Having already had some of her work featured on the site previously (here and here), Karabo Poppy Moletsane should be no stranger. The Pretoria-based illustrator and designer has a BA in Visual Communication from The Open Window School of Visual Communication which she uses to tell the South African story through her vibrant work. Series such as her self-promotional Mzanzi Like Me and ‘Sho’t Left’ – A Zine on South African Occupations show off her brilliant skills in both illustration and design, as well as her love for all that makes South Africa ‘so full of zest, culture and innovation’.
We recently got the chance to ask her some questions. The questions, with answers, follow below:
Karabo, could you please tell us a bit about yourself?
I grew up in Vereenging, went to an all girls’ high school in Potchefstroom and have now settled in Pretoria after completing my degree at The Open Window School of Visual Communication. From a young age I had always been interested in art and my parents created an environment that would nurture that side of me – colouring books and crayons everywhere! My interest in creativity coupled with my curious nature brought me into the world of design and illustration.
You focus on illustration and graphic design, do you prefer one over the other? And how different is your creative process with your illustrations as opposed to your graphic design work?
Well I find myself constantly using the principles of design while illustrating and also using the principles of illustration while I design. Design and illustration so often fit into each other that I find it difficult to give either one more preference. That goes for my creative process for both as well. I approach the both of them with the same process – taking different elements and using them to communicate an idea or concept while retaining a South African feel when the project is complete.
Is there any other form of creativity besides these that appeal to you?
I find the world of fashion extremely appealing. I see it as a combination of engineering, architecture, design and art that allows an audience to spend the day “wearing design”. I love how fashion allows you the freedom to customize different looks to suit your personality. I am also taken by the idea of developing my illustrations into patterns to be incorporated onto different garments.
Your work appears on different mediums, from magazines to LP covers, what would you say is your preferred medium and what has been your favourite project to date?
I’d have to say print based mediums are my favourite. There is a certain amount of wonder and magic that comes from creating with the intent to print it out and give it to your audience because one gives an audience something visual and tangible at the same time. I love the idea of creating an experience where one can engage with work using as many senses as possible. My favourite project to date is definitely “Sho’t Left” – A Zine on South African Occupations.
“Sho’t Left” – A Zine on South African Occupations is an interesting mixture of illustration and photojournalism, what did you want to portray with this series?
“Sho’t Left” was a miniature anthropological study of what makes South Africa so different from the rest of the world. I found that a major differentiation tool South Africa has lies in the occupations of our country. Sure every country has hairdressers but not like the ones found in South Africa. So I wanted to portray that exciting difference found in South Africa’s iconic occupations and use this project as a platform to dedicate myself to the cultural preservation of the South African aesthetic.
What inspires your style of illustration?
In my own practice of illustration I try and attain an identity described by Hlonipha Mokoena, a South African professor of anthropology, as neither Western nor African but is rather proudly South African (A combination of Africa along with many other cultures). This manner of illustrating requires me to try and incorporate themes of historical connections, a tribal nature and a sense of quirkiness. This style of illustrating also shows how beneficial a hybrid, pluralistic and globalised approach to illustration makes for dynamic and unique illustrations.
I’m inspired by the hybridity of different kinds of people and their cultures. I think there is something special that occurs when we see an African culture adopt certain qualities of another culture to produce something new and enticing. Ultimately that’s what is seen when I create illustrations with a vibrant, energetic and unexpected use of colour that is synonymous with illustration styles of the West but try to retain a South African feel to it through the use of textures made through printing techniques and subject matter native to South African cultures and sub-cultures.
What do you find challenging and/or rewarding about a creative career?
What I find rewarding about a creative career is that it easily becomes a way of living where I am not only a creative from 9am-5pm but creativity is a lifestyle that I live. A creative career allows me to learn about many topics that I would have never thought about researching and to also interact with a large spectrum for people. There is a giant wave of creativity emerging from South Africa and I think it’s a great reward to be part of that wave. Those involved in creative careers are those who have the ability to communicate ideas as creative visuals. What I find challenging is to create work that is not only made up of creative visuals but also acts as a tool to sedate, awaken, disturb, educate or to provoke an audience/culture.
Tell us a bit about “Mzanzi Like Me”:
“Mzanzi Like Me” is a direct link to all that I aim to achieve with illustration and design. To dismiss one’s ability to classify certain things by ethnicity, instead classifying things as one culture (a South African culture) involving all the great traits of South Africa. Hence the name “Mzanzi Like Me”. The name “Mzanzi Like Me” was inspired by the 1980s ethnic hair product “Black Like Me”. I wish to repeat the same sense of pride achieved by the users of Black Like Me, because they had found a brand that spoke to them personally, to be repeated when an audience takes a look at my work. In the name, I replaced the word “Black” with the word “Mzanzi” to re-appropriate my theme to cater to all South Africans regardless of their ethnicity and to also encourage a sense of pride in being South African. The name “Mzanzi Like Me” also describes my illustration style. The way I illustrate is inspired by the country I was born in and aims to showcase all its unique qualities.
Do you think that being based in Pretoria gives you a different perspective on “Mzanzi” from other artists based elsewhere in the country?
Being based in Pretoria definitely gives me a different perspective of Mzanzi. I feel that Pretoria is still in a state of redefining itself in terms of what it perceives as cool and in what direction the individuals think the city should be heading towards. So I get to see individuals who work daily to supply Mzanzi with what they think is missing from it both socially and creatively. It’s interesting to see what creatives and non-creatives in Pretoria think is missing from Mzanzi and how they intend to supply those needs.
Is there anything else that we don’t know that our readers might be interested in?
Well I recently teamed up with Gerhard van Wyk (a South African illustrator/designer) to create a design agency called “Brother Lawrence Studios” in the heart of Pretoria – Church Square. This is our attempt to supply Mzanzi with what we think is missing from it and to use the concept of hybridity to create something new and enticing.