with in the local commercial art scene. He simplistically adapts liberation heroes like Steve Biko and Madiba to current contexts of cool. He’s well known for his Nubian art and Japanese print inspired busts and portraits of black faces with urban contemporary appeal. Each of his works looks like a post-colonial coat of arms designed by a tattoo artist. His style is a mash up of Pan-Africanism and punk rock fused with pop art and hip-hop chic. His work is a much needed reminder to most forgetful generation of black kids, that their heritage shouldn’t be erased but rather adorned with pride and bad-ass attitude, hence- Negritude.

Mr. Fuzzy Slipperz

Mr. Fuzzy Slipperz is the nouveau-noir muralist and illustrator slash African Renaissance man from an unknown planet. He reimagines African icons and symbols and stylizes them to inhabit his animated world of blackness detached from stigma. His gangly fluid geometric characters glide above our communal spaces like painted guardian angels summoned to wash away the barbarity from the portrayed imagery of our idols and ancestors. His rich warm colours and complex kaleidoscopic motifs adorn the walls of urban, suburban and rural settings across the map of South Africa. He’s the bright young spark of the African street art world and there’s much yet to be seen from him.

Nolan Oswald Dennis

Nolan Oswald Dennis’ pieces resonate with the feeling of displacement. As an architecture graduate and philosophy dropout he’s interrogative of habitats and landscapes for the stories trapped in the spaces. The congested hollow figures in his illustrations overlap to create cave engraving like scenes with gory subtext. Their bodies seem to woven with thread, drowning in negative space and vacancy. A people robbed of their density, leaving them transparent, muddled and vague, lost in a cluster of despondence. There are remote elements of Basquiat in his tone and yet he manages to elevate his mode into undiscovered territory. His art is a surrealistic black history lesson, inviting us to travel to uncomfortable checkpoints in our trajectory. The cover art he creates for experimental afro-futurist band The Brother Moves On captures their sci-fi folkloric essence in a way that only he could.

Unathi Mkonto

Unathi incorporates the impressionism of a fashion draughtsman with the vision of an expressionist painter. His drawings scream of jazz and beat poetry, the paradigms of masculinity and pop culture conveyed seep with violent anxiety and in the same breath seem settled in their chaos. They’re restless and asleep on the page with an unfinished completeness about them. All of them are void of colour; only blackness deconstructed by whiteness; condensed scribbles of light and tangled in scratchy corrective markings which spiral into grisailles of incandescent texture. He’s currently pursuing fashion design and illustration simultaneously and thriving at both with the ingenious effortlessness analogous with his work. He recently hosted his first solo exhibition entitled “Boys of South Africa“is a courageous reflection on ethnic ideals of manhood.

Vukile Batyi

Much like fellow Xhosa artist and living legend Nicholas Hlobo, Vukile’s method is largely informed by traditional Nguni tapestry and beadwork. He visually evokes tactile stimuli like a digital tailor sewing fabric with software. His quintessential logo for South African fashion god Laduma Ngxokolo was a perfect of merger of minds with a mutually profound love for indigenous Xhosa textiles. His images are boldly defined by clean mechanical forms with plush, exotic colours which leap at the eye. He manages to expand on notions of ethnic culture in a captivatingly refreshing fashion. He’s already a stellar young ambassador for South African design… and he’s only just blossoming.

* Edward Kgosidintsi is freelance writer based in Johannesburg, South Africa. He studied philosophy and economic history at UCT and cut his literary teeth through academic discourse. He has a deep innate passion for the liberal arts and social sciences. He’s concerned with excavating the nuances of the post-colonial African context. He aims to be a candid prism through which the light of his continent’s post-modern counter-cultures can be refracted. His literary influences range from Richard Yates and Jack Kerouac to Aesop Rock and Thom Yorke. If he could choose to only be remembered for two things in this world they would be: A good man, and a great writer.
Edward also writes for OkayAfrica, Black Business Journal, Image Athena and Platform Online