Phathutshedzo Nembilwi is a graphic designer and illustrator originally from Venda, Limpopo. Creative director at her own design studio, Phathu Designs, she digitally explores playful and enlivened illustrations which are harmonised by humanist scenes. There’s an energy to her work that just vibrates.

Her career in Art & Design began when she moved to Pretoria to study Graphic Design at The Tshwane University of Technology. Since then, she has worked as an in-house designer at various companies – amplifying her skills within the umbrella of Visual Communication. After much experience in the industry, her interest shifted to digital art and animation which is where her passion truly lies.

Why digital art and design?

I first noticed my interest in illustration when I was still in university. I felt free to express myself through images. Digital art gave me the freedom to share my art with the world. It helped me to communicate my thoughts and ideas in interesting ways.

Tell me about your creative beginnings?

My beginnings are humble. Digital art was not as popular as it is today. I had to teach myself how to use programs to create art because most of the work I produced was on paper. My family was a big inspiration. From an early age, they encouraged me to continue in the artistic field. I would draw diaries in high school. Most of the art I was making then was inspired by women and I have kept that inspiration alive to this day.

I N S P I R A T I O N . . . Energized and rhythmic, her work is an honest and unmuted digitized impression of ordinary life – depicting to us those mundane moments that count and that should be celebrated too.

What’s one of your first memories, relating to your first illustrations/drawings and forms of art?

I remember an assignment when I was still in university. In my illustration class, I do not remember all the assignment details, but I had to incorporate a famous artist’s style into my artwork, and I chose M. C. Escher. His work features mathematical objects, explorations of infinity and so much more. I enjoyed creating this artwork because there were no rules or limits. I had the creative freedom to create my own story.

How do you interpret joy through your work?

For this work, I expressed it through feeling and through action. We are happy when we listen and dance to our music. We are free, and we can forget about our problems while the music plays.

What inspired your work for this ‘Together We Joy’ campaign?

The love we, as South Africans or Africans, have for music and dance. We eat, dance, and create music that is unique to us. We create dance moves that are trending all around the world. We sing in our home languages, but we still understand, dancing together. Music brings us all together and it connects us.

How did you develop your personal style?

It is difficult to pinpoint because my art evolved over the years. The main inspiration was black women, afro punk, and afro-futurism. I wanted to create a positive image that reflects how amazing women are. This is also the inspiration for the colour pallet I chose.

How do you feel your positionality influences the type of work you do?

It influences my artwork. I strive to tell stories about women that look like me. To me, this includes African women with major influence, and ordinary women we meet every day. I was inspired to create stories that are relatable and images that reflect who we are, how we look, and what we experience.

What does art mean to you, and would you say art makes you feel joy?

Art is a tool, a form of self-expression. It allows me to speak what I cannot communicate in words. Art is beautiful, it encourages dialogue, it addresses issues, and it looks aesthetically pleasing. Art cannot be categorized or placed in a certain space; it is freedom. So, it means so much to me.

The limited-edition silk scarves are available for purchase at Creator’s Depot at R450 each. 

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