Ofentse Aobakwe is one of the country’s growing number of female illustrators. We spoke to the emerging artist and future shaper about her thoughts on creativity and her journey in choosing her craft.
Ofentse shared some of her favourite images and the story behind the subjects and the meaning they hold for her.
Where did your passion for illustration start and how did you learn your craft?
I recently had a conversation with a friend where I concluded that some gifts may lack a depth of feeling or a consistent passion or seem not to stem from a strong pull. Because a certain gift does not come easily or as a natural skill, there is often a strategy that develops with it.
I cannot pinpoint where my passion for this art started. It feels like something that came with me, instilled at birth and all the effects of growing up and my perspective of life are expressed this way just as all points in my lifetime that have led up to this form.
How I learned this art was through my Mom dressing me and admiring her shoe closet, my Dad taking me on trips with him to the library and sticking my sketch papers on my childhood bedroom wall. I learned through travels to the coast and inland and through taking Visual Art as a subject in high school. Most importantly I continue being consistent with learning not to be shy of starting new seasons, of the process of becoming.
Whether it be editorial photography, wardrobe styling, make-up artistry, art directing or architecture and interior design, all these things that I’m drawn to may end up illustrated on a screen or painted on paper. Art is something I am drawn to and I will always be reactive to it.
What are you drawn to document in your images?
Beauty. And it is saddening to think that in most cases that word brings with it the notion of placing it in constrained elements of features to illustrate it. I wish for beauty to define beyond what one sees and that it should extend to what one feels and hears as a reaction to what is being beheld.
I acknowledge these reactions and end up producing a response to what I’ve seen, especially seeing by means of experience. I am drawn to the practical beauty of design, from human form and behaviours to visual production.
I tend to explain myself in my artworks at the first chance I get. My personality and interests become self-explanatory when one asks or reads about my art. My work will always be deciphered as a window into my state of mind and how this impacts the way in which I create and how I view my work’s developing effectiveness.
Viewya best describes me as a new wine with a new found peace. I found myself stumbling or rather sketching myself into a new art style and the new wine reference is to exaggerate the hard efforts of honing my skill to a point where my perfectionism would feel comfortable. A new found peace of not having to be unkind to myself about not having the most conventional art style.
Viewya best describes my never-ending wonder of architectural history and holy encounters of the humans before us and what they’ve left behind. I see myself carrying out visuals influenced in the background by the renaissance period, allowing my fantasies of middle ages flowing into modernity to flow.
Sofhar best describes my love for transparency and beauty. The name is soft and hard integrated. I’ve seen from what I find that majestic society may persuade me to see as dissonant, when dissonance to me is a unique canvas.
A lack of harmony in Sofhar with the hard brush strokes and soft blends and colours best describe making beauty out of what is unconventionally misplaced. Most importantly ensuring rich ethnicities get conventional representation in our contemporary society and beyond this time.
Close best describes how I can be vulnerable when I allow myself to be. I do not easily open my thoughts and what lies beyond them, to others. I am wary of the ways of the world and how it reacts and receives knowledge, wisdom and practice. Close is me in my time of expressing all that is behind my thinking and all that I am drawn to doing, along with feeling.
I do become self-conscious about the extensions of myself being brought out into light and I felt this way about the referenced self portrait of the artwork. Yet looking at it reminds me of subjugating doubts of my abilities and where they come from, expressing them as it is.
Lawi best describes my desire to see rich ethnicities being celebrated and captured, seen as suitable for any platform.
This portrait is from an editorial magazine shoot reference and inspired me to depict my African version of it.
I wanted the hair to be something I had never seen before and a deviation from all that is usually presented. The make up needed to be something I had only imagined and for it to be made from African craft. The clothing and accessories were from materials that are always being taken from my continent.
Lawi depicts a misplaced representation of my continent in the things I truly enjoy – fashion design and editorial photography.
Gontse best describes my journey and evolution. It is not a destination for me but will always be a trail I’m treading. I will never arrive because I believe I will always be unfolding and blooming, opening new and closing old. To me, arrive means to then settle at an end and I am made to be never-ending.
Gontse represents choosing to rather be a useful developing light in a dimmed pace and season than a source of light that stays the same with a settled intention.
Slush Puppy best represents appreciation and dreams. Slush Puppy, speaking of Lydie this time, pays attention, compliments and is cheesy. With her discernment for art I am reminded that a gift through one’s own eyes is a literal sight for sore eyes.
Never forgetting dreams about abilities one is drawn to, can be daunting without an elevated perspective. But allowing yourself to be blessed with believing in those abilities makes for an elevated spirit.
Love best describes letting the brush control. Just as I am easily enthusiastic about design – in what you wear, where you abide or what you use, then surely I could be open to being enthusiastic about knowing I can create art.
Forgetting the depth of art elements and letting the love for whatever you do manifest from your thoughts to reality without reservation for control. Doubt is a broken thing. Not to take away from the intangible feeling of broken but rather as an observation that functioning from that perspective is not a worthwhile affair.
Orange Thai-coon best describes having ideas. A train of thought on a track that’s meant to run forever. Wondering about the intentions of art directed photographs has always been what coal is to fire, to the point of calling the image to my brush as one can tell from this.
Just like fitting life into a photo frame, illustrating an idea interpreted by the stranger to it, feels right. Orange Thai-coon defines the artworks that don’t mean anything more than simply the interpretation of what one sees. This is how I saw that picture.
Harmony Depleting best describes where I started knowing my gifts and enthusiasm for art forms and where I would want them to take me. Even though at first I was unsure of how this would unfold, this uncertainty was not worrying and rather acted as a trigger to go where creativity takes me. In the literal sense, it describes how expressing the impact design has on me, takes my ability to different spaces.