Cultures melt in the artist’s pot

Poster by Karabo Poppy Moletsane. (Supplied)

Poster by Karabo Poppy Moletsane. (Supplied)

The well-meaning but trite description "Proudly South African" has a fresh ring to it when taking in the work of Karabo Poppy Moletsane. The young illustrator and graphic designer – titles she relates to in equal measure – has a love for all that makes South Africa the exciting, anything-is-possible place that it is. Her work is infused with this enthusiasm.

Moletsane grew up in Vereeniging, went to an all-girls high school in Potchefstroom followed by a move to Pretoria to complete a BA in visual communication at the Open Window School.

Inspired by the concept of hybridity when it comes to her visual style, Moletsane wishes to attain an identity described by Hlonipha Mokoena, a South African professor of anthropology, as neither Western nor African but a proud combination of cultures.

Applying this thought to her illustration allows Moletsane to experiment and borrow from an endless source of local cultures, global influences and historical connections.
She incorporates these themes with a sense of quirkiness that results in her own brand of design.

"I think there is something special that occurs when we see an African culture adopt certain qualities of another culture to produce something new and enticing," Moletsane explains. "Ultimately that's what is being seen when I create illustrations with an energetic and unexpected use of colour that is synonymous with illustration styles of the West. But I try to retain a South African feel through the use of textures and subject matter native to South African cultures or subcultures."

South African identities
An example of this is her bright type-based poster exclaiming, "Pat Your Weave, Ladies!" Her self-promotional "Mzanzi Like Me" series encompasses all she is trying to achieve through her illustration and graphic design: to embrace a culture that includes all the unique traits of South Africa, whether an Afrikaans expletive or a local hand gesture signalling a taxi.

South African identities play a large part in the content of Moletsane's work. Sho't Left, a 'zine on the exciting occupations one may encounter riding in a South African taxi, features a wildly illustrated African hair dresser, taxi driver, Zionist Christian Church peacekeeper and a Skhotane Kenny Kunene-inspired character.

Moletsane challenges herself to create work that can also be a tool to awaken, educate or provoke. She has teamed up with fellow illustrator Gerhard van Wyk to found a design agency, Brother Lawrence Studios. She says: "There is a giant wave of creativity emerging from South Africa. It's a great reward to be a part of that wave."


This article is adapted from an interview with the artist that appeared on the creative showcase site Between 10and5.

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