14 Oct KARABO POPPY & VISUAL CREATIVITY
By Robert Greeff
The African aesthetic has been quietly driving its own impetus of late, operating on a contained dynamic of inspiration and creative output on its own terms. Now it’s arriving on the world stage as fully fleshed out ideas that sit within its own context and celebrate its own uniqueness.
This creative movement sees artists, musician’s, designers and crafters seemingly tap into the collective unconscious and focus elements of the African milieu into cutting edge expressions, confidently stepping into a defined future, audience and narrative. And the world is taking notice.
Witness the record-breaking power of Marvel’s Black Panther, the appointment of Artistic Director Virgil Abloh (with his Ghanaian roots) to Louis Vuitton’s menswear label and the musical juggernaut that is Afrobeats and its leading artists D’Banj, Davido and Tiwa Savage which is why South African Karabo Poppy Moletsane is still someone to watch.
Karabo literally drew us into her visual world, complete with its own vernacular and signifiers. The 20 something black, female illustrator, graphic designer and street artist has amassed a series of accomplishments in a short space of time. These include taking over Google’s home page for international Women’s Day in March 2019, painting a mural in the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, California; designing the graphics on Soweto’s popular towers for Soweto Gold Superior Golden Lager; collaborated with another designer, Faatimah Mohamed-Luke, to create a custom basketball court design in Zoo Lake, Johannesburg – a first of its kind in Africa; created visual work for Nike, Adidas and Woolworths as well as; for artists such as Black Coffee and the Grammy award nominated music video “Makeba” by French Musician Jain.
In doing so she has won a Gold Craft Loerie Award and has partnered with Apple and the Over App to contribute to the RED Campaign (founded by Bono to fight Aids in Africa) as well as a dip into a fashion line with Sneaker Labs.
In illustrating the cover Art for @Applemusic’s “Afrobeats Hits” playlist recently, Karabo mentions: “I wanted to highlight the energy, the jive, the attention to excellence and spontaneity as well as the beautiful hybridization in this sound of the 21st century Africa.”
Digging deeper into the art making process, she says: ”What I love most about creating has to be the ability to represent the unrepresented; to take the seemingly ordinary aspects of everyday life in South Africa that one would not normally see in media or in contemporary art ,and portray this in an exciting, modern and celebratory way.”
Karabo’s visual language has evolved in an organic fashion, rooted and informed by her environment as a child discovering signage at the barbershop and beauty parlor, her first encounter of visual art expressed, firstly in design and then in a relatable way to her own African identity.
These side-profiled figures are intrinsically Afrocentric (harking back to the visual pun of Egyptian and Nubian Art) with hair captured in intricate and iconic African styling that would become a signature motif in her later work. City tropes, carnivalesque treatment of vivid colour together with bold line work and deft scriffito have become vivid signifiers elevating the humdrum of contemporary African urban landscapes into delicious eye popping vignettes. Thus, she has found her voice, her narrative and style.
The transition from illustration to the alternate canvases of walls, basketball courts and water towers are all at once natural and immersive, integrating into the environment and claiming its cultural space with confidence while interacting with an audience beyond. As we extrapolate “a house is a machine for living in” from the 1927 manifesto by architecture giant Le Corbusier, to Bulgarian artist “Christo” (an environmental sculptor famous for wrapping structures and buildings), Karabo inserts her visual art into living, working, breathing urbanized cityscapes, and by and large, the townships. Inhabitants are immersed in her world and gain an intimate access to the artist’s work, generating conversation long after an encounter.
From the digital hegemony of Google to the streets and walls of South Africa, the inherent power of Karabo Poppy’s African Aesthetic is evident. It would do well for the powers that be to recognize that the African aesthetic is not simply a trend, but inimitably codified by an audience (read sub-Saharan Africa), that not only buys into it but actively participates and forwards its development.
For Karabo Poppy yet to reach the fulcrum and depth of her expression as an artist, global business is watching and so are we.