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The Portfolio: Nanna Venter

I consider myself an “artstronaut”. It’s not an official term, but it’s been a way for me to describe how what I do doesn’t neatly match the labels of “illustrator”, “user-centred designer”, “artist”, “academic”, “teacher”, or whatever. I like to explore and play across mediums and follow the next shiny creative endeavour that comes up. 

I’ve worked across advertising, print, digital platforms, games, apps, comics, you name it! I’m also a deep-dive researcher and writer and work in development. I have a PhD in Information and Communications Technologies for Development (ICT4D) at the University of Cape Town, and I’m currently working as a postdoctoral fellow at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in its department of applied design.

Creating book covers has been a recent shiny thing that’s caught my imagination. It’s something I hope to do a lot more of in the future.

 The first cover I created was for Sam Beckbessinger’s How to Manage your Money like a F*cking Grownup in 2018 — a financial advice book written in a disarmingly relatable voice. I channelled the aesthetic and spirit of punk, and collaged an irreverent cover that would stand out in any finance section of a book store.

In 2016 I became friends with author Lauren Beukes when we both appeared at a creative womxn conference as speakers. I’ve been a major fan of hers since I read her first book, Moxyland. At the time Lauren was busy writing her latest novel, Afterland, while I was finishing my PhD. Our friendship bloomed in-between writing sprints, at her house or mine.

I was privileged enough to read bits of draft, to watch her ideas percolate and become parts of a compelling story. She asked me to consider doing the cover (and ensured that there would be a kill fee if it didn’t work out).  

I was inspired by a typeset detail in the United States edition of the book: the designer had added a flower bomb symbol on the opening page. I thought it was a fantastic visual for a world in which most of the men have been wiped out. Flowers are encoded as symbols of traditional femininity: we speak of women being “deflowered”, flowers are Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day staples; and, throughout history, flowers have signified an imagined divine femininity with their delicate petals; their exquisite beauty.

But Lauren’s vision of a post manfall world subverts any such expectations — the survivors can be barbed, masculine, aggressive, strong and capable. Those long-held beliefs of femininity are blown to bits and re-assembled into a shattered world, in which a mother and her son are simply trying to get back to a home that doesn’t exist. 

The publishers loved it — so much so that they asked me to do a new paperback edition cover for The Shining Girls to match the look and feel of Afterland. I worked closely with Lauren to find images that would be as clean and symbolic of the spirit of the book as Afterland’s flower grenade.

For more of Nanna Venter’s work, visit nannaventer.co.za or follow her on Instagram: @nannaventer

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Nanna Venter
Nanna Venter is currently employed as a post-doctoral fellow at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology

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