South African Creatives Abroad – Berlin Resident Tara Deacon Chats With 10and5

Tara Deacon is a South African born illustrator and graphic designer who is currently residing in Berlin Germany. Currently, Tara finds herself working for clients across the globe (such as Berlin Kreativ Kollektiv, Ogilvy, Scoop Mag and more ) and most recently, exhibiting work at Mountains in Berlin and Close to Home and Wallflower in Cape Town. Tara describes her transition abroad as a smooth care-free experience, wavering the anxiety of relocation with the pursuit of art and love.

When did you move overseas, and what was your primary motivating factor?

The intention was never really to “move” overseas so to speak, I just wanted to travel and get away for a while. I took the opportunity to Au Pair in the Netherlands for a year. I was in Berlin for 3 days and met my boyfriend while I was there. He said Berlin will be great and so on that note, I followed love. That was 5 years ago. We are still together.

Being creative is often hailed as a difficult career choice – how difficult or easy was it for you to arrive abroad and pursue your passion.

At the time I was very in between what I really wanted to do with my life. I had just finished studying product design in Johannesburg, and the year I was traveling solo made me more open to new adventures and possibilities without overthinking things too much. I also grew a lot as a person, and the idea of pursuing a fancy internship at a trendy design studio didn’t really interest me anymore. I suppose one could say this was a blessing in disguise, as it gave me the chance to try loads of things without any kind of expectations.  I found a lot of odd jobs here and there which is also where I picked up a lot of my German.

Were there any moments that were extremely important to make your mark abroad?

Oh, well, everything happened very organically and in its own way. It took a lot of time to get where I am now, but none of it was ever on some kind of list that I felt I needed to tick off.  Doing what I love and just being happy are the most important things for me right now.

Was moving to Berlin a culture shock? Do you find yourself slipping up with South Africa slang terms here and there, or would you say you’ve assimilated?

There were things culturally that I found peculiar or unusual but often tried not to take things too personally. Germans are very direct which I found unpolite and harsh at first, but soon found myself appreciating these small cultural nuances over time. Mostly the long grey winters got to me the most. I don’t really recall using slang, but after monthly trips back home to South Africa, I find myself saying hey at the end of everything, something my Italian Boyfriend finds very confusing when I converse with him. I have also taught several of my friends that sneakers are Takkies, they think that’s cool.

Do you often still do work for South African clients? Or is your base mainly in Germany?

Absolutely! Even though I am based in Berlin, Illustration allows me to work so easily with clients all over the world without having to think about logistics and customs. I’m horrible at that kind of stuff.

How essential has it been to maintain a consistent connection back to South African career-wise?

Over the years it has become more and more important for me. I still feel a strong connection to South Africa, and I want people to be to have to chance to see my work or projects I have worked on locally.  I think it’s so important to be able to take your work to a new part of the world and hopefully inspire people by the way you see things. Only until my recent trip to SA have I really had the chance to work on bigger projects back home and make connections for upcoming things too.

How often do you travel to South Africa?

In the past it was less often,  but now I try and go back at least once a year.

What do foreigners think of South African creatives?

That we have a deep strong and hungry desire to do this thing we love, that we are full of life and vibrant and driven and fiery and wild.

Interview and photo for @makingthings_matureha . 📷by @isao_nishiyama

A post shared by Tara Deacon (@taradeacon) on

Judging by your Instagram, your work seems to balance between German and South African culture. Do you find yourself illustrating more South African daily life when you are SA, compared to when you are in Berlin? Or Vice versa?

I suppose there is always a bit of South Africa in all the work I create, not intentionally but naturally, especially in the colors I use. When I went back home for several months, It was just so comfortable to paint what I felt and saw around me .  I really love how I can feel a city or country through painting and drawing it.

How easy is it to get South African foods from where you live?

Definitely not as easy as back home ( as far as I know), although Rooibos tea can be found almost everywhere these days. Berlin has such an abundance of Vegan, Bio and local fresh markets that I actually never crave any particular food item from back home. Usually if I want to cook bobotie or Bake a Milk tart I just make it from Scratch. The same goes for chutney, and I quite prefer the homemade version to store bought Mrs Balls. All the other delights I just look forward to as a treat when I go back.

Follow Tara on Instagram.

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