August 2013
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Month August 2013

4 Corners: An Interview with Sindiso Nyoni aka R!OT

‘Every man gotta right to decide his own destiny…’ This opening line to Bob Marley and The Wailers classic track, ‘Zimbabwe’ (from the album ‘Survival, 1979) aptly sets the scene for this month’s destination and profiled graphic artist.

Born in 1984, he is a product of his country’s Independence, which was realized in 1980. In his own words he was ‘born free from the segregation and colonial repression’ that blighted Zimbabwe’s past, but still ‘grew up in turbulent times characterized by the internal conflicts of the Shona and Ndebele factions’.

Experiences like this must surely go some way to explain how his tender age belies the depth and range of his work. And the impact he has made not just continentally, beyond the land-locked borders of his homeland, but also internationally in North & South America, Europe and the Far East is equally impressive.

Sindiso Nyoni aka R!OT, over to you.Sindoso Nyoni

Source: Kamo Mogashoa

Sindoso Nyoni, AKA R!OT, graphic artist/designer

What’s your background?

I am an independent graphic artist, born and raised in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. I am the seventh child in a family of nine. Zimbabwe is widely known for its unique craftsmanship in the arts, from sculptures, masks, traditional ornaments to music and drama. As well as Zimbabwe being a ‘once’ booming African economy, this allowed for me to be exposed to abundant forms of art and popular culture as a four-year-old in the late 80s. I was so inspired from all these surroundings, and it was then that I developed a love for drawing. I haven’t stopped since. This developed into creating my own limited series of handcrafted comics in primary school, right through to high school, where I took art classes at a Catholic institution in Bulawayo. It was here that I was first introduced to the art of communication design by a retired New York Graphic designer, who had relocated to the continent, to teach art. She gave me invaluable insights into the profession and I left Bulawayo for Johannesburg in 2005, enrolling in a four-year communication design course while working as a barman and freelance artist/designer in order to pay my way through college. In 2008, I graduated from the University of Johannesburg with a BTech degree in Graphic Design.Freezim artwork, part of the Voices in Freedom exhibiton in Mexico (2010)

Freezim artwork, part of the Voices in Freedom exhibiton in Mexico (2010)

How did you get started in design?

After graduating, I moved to Cape Town where I joined an illustration studio as an intern and collaborated on projects for brands such as Fifa, Nike, Adidas, Smirnoff, HP, Shell and Audi. During my time with the collective I was part of the illustration teams on some Cannes Lion-winning campaigns. Prior to this, during my time as a student, I got into activist art and poster making. I became involved in exhibition showcases, and In 2010 I was part of the global Voices in Freedom poster exhibition alongside several international activist artists. After spending two years working as an illustrator, I relocated back to Johannesburg, where I spent almost two more years working as an art director/designer for an advertising agency. I continued to showcase art via invitational involvements and in 2011 I took part in the Piñatarama 2.0, (Art piñata) exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico City. I also got to exhibit frequently in group shows locally, and in 2012 I was selected as a participating artist at the Art Takes Times Square exhibition on New York Times square. In 2013 I took part in the Dizajn Afrike (Contemporary design in Africa): Dyalli Association exhibition in Croatia. This exhibition formed part of the ‘Week of Africa’ celebrations in Croatia from the 22nd of May. In the same year, Outdoor ad company JCDecaux, in association with Icograda showcased 50 posters by 50 designers on digital billboards in London’s Cromwell Road for World Communication Design Day. The world’s most promising design talent was chosen to exhibit their work created to the theme of ‘1Love1Word’. My piece, entitled Amandla – All power to the Dreamers, represented South Africa. In late 2010 I developed R!OT, an alias that explores a subversive African ‘street’ style under which I have been operating as an independent graphic artist and illustrator since.Adidas shoe-box work

Adidas shoe-box work

What challenges did you face/overcome in getting into the industry and achieving your ambitions?

