Terence ‘Tako’ Maluleke’s illustrations feature the likes of fierce warrior women, urban style tribes and everyday characters. In addition to his exceptional craft, what makes Terence’s work so impactful is the powerful and empowered way in which people of colour are depicted. Drawing off his own experience and identity as an African, Terence believes that by recognising who you are and allowing this to feed into your work, it will be honest and other people will connect with it too. 

In today’s hyper-mediated but radically unequal society, Terence believes that young artists have an important role to play in putting out positive images that embrace diversity in all its glorious permutations. Instead of focusing on pictures of perfect body types and specific representations of black identity, Terence wants his art to celebrate the differences and beautiful imperfections that make each person unique.

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In South Africa young people are often not encouraged to pursue creative careers. Why do you think this is and what has your own experience been?

The reason young people in South Africa are not encouraged to pursue creative careers is because, unlike doctors and teachers, artists do not provide a service that people can’t live without. This is gradually changing, people are finally appreciating art and understanding the importance of it. Imagine life without art, pretty horrible right? I mean it would be hard for people to express themselves. Art is beautiful and expressive, I believe we must do more than just survive, we must live.

What are some of things that previous generations don’t always understand about the youth but you wish they would?

Every generation has misconceptions about the younger ones. First of all there is an enormous difference in our ideologies. The previous generation are not as knowledgeable about the social network and the use of technology as today’s youth are. I also don’t think the youth should be blamed for taking advantage of modern day advancement. As a young creative social media has helped me connect with other creatives that share a similar interest, and this has helped keep my passion for my craft burning.

In our previous interview you mentioned that the subject matter of your work is almost exclusively people of colour. Is this deliberate? Do you think there’s a need for more representation of people of colour in art and the media?

Yes I think there is a need for more representation of people of colour because there isn’t enough representation and there is a lot of misrepresentation. It’s about time we represent ourselves in a good light. A friend on Facebook made me realise that it’s not just about drawing people with the most perfect skin or the “right” kind of body shape for my drawings to look appealing. It’s important that we acknowledge and capture imperfections in our art. There is also a misconception that you have to wear your hair natural to represent yourself as a person of colour. Much garbage! You can do whatever you like, you do not need to wear a uniform to prove you’re black. Dav (Facebook friend) also put it in perspective when he told me a story about a kid who asked him if there were black angels…

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Do you feel that as a young creative you have a certain sense of responsibility to make work that is a reflection of our time? What do you hope your work communicates?

I only recently started drawing to fill the the void between what I was seeing and what I wished I was seeing. I remember there was a comment I got from a fellow artist, she said “I like that you gave her revealing clothing but she doesn’t feel sexualised at all. Nice job”. This made me realise that I have a big responsibility as young artist. It’s our generation that has to step up to make things right. So I just hope that my art connects with people. It’s really cool when someone tags a friend on your work because they think it resembles their character or they look alike. I mean, it wasn’t my intention but I managed to capture a person’s life in a single illustration, I think that’s pretty cool.

Many of the characters and animations you create seem to draw off African mythology and history. What excites and inspires you most about Pan-African consciousness right now?

Pan-Africanism is an ongoing journey, it’s a lifestyle. This is who I am, it’s something I cannot unlearn. What I draw is part of who I am, it’s my experience growing up as an African. Let me clarify: Africa doesn’t inspire me in a sense that I have do intense research on African mythology and the history, it’s already inside me and makes me who I am. For instance, if I tried to do a project about the Japanese culture, my African aesthetic will be evident in the work. It excites me to see more young artist telling their stories of their experience of growing up as an African through their artwork.

Does the imagined future that many of your characters seem to exist in convey your own hopes and ideas about the future? What are these?

The series I did last year called Nice People is Inspired by the youth of today and artists that inspire me on my artistic journey. The youth is expressive and comfortable in their bold fashion style. The Nice People series consist of character illustrations that resemble the youth of today, from the over the top fashion, to the vibrant hair colours. I guess you could say I hope the future is filled with a fearless youth, a youth that is confident in their decisions and ideas. (Note to self.)

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How do you think young people today are using fashion and other cultural forms to express their identities?

Personally I think fashion plays a crucial role in finding your voice. It helps us shape and express our identities. You could even say fashion is a form of communication. Fashion helps us make a statement about ourselves. The youth is constantly influenced by new trends; we adapt to the constantly changing trends and recreate in our own image. We develop identities influenced and inspired by ourselves and our surrounding.

What advice would you give to other young people to empower them to realise theirs?

To all the young creators like myself I simply encourage you to never stop.

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Photos of Terence by Olivia Mortimer.

Meet the 16 Young South Africans defining creative culture now. #BAYEZA16

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