02/10/2018

You need to know … Sindiso Nyoni

Blog / By Milan Hermes
Image: 'Violence is for the weak...' ©Sindiso Nyoni Image: 'Violence is for the weak...' ©Sindiso Nyoni

With his participation in exhibitions worldwide and clients like Nike, Princeton University, Hennessy, Woolworth, Penguin Publishers, Adidas, FIFA Sindiso Nyoni’s star is rising. 

Born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, where did your interest in art and drawing come from?

I am an independent graphic artist, born and raised in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. I am the seventh child in a family of nine. Zimbabwe is widely known for its unique craftsmanship in the arts, from sculptures, masks, traditional ornaments to music and drama. As well as Zimbabwe being a 'once' booming African economy, this allowed for me to be exposed to abundant forms of art and popular culture as a four-year-old in the late 80s. I was so inspired from all these surroundings, and it was then that I developed a love for drawing. I haven't stopped since. This developed into creating my own limited series of handcrafted comics in primary school, right through to high school, where I took art classes at a Catholic institution (The Christian Brothers College) in Bulawayo. It was here that I was first introduced to the art of communication design by a then retired Graphic designer from St. Louis, the late Ms Gail Altman, who had relocated to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, to teach art. She gave me invaluable insights into the profession and I left Bulawayo for Johannesburg in 2005, enrolling in a four-year communication design course while working as a barman and freelance artist/designer in order to pay my way through tertiary. In 2008, I graduated from the University of Johannesburg with a BTech degree in Graphic Design.

Image: Limited edition digital archival print of Legendary music producer JDilla.

How do you look back on the early journey of your work as an artist?

After graduating, I moved to Cape Town where I joined an illustration studio as an intern and collaborated on projects for brands such as Fifa, Nike, Adidas, Smirnoff, HP, Shell and Audi. During my time with the collective I was part of the illustration teams on some Cannes Lion-winning campaigns. Prior to this, during my time as a student, I got into activist art and poster making. I became involved in exhibition showcases, and in 2010 I was part of the global Voices in Freedom poster exhibition alongside several international activist artists. After spending two years working as an illustrator, I relocated back to Johannesburg, where I spent almost two more years working as an art director/designer for an advertising agency (Blackriver FC). I continued to showcase art via invitational involvements and in 2011 I took part in the Piñatarama 2.0, (Art piñata) exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico City. I also got to exhibit frequently in group shows locally, and internationally. My portfolio has grown since, comprising local and international brands, I have been a member of the South African Mint Design Advisory Panel, the Loerie Awards Communication Design judging jury for 2017 & 2018, I've been part of the Design Indaba mentorship programme, the Botswana based Ideas Expo judging jury for 2014, the African representative for Icograda's 50th/World Communication Design Day showcase 2013, as well as an ISS (International Security Studies) Alumni from the African Centre for Peace & security Training in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia).

Image: Oliver Reginald Tambo Commemorative Centenary coin series designs in collaboration with The South African Mint.

What do you want to depict with your art?

By combining images and text to inspire people out of placidity my work attempts to tackle some of Africa's most pressing issues in the form of visual art.

As a student I got into activist art and poster making. I was inspired by the work of Emory Douglas, Grapus, Thami Mnyele and the Medu Art Ensemble, Dumile Feni, and at the same time I explored the use of illustration as a medium for communication design. I studied Graphic design to attain a solid foundation in traditional communication design. I believed that understanding the art or skill of graphic design might inform more unique visuals to go along with what I would later specialise in. My style has been influenced by artistic movements which came out of 3rd world liberation struggles (particularly in Africa), in the form of poster art and murals, as well as the growing and evolving street art scene which I have taken a keen interest in over the years. My culture and origins play a significant role in my overall work and activism. R!OT is also a graphic style and design aesthetic that combines traditional and digital media. It's a mixture of old school drawing techniques and new school techniques, while reaching into history and social issues to create a subversive Southern African 'street' style. The style uses protest and dissent to communicate messages via the use of art. I feel that as creatives we have a duty to contribute to our communities using art that addresses social issues, advocates awareness and change, which can ultimately open minds to act towards making a difference. Representation is also a key and underlying theme for my art aesthetic. My work focuses on the 'black narrative' and the use and depiction of subjects who are black.

Image: Once-off Archival print artwork commissioned by Universal Pictures in collaboration with LAssociates for the Premiere + showcase/exhibition of visionary/writer/director Jordan Peele's new horror film 'Get Out'

You have a wide variety of projects. Ranging from designing soccer boots to posters for the movie Get Out and commemorative coins. How do you choose you projects and what is the reasoning behind them?

I employ a journalistic approach to social issues combined with an intricate, illustrative style which result in some thought-provoking artworks that give a voice to issues that most would shy away from. This seems to be a recurrent theme running throughout my artwork, to give the impression that my goal is to stimulate, provoke, and entice people into thinking about socio-political issues. Sadly, most of the time our industry spends its time promoting commercial products rather than issues that really matter. This is compounded by the fact that as a creative on your career path, in order to get noticed you have to have some big-name brands in your portfolio. In the professional creative industry, there is seldom any room for social communication. Briefs and concepts are often commercially driven, creating a dilemma faced by creatives today, 'work for charities is cool but doesn't pay the bills'. I personally feel that it is a great value for creatives to know that they have tools and the ability to effect massive change, and not always within a for-profit organization. I feel that as creatives we have a duty to contribute to our communities using art that addresses social issues, advocates awareness and change, which can ultimately open minds to act towards making a difference.

Image:

Is your design political? An instrument in decolonising misguided minds?

One of my favourite Martin Luther King Jr quotes is "A riot is the language of the unheard". The link to social activism is what denotes my "African" design aesthetic (which is heavily influenced by protest poster art, stemming from liberation movements in Africa and the third world). By combining images and text to inspire people out of placidity my work attempts to tackle some of Africa's most pressing issues in the form of visual art. My culture and origins play a significant role in my overall work and activism. The themes that run throughout my pieces are often to a degree based on the concept of Afrofuturism. These themes are often fused with religious iconography which is a result of my upbringing in both a Christian and Traditional household. Within a Southern African context however, there is a growing conflict between traditional/ancestral spiritual presence versus religion. This is a result of an adopted free thinking mind-set that questions status quos and conventions in society. This school of thought is common amongst the urban generation and more artistic individuals who question religion but at the same time are in touch with some sort of ancestral spirituality.

Image: Chris Hani. Part of The Ancestors Series, a series of posters based on and inspired by South African political activists from the Apartheid era.

What are upcoming projects you are working on? Are there any projects you wish to do in the future?

I'll be collaborating on some print and promotional artwork for a few upcoming independent films; apparel designs for my clothing line concept, as well as some self-initiated R!OT projects and solo exhibitions.

Check out more of Nyoni’s work here.