Seth Pimental Takes Over Jewel City With Converse

I recently caught up with artist Seth Pimental aka African Ginger about life, art ,process, collaboration, evolution and creating at scale with Converse. When asking Seth how he’s been doing he responded with a simple, “you know me, busy just trying to make really good art and  trying to stay out of trouble.”

Having worked with Converse over the past few years we also spoke to him about his latest projects with the brand in their endeavours to evolve the Jewel City precinct, revolutionising a significant portion of Joburg’s inner city and incorporating business, housing and creative spaces to be used by people from all walks of life. The conversation was an insightful look into the artist behind the work. This really had me excited about Seth’s journey and trajectory and grateful for his articulation and vulnerability in his artistic practice and process.

You’re fondly known as African Ginger. How did the name come about?

I created the African Ginger name. I think I was in first year university,I was looking for an Instagram handle and I had like, a bunch of weird ones. This one day I was cracking a joke while someone said something. I said, “Ha, African Ginger” because my hair is naturally ginger. So I was like, actually, that’s a cool name, and I changed my handle to African Ginger. And from there it kind of went from a quirky joke between myself and some homies to a brand. It’s kind of funny how things work. 

You are a multidimensional artist who uses various mediums across digital and canvas art work , was doing wall mural art always part of the plan?

Definitely, I was really into mural work and street art since I was like 16. My English teacher really put me on to artists like Shepard Fairey and Banksy at the time. There were a lot of graffiti artists in South Africa that I was really into, I mean, I went to school in Braamfontein, so I was exposed to so much graffiti and stuff. So for me, I’ve always wanted to paint murals. I just didn’t know how I could get to that place. Because, when you’re like, 16/17, it’s not really that easy going up and being like, I’m just gonna paint this mural, you know, there’s a whole process that you have to learn. I think murals right now are definitely where I want to take the next part of my career. I want to focus more on my mural work and my bigger projects on that scale. I’ll still be doing the digital stuff and the canvas work for sure they always have a very close place to my form of expression. But right now, I feel a big push towards murals.

That’s amazing. I’m always intrigued when you have such a huge blank canvas, how do you even start to conceptualise what you’re going to fill that blank canvas with?
I was speaking to my managers yesterday, we were just saying the only real, like, form of art that is open to everyone is street art. Because especially with murals, everybody feels a sense of recognising themselves- I notice myself. I would always feel like I could never walk into a gallery without feeling like I don’t belong. There’s always a sense of class or hierarchy in certain art spaces. Like, you need to be rich, you need to be well educated in the art world for you to enter these spaces. But if you paint a mural in Maboneng, it doesn’t matter, your background and education. You can look at it, hate it or love it but you can most definitely appreciate that. It’s like uplifting my community, which is the beautiful thing about murals.

What elements from those initial influences like Banksy have you carried through in your work now?
I don’t even look at Banksy much anymore, especially in the context of street art. I think there is a cool bridge between contemporary art and street art that you can find a nice balance. I would definitely say John Michel Basquiat is very prevalent in a lot of my mural works whether it’s not just like the most direct reference of the crown or anything, it’s a thought process. It’s the idea of the colour palette. It’s creating in a new expressionistic way because Basquiat created an entire art movement, and it’s not necessarily a replication of him, but it’s more of a contribution to an art movement, you know? Yeah. It’s like, if you were to work in cubism, you’re not directly referencing Pablo Picasso, but you are creating in that movement. You know, abstractionism, you’re not copying Jackson Pollock, but you are working in that space it’s all about the movement.

Your work is inspired by embracing the idea of experimentation. What mediums and ideas have you experimented with on this project?
That’s the tricky part. Because I think with  experimentation, in my lens, I have this whole premise of like, painting really detailed portraits of the subjects, amazingly, perfectly rendered illustrations and breaking it completely by like, throwing paint on it, or tagging over it or something. And that, for me, it’s like it’s adding chaos to calculation in that conversation. However, when you’re working with a client, and especially like a global client, on a global project where not many people are going to understand the idea of chaos. Especially with experimentation, you have to kind of play easy, you know, you have to experiment digitally. And then see if you can add that digital element traditionally, it’s a conversation that you’d have with the team and yourself and figure out how we can kind of come to an end goal.  The tricky part about experimentation is it can go very left very quickly, you know.

