Meet the ballsy African illustrators advocating sex positivity

Sex is a complex topic, layered with not only the expressions or the feelings around sex but also the politics of it. As the term “sex positive” forms part of our daily lexicon, sex therapist and journo Bea Norton describe the movement. “More than just an ideaology or a vision, sex positive means action. It encourages sexual experimentation within the bounds of mutual consent. It advocates sex education and a healthier attitude towards communication regarding sex. On the other hand, the movement also promotes the belief that if you aren’t in the mood, that is ok too.”

Five unabashedly feminist illustrators — Jo Jackson, Koos Groenewald, Ngadi Smart, Lambi Chibambo and Jessica Stayn — from across Africa explore different aspects of sexual identity and expressions through their medium. From everyday sexuality to philosophical explorations of “the norm”, their work offers a space for underrepresented or misrepresentation sexual expression and orientations, and encourage necessary dialogue around sex.

Lambi Chibambo

Location: Cape Town by way of Malawi
Medium of choice: Digital illustration
About the artwork: Juicy Fruit is a reminder that there are no imperfections, perfection is you. Your body is art, it is beautiful.
Who is the character in your illustration? Each character is just a personified version of one coming into and embracing oneself. Spiritually, mentally, physically and sexually. The character is identifiable by what you see in yourself.

“I get the inspiration to draw from the awesome baddies I have the privilege of calling friends. Their confidence and certainty of self inspires my work. I also find myself grappling with the enigma of existing in the new millennium so, of course, it features widely in my art.”  — Lambi

Koos Groenewald

Location: Johannesburg
Medium: Mostly ink and watercolour. Recently digital drawing.
Who are the characters in your illustrations? It ranges. Some people I imagine naked and draw that. Myself sometimes. Some are drawn from people I photographed and a lot from the internet and social media.

“These artworks are inspired by everyday sexuality and and the frequency and amount of sexually loaded images we see each day. Often I’ll just draw something that caught my eye in a casual Whatsapp group chat or at 9am in the morning whilst working. The flattened illustration depicting it weirdly seems way more ‘hectic’ than the original image.” – Koos

Ngadi Smart

Location: Abidjan, Ivory Coast
Medium: Mixed media, traditional and digital

“My work is motivated by the representation of Black POC, their varied, vibrant and broad cultures, strong women, as well as Feminism and gender roles. I like to deconstruct mainstream society’s preconceived views of what the definitions of ‘normal’, ‘beautiful’, and ‘right’ — especially in terms of identity, gender and social dynamics. I am attracted to a desire to be provocative in my work but always with a consciousness to lure people in and not totally alienate them from my work.” –@ngadismart

Jo Jackson

Location: Cape Town
Medium of choice: GIFs
Who is the character in your illustration? Me
About the artwork? This piece is about heartbreak. What are we supposed to do with the sexual energy we still feel for someone who has left us? There is a unique and painful type of grief reserved for those who still desire the one who no longer desires them. I love the dark, sad kink in Lana Del Rey’s visuals, which is why I cut and pasted a bit of her Blue Jeans video into this. GIFs are such a popular — and at times even trashy — medium that they naturally lend themselves to referencing and borrowing from pop culture.

“Female and queer sexuality need celebration. They need to fill and overflow. If I’ve been sent the message that something is shameful or needs to be hidden away, that just makes me want to show it more. If there’s an elephant in the room, I want to confront it. That’s why I animate nipple stands, dress in drag to explore female masculinity, and challenge my own millennial urges.” – Jo

Jessica Steyn

Location: Cape Town
Medium: Pen and paper

“My drawings are about showing that sexuality is something not to be afraid of or ashamed of no matter your race, culture or ‘gender’. It’s something that is empowering and freeing and in the end skin is just skin and it’s 100% your skin suit so do with it whatever you want. I am not a female. I am not a male. I am just a breathing being. I try and help humans understand that gender is not a actual thing but a concept that was created. I believe our genitals are like plants.” — Jessica

Between 10 and 5