Archives: Sindiso Nyoni | A R!OT in Pen and Ink

For Graphic Design Month we’ve invited a few designers to delve into their archives as a way to reflect on and map their development from when they first started out to the present day.  

Born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, Sindiso Nyoni had ample exposure to the abundant forms of local art and popular culture in his native land which fuelled his love for drawing from the age of four. This medium continues to underpin his practice today, as a self-developed artist and multi-disciplinary designer working predominantly in a pen, ink and digital media fusion. The most significant impact of Sindiso’s upbringing is his social activism, a stance which took root during his experience of Zimbabwe’s struggle against colonial repression and the internal conflicts happening between the Shona people and the minority Ndebele tribe (which he is a member of) at the time. Creating what he refers to as Guerill(art) under the alias of R!OT, Sindiso addresses social issues in a way that advocates awareness and change – but that’s not to say he doesn’t have an extensive portfolio of commercial work as well. In fact, 2015 marks Sindiso’s tenth year as an artist and designer in South Africa and, given this, our timing to peek into Sindiso’s archives couldn’t be more fitting.  

Drawing exercises (2005, 2006, 2007)

Fig2 Sindiso Nyoni - Drawing (2) Sindiso Nyoni - Drawing (3)  

Drawing has formed the basis and core part of my practice as a multidisciplinary artist and designer. It was from my graphic design drawing classes that I developed an understanding of the style of illustration I would eventually focus on, and practice full-time.  

Experimenting with different mediums and expressions for drawing influenced my decision to favour the medium I use primarily in my work now; pen and ink. This style and technique was developed from these drawing classes, under the guidance of renowned artist and lecturer Garth Blake during my time at UJ.  

Sneakers with Sole, character design (2008)

Sindiso Nyoni - Sneakers with Sole (1) Sindiso Nyoni - Sneakers with Sole (2)  

One of my first notable commissions as a student was to develop character shoe box designs for a national campaign by LoweBull Cape Town. I would later be employed full-time as an illustrator in CT, with character development and design being one of my preferred occupational designations.  

Adidas Kopanya, test illustrations (2009)

Sindiso Nyoni - Adidas Kopanya  (1) Sindiso Nyoni - Adidas Kopanya  (2)  

As I entered the industry as a full-time illustration intern, pen and ink became my preferred choice of medium (even though I had been trained in vector programs during my university years). My preference got a bit of recognition when 180 Amsterdam approached the agency I was working for to create artwork to promote the Fifa 2010 official match ball by adidas, based on my style of illustration. This was a good opportunity to create a name for myself on such a high profile gig, but unfortunately after creating the test illustrations (which they loved) I couldn’t take on the project further, due to contractual strains with my then employers. The brand looked to promote the individual artist through this campaign which created a conflict of interest with my employment contract at the time.  

Piñatarama 2.0 exhibition, character design (2011)

Sindiso Nyoni - Piñatarama 2.0 exhibition (1) Sindiso Nyoni - Piñatarama 2.0 exhibition (2)  

In 2010 I was fortunate enough to meet one of the masters of the illustration game and a big inspiration of mine, the Argentinian (Mexico city based) illustrator Jorge Alderet aka Dr Alderete. We sparked a friendship which led to him involving me in a unique group show the following year, consisting of 39 illustrators at the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico City. The show was titled Piñatarama and we were all tasked to create characters which would be made into giant piñatas and exhibited at the MOMA. This was one of many global exhibitions I would eventually take part in more often, as I explored the showcase side of my craft.  

Protect & Serve print (2012)

Sindiso Nyoni - Protect & serve print

As a student I got into activist art and poster making. I was inspired by the work of Emory Douglas, Grapus, Dumile Feni, Thami Mnyele and the Medu Art Ensemble. 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. Social commentary allowed me to explore these ideals more. 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. The Protect & Serve print was a ‘knee jerk’ reaction to the Lonmin Massacre of August 2012. This piece comments on the sad state of affairs when it comes to the South African Police Service.  

The poster print also formed part of the África Gráfica group exhibition. This was an exhibition of African activist poster design, curated by Spanish Graphic designer/professor, Ofelio Serpa as a follow up to the successful social design exhibition Agitators of conscience. This edition formed part of the 4th Tenerife Design Festival, which took place in Santa Cruz de Tenerife (Canary Islands) from 11-14 October 2012. The project highlighted the work of 10 African designers and illustrators whose posters reflect on the continent. The collection of 20 social and political activist images was exhibited at the Museum of Nature and Man (MNH) in Tenerife in 2012.  

Natural Hair Appreciation Society logo (2012)

Sindiso Nyoni Natural Hair Appreciation Society (1) Sindiso Nyoni Natural Hair Appreciation Society (2)  

After working almost four years in the industry (two years as an illustrator and then later as an art director/designer in advertising) I resigned at the end of 2012 to focus more on a solo career as an independent graphic artist under my alias R!OT. This meant that I was more open to taking on projects that excited me and this was one such project which consisted of a simple logo that I feel speaks volumes. It was developed for a friend’s blog titled the Natural Hair Appreciation Society, which basically showcases females from all over the continent adorning their hair in its natural state.  

