Describe yourself in three sentences
I’m a Johannesburg-based illustrator and graphic designer. I am really passionate about the preservation of the South African aesthetic and I often do so using illustration and graphic design. I think I’m a little quirky, quite energetic and I just really have a passion for seeing design flourish in South Africa.
Who are some of the people/artists that influenced you?
Well, the first one I have to speak about is the founder of MaXhosa Knitwear. He’s just done incredible stuff; he’s done a lot of fashion shows that have been influenced by Xhosa patterns and it’s just gained international traction completely. I just love how he stayed close to South African heritage but has taken the approach of an authentic portrayal of it. He has managed to not exploit South Africa but just really celebrate the heritage that we have.
The second one might not be part of the graphic design industry and may seem a little bit strange for an answer, but it has to be my dad. He is a financial advisor but he’s got such great pioneering ideas and he’s been so open in helping me in this. He’s really taken the financial side that I don’t like dealing with and from a very traditional background found a way to make it relevant and he just encourages me a lot.
The third person has to be Micah Bakker, she was my illustration lecturer when I was studying at the Open Window. She basically taught me everything I know. She encouraged me to follow the preservation of the African aesthetic and, yeah, she trained me very well.
That’s actually a funny question because I entered illustration accidentally. When I went to go study at the Open Window I knew nothing about design; I just knew it was this fascinating career that I wanted to learn more about. So when I was going in to my second year I had to choose a major; actually two majors and a few minors and I had photography in mind. That seemed like the direction I would have gone in. But my drawing lecturer suggested that I try illustration. Can you imagine going to a black parent and telling them you are doing illustration? In photography they at least have a frame of reference.
Illustration was a pretty new career back then and they just thought I was being a good candidate for it, so I decided to give it a shot – if it didn’t work out I would try something else. And then I ended up really enjoying it; really loving the fact that it was not defined. People had no idea what it was, so the people that kind of took illustration in those years got to define what it meant. And then to almost have an African perspective of it, I thought would be really great for our country – so almost sowing seeds in that sense. That was why I did it. There was a lot that was unknown about it and then to almost define the boundaries within a South African context sounded great.
How would you rate the quality of the local creative industry at the moment?
I think illustration in South Africa at the moment has just grown exponentially. Like I said in the previous answer, it’s been such a new industry. A lot of people have been more open to investing into it, so I think we are competing on a global scale like never before and unlike any other industry within our country. I’m just really excited to see where it is headed; it’s got a lot of potential.
We see you’re speaking at the 2017 Design Indaba because you have been pioneering in VR design. Tell us about that..
Currently I’m partnering with Daniel Ting Chong, a Cape Town-based illustrator, and him and I were approached by Nedbank to assist in their Reimagination project. Since Nedbank is redoing their branding and their overall approach to banking, they want to team up with young professionals who would be good ambassadors for what they are doing. But they wanted to do it in a way that it’s never been done before, that’s going to allude to how they are going to handle banking in a way that’s never been done before.
They brought in new technology which is virtual reality technology and a program called Google Tilt Brush is what’s going to be used. Currently at the Design Indaba, Daniel and I both have two big parts that were created where he and I created artwork using Virtual Reality. So we’ve painted and drawn and stitched together a bunch of pieces that convey Nedbank’s Reimagination project. My concept focuses on the reimagination of entrepreneurs and how they handle money and my most famous entrepreneurs have to be hair dressers, because visually speaking I think there’s so much potential – so many things I draw from. I’ve grown up with hair dressers because it’s just a rally great part of black history as well. So kind of showing that industry on a platform like virtual reality; something that hasn’t been done before and can speak towards it.
How does your faith influence your art?
It forms a pretty big part of my art because I really think you’re not dreaming big enough if you can remove God from an equation with anything that you do. The plans that I have aren’t feasible without God; He influences my entire journey, every step that I take. Even how I began with illustration was something that was like a God idea and not something that I thought of, so it’s pretty much everything.
What’s like to be a Christian in a creative industry?
It’s a little tricky in the sense that there aren’t a lot of Christians in a creative industry and people don’t often associate creativity with Christianity, but I think that puts Christians in creativity in a great position. Interesting conversations can arise from this. You almost kind of show people a different side of Christianity they never thought existed. It has its challenges, but I think they’re challenges that are needed and they spark conversations that are needed as well. I get excited by the challenges that it brings.
What have you been listening to lately and which is your favorite worship album at the moment?
Let there be Light has been life-changing. I listen to that album kind of back to back. Let there be Light and Behold are my favorite tracks on the album and I go through the two of them together.
Are there any other genres besides worship music that you generally listen to?
I absolutely love RnB, so I listen to Ella Mai a lot. Beyoncé, since I was little, has always been on the playlist. I listen to a lot of old stuff as well, so Boys to Men – classic.
What would you say has been your biggest achievements/moments to date?
My biggest achievement has to be winning a gold Loerie. As I entered the industry, one of the very first projects I did won me a gold Loerie and it accelerated things a little bit and it was almost like reassurance that “Okay, maybe I should be carrying on in this industry.”
What can we expect from Karabo creatively in the future?
This year I’m concentrating a lot more on exhibitions, but specifically travel exhibitions. I’m going to be launching Mother Tongue officially and it’s going to be a travelling exhibition through Johannesburg, Cape Town, Paris and New York.
What’s your advice for young and aspiring designers and creatives out there?
When I was in matric someone told me very good advice that I’ve stuck with through until this point. They said we live in this age where we find a lot of instant things. We find instant coffee – it’s maybe not that great, but you are able to get it at the moment that you want it. We have instant messaging, but there’s something that doesn’t exist with that form of instant gratification and that’s instant success. So I think that people shouldn’t be intimidated by the length success takes. It’s something that requires quite a lot of work as well and it’s just, we shouldn’t expect it to happen overnight. It’s not a bad thing to put in a lot of work, learn the journey as well, because as you tell your story, five or ten years from now no one is really going to feel inspired by someone that got everything right in their first year and has been a success ever since. But the journey is also good – not just for yourself, but the people that you are going to be inspiring that are coming after you.