During the short space of time in which I have been operating as a creative, I have treated failures, challenges and obstacles as stepping stones to getting to where I would eventually like to be. The first obstacles encountered came early in my college years, when I moved to Johannesburg. I had to freelance and double up as a barman/waiter to raise tuition fees to pay for my degree. Once this was achieved the second goal was to step into the industry and make a mark or name for myself. This proved difficult, in an industry which already has so many gate-keepers. At that time not too many creatives of colour were prominently visible. So, getting some sort of recognition has been a challenging long process, but a challenge that I’ve learnt a great deal from. Growing up in the turbulent times of Zimbabwe inspired my artwork as well, which reflects the social wounds left by a bitter struggle against colonial repression and of course the internal conflicts of the Shona and Ndebele factions. The link to social activism is what denotes my ‘African’ design aesthetic. By combining images and text to inspire people out of placidity my work attempts to tackle some of Africa’s most pressing issues in the form of visual art. Sadly most of the time our industry spends its time promoting commercial products rather than issues that really matter. This is compounded by the fact that as an emerging creative on your career path, in order to get noticed you have to have some big-name brands in your portfolio. In the professional creative industry, there is seldom any room for social communication. Briefs and concepts are often commercially driven, creating a dilemma faced by creatives today, ‘work for charities is cool but doesn’t pay the bills.’ I personally feel that it is a great value for creatives to know that they have tools and the ability to effect massive change, and not always within a for-profit organization. This is why I do not use my skills to support brands or companies that I feel have a negative impact on the world we live in. I feel that as creatives we have a duty to contribute to our communities using art that addresses social issues, advocates awareness and change, which can ultimately open minds to act towards making a difference.Poster design for documentary My Africa Is

Poster design for documentary My Africa Is

Who are your greatest inspirations and influences?

My mother is my ultimate role model. Her outlook on life raised me in the direction and career path I took from an early age. The arts and the various branches of creative activity have also always been a love of mine, with early memories of comic book art and vintage animation as influences. I respect and admire many international and local contemporary artists such as Jorge Alderete, Chaz Maviyane-Davies, Thami Mnyele, Dumile Feni, Emory Douglas, Jean Michel Basquiat, ROA, Pierre Bernard, Jonathan Barnbrook, and Tomer Hanuka (to name a few.) I am particularly intrigued by artists that blend the digital and traditional processes successfully. I also draw inspiration from disciplines outside my profession. These include music, cinema and literary influences from African authors such as Dambudzo Marechera, Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka. The work of film visionaries such as Melvin Van Pebbles, Spike Lee, Emir Kusturica, Guillermo Del Toro, Lars Von Trier, Martin Scorsese and even the surreal work of Alejandro Jodorowsky, has also often left a profound impression on me. I studied Graphic design to attain a solid foundation in traditional communication design. I believed that understanding the art or skill of graphic design might inform more unique visuals to go along with what I would later specialise in.Book cover design for When a State Turns on its Citizens: 60 Years of Institutionalised Violence in Zimbabwe, by Lloyd Sachikonye

Book cover design for When a State Turns on its Citizens: 60 Years of Institutionalised Violence in Zimbabwe, by Lloyd Sachikonye

What is the project you are most proud of?

I recently created a poster which was selected as part of the Mandela Poster Project 95 exhibition collection. The project aims to raise funds for the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital and the pieces will form part of the facility’s interior design as well. The poster is part of a collection by designers from around the world who paid tribute to and celebrated Nelson Mandela’s contribution to humanity. My submission for the series is entitled The Boxer and is a depiction of a young Nelson Mandela inspired by the critically acclaimed Spike Lee film Do the right thing. The piece particularly pays homage to one of the iconic characters in the film, Radio Raheem whose story about life, and how Love defeated hate echoes Mandela’s philosophy on human rights, forgiveness and reconciliation which contributed to the abolition of Apartheid in South Africa.The Boxer, poster print for the Mandela Poster Project 95

The Boxer, poster print for the Mandela Poster Project 95

What would be your dream project?