Converse is a giant in street wear and culture  (notably amongst artists, skaters and your fashion and music lovers etc ) You’re a skater as well!  Which elements of the culture and city are you displaying in your work with Converse?
I still skate and try to skate everyday but yeah, no, Converse is very, very iconic,  especially the All Star the original Chuck 70 is like, the most classic silhouette. It’s the most versatile shoe ever. You can literally wear it with anything, and it looks good. So in terms of the mural itself I think the elements were the vibrancy and  versatility of Converse. My whole premise, especially because when I was drafting the mural, I drafted with a team of six or seven people from the Converse X team. So the mural itself was a massive collaboration between myself and a bunch of kids, university students. And we had like seven themes. But the idea was to speak about versatility and inclusivity and everything, especially using colour as the focal point.  If you know, my work, I’m not very colourful, I would work with pops of yellow, or orange, but never like blue and green, and pink and purple and stuff like that, you know.

So that was me pushing outside myself, but also practicing the idea of inclusivity and experimentation through that, and that’s what the converse sneaker is. I think, especially in Johannesburg, especially in your city, it’s quite a vibrant place with multiple walks of life and multiple, like creative experiences, or even just like, you know, academic experiences living in that one community. So it’s like, how can we incorporate all of those people, we’re saying an artist can wear a pair of Converse, and so can a lawyer, there’s a perfect balance, you know, it’s versatile. And that’s what I was trying to aim for is like a sense of inclusivity with versatility.

This piece was with no doubt a creative collaboration, how was it working with the 8 other All Star artists along with the responsibility to lead and incorporate their passions and ideas into one final mural?
The word is different, very different. I think for me, it’s always the conversation issue between myself and my client. So if I’m doing  a commercial project, I have this and the client has that and we meet and have a common ground. But when you’re working with like several different artists, and there’s like amazing ideas that are being pitched left, right and centre and kind of like how can I incorporate every single person’s idea into one theme? It was tough and I think for me also leading the workshop was also like, very fresh, and I realised that it’s, I think a lot of artists need to work in these spaces because those conversations, we kind of came to the final design within like 20 minutes as opposed to sitting on your individual level conceptualising things within an hour or two, you know, so and that level of collaboration, everything just like it was different for me, but it was great. It was really great, the energies were aligned.

Was there any significance to the location you chose to do the mural in? What is the significance of this mural being in Jewel city?

Specifically Jewel City. Converse, and Jewel City have a running collaboration. Where Converse, I don’t know if I can say this, but Converse is planning a very big thing throughout the course of 2022.  It’s going to be inclusive of a lot of artists, musicians and the youth as a whole where Jewel City will be the activation space. So a lot of wall spaces that are in Jewel City will be commissioned by Converse for artists to kind of take over and like create, because Converse’s whole movement right now is Create Next and who’s the next generation to create. That space is like, prime as it stands. I did a different mural, but for Converse, it was a different project. It was a City Forest project and that was the introduction to this almost guerrilla takeover of streets. That’s the significance of Jewel City.

Seems there’s a sense of natural alignment between you and Converse.
Converse was my first real client, like, six, seven years ago, you know, so for me, there’s always a sense of love. Even though creatively you won’t always agree, but there’s always a sense of massive support from the team. And I admire them for that.

You use different art mediums in the same art piece. From acrylic, ink to spray paint all on one canvas, an ode to your vastness as a person but also the many different cultures in SA. What statement were you making with your mural?
I wanted to accentuate the idea of experimentation but I also wanted to push my own boundaries with that experimentation. Though  the real end goal I was trying to get with that mural was to have people stop, look and read. The aim, and I think especially speaking about the context of colour and stuff like that, we always wanted to just like, really just tie this really powerful and symbolic narrative.

Your last huge body of work ended up being two solo exhibitions ‘An Ode to Catharis’ and ‘Why So Blue, Brown Boy’ within months of each other. Would you say you create and let go or is there a body of work you’ve created that has never left you?