The Boxer (2013)

Sindiso Nyoni - The Boxer  

The Mandela Poster Project launched on Madiba’s 95th birthday and celebrated his contribution to humanity with an open call for submissions from the creative community to create a poster or a series of posters. The project aimed to collect 95 exceptional posters from around the world and collate them into an online publication and travelling exhibition. The project was endorsed by Icograda as part of its own 50th anniversary celebrations. My submission for the series entitled ‘The Boxer’ is a depiction of a young Nelson Mandela and is inspired by the critically acclaimed Spike Lee film, Do the Right Thing. Particularly, the piece pays homage to one of the iconic characters in the film, Radio Raheem, whose story about life and how love (UTHANDO) defeated hate echoes Mandela’s philosophy on human rights, forgiveness and reconciliation – which contributed to the abolition of Apartheid in South Africa.  

The piece has been published locally as well as abroad, particularly in the Harvard University publication TRANSITION #116 in association with the Hutchins Centre for African and African American Research. It will also form part of the »Making Africa – A Continent of Contemporary Design« exhibition among some of my poster art, at the Vitra Design Museum (which I will be attending on the 13th March in Weil am Rhein, Germany).  

WordOnThe5treet (2013)

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In late 2013 I moved into an artist run studio space and operated from there briefly. It was while at the Assemblage artist studios that I encountered and collaborated with 15 other artists in the space. I spent time with printmaking protégés Alphabet Zoo and it was here that this street art project was born (and I could finally add street artist to my resume). WordOnThe5treet is a collection of interactive and unsanctioned street art pieces, presented as wheat paste-ups in public locations all over the streets of Johannesburg. The project is the collaborative work of Isaac Zavale, Minenkulu Ngoyi and Zwelethu Machepha of Alphabet Zoo and myself.  

The pieces were created as screen-printed posters accompanied by a blank heart shaped speech bubble. The aim is to communicate directly with the public at large and the artists are prompting the public to locate these artworks, and engage with them by creating a message in the speech bubble that accompanies each poster. The messages may have socially relevant content, attract attention to a cause or merely be a form of “art provocation”, ultimately representing themes that are on the minds of everyday Joburgers.  

The project has since travelled to the streets of Maputo, Tours (France), Amsterdam and Budapest as well as being exhibited locally.  

Amakhosi: Nike x Kaizer Chiefs F.C (2014)

Amakhosi Nike x Kaizer Chiefs F.C  

This was an illustration commissioned by ShiftJoePublic for the launch of PSL club Kaizer Chiefs F.C’s Nike sponsored kit. The illustration is based on club heritage and the location of the Johannesburg based football club. The illustration also had to align with Nike Football’s new global campaign ‘Risk Everything’. Football is another passion of mine so this was a fun project to work on.  

Adidas ZA Rugby artist collab (2014)

Adidas ZA Rugby artist collab (1) Adidas ZA Rugby artist collab (2)  

In its rugby campaign mid last year, adidas South Africa merged art and sport in a unique collaboration which fans around the world were able to witness first-hand. Over the period of three months, the boots of three successful South African rugby players were given a unique makeover by myself. I’ve applied illustration to customising figurines, sneakers, sculptures and even helmets before, so the opportunity to work on a rugby boot is what drew me to this project. The inspiration for each boot was drawn from the players themselves; and included JP Pietersen (CELL  C Sharks), Siya Kolisi (DHL Stormers) and Jan Serfontein (Vodacom Bulls). The customised rugby boots were worn during the following matches: Cell C SHARKS vs. DHL Stormers on 31 May, the DHL Stormers vs Vodacom Bulls on 05 July, and the Vodacom Bulls vs Rebels on 07 July. The once-off customs were later auctioned for charity in benefit of the J9 Foundation formed by Joost vd Westhuizen for Motor Neuron Disease.  

DJ Black Coffee, test drawing (2015)

Dj Black Coffee by Sindiso Nyoni  

This was a classic example of a “when life throws lemons at you, make lemonade” type of situation. Something common in our practice is that we often have to deal with time, skill and effort wasted on projects that fall away. I had been approached by a local design agency to create an artwork that would be featured on a limited edition package series for a collab between renowned SA DJ Black Coffee and a famous energy drink. However, after developing a series of work-in-progress sketches, the project fell away and I never heard from the agency again. So instead of shelving the sketches I decided to turn one of the layouts into a poster which I put up on my social networks, and soon enough I was contacted by a local curator and gallery owner offering me the chance to showcase my posters in my first solo show. The piece also got a nod from the DJ himself when he came across it online.


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