I’m quite an avid film and cinema buff so it would be pretty cool to get to work on an important cinematic project. I’ve always been interested in independent cinema, so to be involved in a project of that nature is definitely on my ‘to do list’ for the not so distant future. I would particularly like to collaborate with filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles, who I feel is an all round interestingly amazing individual with an intriguing insight and outlook on life. In my opinion, he’s a very important creative.Ghost (Xenophobia), self-portrait based on experiences as an immigrant in South Africa

Ghost (Xenophobia), self-portrait based on experiences as an immigrant in South Africa

Please name some people in your field that you believe deserve credit or recognition.

Fellow Zimbabwean (and Johannesburg-based) fine artist, Kudzanai Chiurai has been producing some really great provocative work in the past couple of years. I also admire the intricate and heavily detailed, artwork of illlustrator/conceptual artist and graphic designer Linsey Levendall. Soweto-born and Johannesburg-based Mzwandile Buthelezi, AKA Hac-One, is a street/graphic artist who is committed to growing authentic African design styles, and travels around the continent to build networks of creative people committed to using design to make a positive change. Loyiso Mkize is a young visual artist from the Eastern Cape in South Africa who uses art to enrich the world with visions that dare to break the world’s facade and inspire a greater tomorrow.Protect & Serve - a piece commenting on controversy surrounding the South African Police Service

Protect & Serve – a piece commenting on controversy surrounding the South African Police Service

What’s your best piece of advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Contrary to popular belief there are no short cuts in this game and hard work always pays off, so pay your dues. I also feel that as long as you enjoy what you do, you’ll never have to ‘work’ another day. Its all about creating the ideal job and not waiting for it to come. So in a nutshell, ’Go create!’Zulu Diva, test illustration for South African musician Toya Delazy

Zulu Diva, test illustration for South African musician Toya Delazy

What’s next for you?

I’d like to continue creating, and be able to inspire generations after me to create.Logo for the Natural Hair Appreciation Society

Logo for the Natural Hair Appreciation Society

You can see more of Sindiso Nyoni’s work at



KKK – Kin Killin’ Kin is a powerful and thought-provoking series of images that reflect artists James Pate’s deep love and even greater concern for the epidemic of youth violence in the African American community. The exhibition runs until 20 November 2013 at The DuSable Museum of African-American history. 740 East 56th Place, Chicago, Illinois 60637. See more


New Roots: This exhibition features 10 emerging artists: Deborah AnzingerVarun BakerCamille CheddaGisele GardnerMatthew McCarthyOlivia McGilchristAstro SaulterNile SaulterIkem Smith and The Girl and the Magpie. These artists were selected by the National Gallery of Jamaica curatorial team, which was headed by Nicole Smythe-Johnson, O’Neil Lawrence and Veerle Poupeye, from an initial shortlist of over 30 artists under 40 years old who were either born in Jamaica or of Jamaican parentage or who are active there. Opened on 28 July at National Gallery of Jamaica in Kingston. For more information


Ellen Gallagher: AxME at Tate Modern, London. One of the most acclaimed contemporary artists to have emerged from North America since the mid-1990s, Ellen Gallagher’s gorgeously intricate and highly imaginative works are realised with a wealth of virtuoso detail and wit. This is her first major solo exhibition in the UK, providing the first ever opportunity to explore an overview of her twenty-year career. Tickets Adult: £11.00 (without donation £10.00 )
Concession: £9.50 (without donation £8.60). Exhibition runs until 1 September 2013. For more information visit

The AACDD 2013 Bargehouse Festival. From September 18 – 23, 2013 the Exhibition of the AACDD (African and African-Caribbean Design Diaspora) Awards is the final accolade celebrating the best of the outstanding creative talent of black artists and designers of the 2010, 2011 and 2012 AACDD exhibitions. Visit The Bargehouse
Oxo Tower Wharf, Bargehouse Street, South Bank, 
London SE1 9PH. For more information visit


Meaning Motion. How does movement make meaning? This question is asked by two highly innovative interactive digital artists, Tegan Bristow and Nathaniel Stern in the exciting exhibition. Until 18 August 2013 at Wits Art Museum, Corner Jorissen St & Jan Smuts Ave, Braamfontein, Johannesburg, SA. Admission free. For more information visit

If you have any forthcoming events that you would like to be considered for inclusion in this column, please do not hesitate to contact me by email .