You know, funny enough, that’s what An Ode to Catharsis  was pretty much about, it was about release. It was also a body of work created in the pandemic. So it was a collection of my own emotional turmoils. And I think a collective feeling of like emotional, anguish or like exhaustion and I created all of that to kind of purge all those feelings out of myself. And that show made me really take a step back from ownership or take a step back from I guess the word would be like In connection to my work, I would still feel a connection to it. But I know for a fact that the next body of work I want to push would definitely want to be 10 times better than the body I made before. So I’m always trying to evolve so I always eliminate the idea of attachment in my work by believing and knowing for a fact that I can do something better than what I did previously. That’s why Why So Blue, Brown Boy they’re not two separate shows. I think a lot of people think that Ode to Catharsis and Why So Blue, Brown Boy were two separate shows, but they are the same show just from a different perspective.

An Ode to Catharsis  was a non-rationalised emotional experience. It was me not understanding why I feel that way, and Why So Blue, Brown Boy  was taking and doing the research with myself. Establishing an answer of that’s why I feel that way thus I need to create from that. Every other body of work will stem from Ode to Catharsis as the base point; they’ll just have a different theme or a different approach. So it’s been through that, I’ve realised I can disconnect myself from the work because I know for a fact that I can evolve the work even now I’m working on my next solo show in 2023.

Your work has spoken on several themes before such as ethnicity, loss and mental health, what is inspiring or moving Seth currently?
I think for me, what’s inspiring me right now is to perpetuate the same conversation I had in Why So Blue, Brown Boy. But I think in this context, I want to solidify my opinions, not necessarily opinions, but my feelings towards my mental health. Now, mental health has played a massive role in my work. My work was always considered very dark and very ominous in comparison, because like, you know, me purging all my feelings in illustrations.  But what’s inspiring me right now is pushing outside of my boundaries. And outside of the work I’ve already created. Everything I’ve made was just like the first step. I feel like I might just be cocooning, and I feel like I’m about to break out and develop this whole new approach for myself, you know? So that’s what’s inspiring me is like, seeing where I’m gonna take that. As an artist I haven’t figured it all out yet so I’m building and preparing as much as I possibly can so I’m excited to see the things I’ll do next year and even next week.

You’ve described yourself as a person who lives wearing headphones. How does your love of music inspire and influence your art?
Man? It’s ridiculous, like music. I swear if I wasn’t a visual artist I’d definitely be a musician. Music for me is like two types of listening: rhythmic and lyrical. It always happens in two parts

Rhythmic is when you hear the beats and the melody and that’s the first thing that catches you. So that’s the type of listening you’ll have like when you’re missioning around, you’ve got errands to do and stuff like that. And then there’s the lyrical aspect, where you sit down and  when I’m painting the lyrical aspect plays a very prominent role, because like I said, I live in my head and I live with music. So, if I’m not listening to music, I’m literally listening to my thoughts and it becomes overwhelming. So, you know, I’ll listen to music with intense lyrical content and not intensely gratuitous or anything but like just jam packed with a lot of metaphors. Listening to Earl Sweatshirt, or like Navy Blue, or like ASAP Rock ,  guys that are rap, but actually tell a story when they rap. So when I’m painting, I listen to that lyric and a particular line will click and then that one line will play in the back of my head throughout that painting. Then that painting will be inspired by that line, which is quintessentially inspired by my feelings and reaction to it. So music is literally 50% of my work.

What is the one thing you wish all who perceive any of your work across mediums see?
Inspired. I think I put a lot of myself on the line when I make art.  To the point where I actually feel like it makes you not okay, you know what I mean? It’s the only thing I know. So it’s the only thing I can do. And like I put everything every ounce of my soul into it. So for me, I think when anybody interacts with my work if you can just walk away feeling like I touched you or you feel like you’re inspired or you feel like you want to make something out of it. For sure. That’s exactly what I’m aiming for.

Thank you for the great conversation Seth. You already mentioned the next solo is coming in 2023. Anything we can look forward to this year from African Ginger?
This year, there’s a lot going on. I’ve got some really big projects coming out. I’m going to be out of South Africa quite a bit throughout the course of this year. So it’s gonna be really amazing. I don’t know if I can say this so I’m actually not gonna say because I don’t want to get sued but I can say look forward to the end of May.