The Portfolio: Sandile [Nothing] Mhlongo

An art director is responsible for the visual appearance of a project: how it communicates, simulates moods and appeals to an audience. My first project was a streetwear brand called The Uniconz, which is short for Unique Iconz. We help people fight self-doubt and believe in themselves through the power of clothing, by having messages of encouragement and affirmation embedded in the clothes and accessories we make.

I started it myself after doing research on how habits and mental associations work on our psyche. Then I began thinking about what I would like my clothes to tell me. I bought fabric, found a tailor, found a garment printer and made customised clothes for myself, which, in turn, were in high demand by peers who felt the same way.

I didn’t know I was art directing until I worked with RHTC Online, which was Mpumelelo “Frypan” Mfula’s online streetwear store. While I was selling my brand, Frypan would ask me to help him visualise his ideas. From there, I became responsible for art directing the store’s brand activations, the look and feel of the store’s Playground Store (app) and its Let’s Play Outside Festival. 

The Renaissance art movement is the cornerstone of my practice. The artists of that period made me realise that as humans we have infinite possibilities. Everything may seem different, but forms part of one whole.

I didn’t study art direction. I didn’t even know what an art director was until last year when I got the call to do Yo! MTV Raps, which has been nominated for Best International Format Show at the 2020 South African Film and Television Awards.

This sets me apart ’cause I don’t know it when I’m breaking rules — my mind is not governed by institutionalised theories of how art direction is supposed to work. I think it allows me to bring something new to the industry. My obsession with research and experience in various disciplines — including fashion, video work, carpentry and gaming — allows me to draw inspiration from so much.

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