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Month September 2014

4 Corners: An Interview with Lemi Ghariokwu

According to the lyrics of the late, great pioneering Afrobeat musician and cultural icon, Fela Kuti, ‘Music is the weapon of the future’If that’s the case, then this month’s profile designer’s work is a laser cannon. There are very few artists and designers, whose work transcends merely being the superficial packaging of the music, and becomes the visual embodiment of it. And Lemi Ghariokwu, or Lemi G as he is often known is such an artist. As a pioneering sleeve designer in his homeland of Nigeria, he has created an enduring legacy of highly potent, and political visual statements that gave Fela’s music added power and impact. So let’s hear it from the man himself in his own words. Shoot Lemi G.

Lemi Ghariokwu, artist and record sleeve designer

Lemi Ghariokwu, artist and record sleeve designer

What’s your background?

I’m a self-taught fine artist, graphic designer and illustrator. I did not receive formal training from an art school so I’m coming straight from my heart and soul through the streets into the arts. No degrees but I got pedigree! That’s my background.

Peter Okoh Patience Rhythm Band, front cover, 1973

Peter Okoh Patience Rhythm Band, front cover, 1973

How did you get started in your field of expertise?

Destiny is the key to my life and pre-destination unlocked when in 1974 I did my own version of a Fela Kuti cover as practice. A journalist saw my cover, was impressed and took me to meet Fela. Soon after I had the opportunity to do my first Fela cover, which received rave reviews and gave me instant recognition. I was then a teenager seeking my path in life and Fela pointed me in the right direction to become a professional record sleeve designer. In the early days, I used to be commissioned do live drawings at TV studios. My first ever cover design was for my uncle, Peter Okoh and his band, Patience Rhythm Dance Band for Decca Records in Africa, but unfortunately it was never published. So officially, my first published record cover was for an album called World Affairs by an artist called Tessy Allan. I’ve worked with many musicians all my life. I would have been a musician if it wasn’t for the Art.

Tessy Allen World Affairs, cover, 1974

Tessy Allen World Affairs, cover, 1974

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

The first challenge was to school myself to acquire the skill to be very professional in my work. I checked out any arts and designs I came across, asked questions from experienced artists and designers, did short stints in three advertising agencies in a bid to overcome the challenges. As soon as I was ready, my association and eventual collaboration with Fela Kuti put me on a pedestal and a very good footing to achieve one of my ambitions as the pioneer of professional record sleeve designer in Nigeria. I’ve made a career spanning 40 years of this.

Fela Kuti, Alagbon Close

Fela Kuti, Alagbon Close

Who and/or What are your greatest inspirations and influences?

I’ve always been inspired by things around me; everyday movements of people, state of the nation and the world at large. My greatest inspirations and influences come from individuals who are advocates for equality and justice, contributors to the advancement of society and human progress and most especially facilitators and catalysts for positive change. Also, I fell in love with album sleeve design while at secondary school. The album ‘Woyaya’ by Osibisa was the first to catch my attention. Designed by the renowned British sleeve designer Roger Dean, I was inspired by his other works such as the logo and album artwork for groups like Yes. Back then, only in my wildest dreams could I ever imagine I could become a record sleeve designer too. I also loved the album cover artwork of the acclaimed p-funk, Parliament-Funkadelic cover artist, Pedro Bell. Many people have suggested to me that there is a strong similarity in our work.

Fela Bus

Fela Bus

What is your best piece of work or the project you are most proud of?

Well, I have many ‘best’ pieces of works! My mostly proud of project is the body of works of 26 album cover designs I did for Fela Kuti’s musical career. I’m very proud of the Fela Bus, a mural on wheels I did for the Fela On Broadway show. Being a part of the Kalakuta Museum project as the curator is also a shine!

Fela Kuti, Beasts of No Nation

Fela Kuti, Beasts of No Nation

What would be your dream job or project?

My dream project would be to have a platform on a TV reality show dedicated to discovering and nurturing talents in visual arts and design. This I believe will help to promote visual art and design as a laudable profession and encourage individuals born with artistic talents in my society.

Fela Kuti, Yellow Fever

Fela Kuti, Yellow Fever

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

Honestly I’m not sure I know anyone and that is sad, but let me explain. Things are different in Nigeria. When I started, I think I was the only one doing what I do. There were other artists, who worked for the likes of advertising agencies etc… as illustrators, but the few there were seem to have all disappeared. Nowadays, you have people who are not necessarily artists, but are technically-minded and computer literate, creating album cover designs. They tend to work from their own photography in cyber cafes, manipulating the images and creating the designs for many of the new breed of Afrobeat performers and recording artists. Frustratingly, they never seem to credit their own work on the sleeves so you never know who they are.

Fela Kuti, Zombie

Fela Kuti, Zombie

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

My best advice to anyone is not to follow in someone else’s footsteps but to learn from their story. First and foremost, you need to find out who you are. Self-discovery and mastery is the key to life. Check out what you are really good at or what your strongest flair is. Work vigorously on developing that talent by honing your skills. Be consistent, principled and ambitious. May time and chance meet you at the point of your need for opportunity to shine. Good luck!

What’s next for you?

I keep working to remain relevant and very contemporary doing avant-garde works in a bid to consolidate my legacy. For 2015 I’m planning to publish my memoir and have a retrospective exhibition to mark my diamond jubilee.

For more information visit: http://lemighariokwu.wordpress.com

Network:

EUROPE:

DISOBEDIENT OBJECTS. From Suffragette teapots to protest robots, this exhibition is the first to examine the powerful role of objects in movements for social change. It demonstrates how political activism drives a wealth of design ingenuity and collective creativity that defy standard definitions of art and design. V&A Museum, London. Exhibition runs until 1 February 2015.

For more info visit www.vam.ac.uk

AFRO-POLIS will be hosting alongside the Frieze Art fair, a 5 days experiential exhibition (15 – 19 Oct 2014) entitled – the African Renaissance. Held in and around Hoxton Square at various locations including the iconic former White Cube Gallery once the home of YBA Artists such as Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin. In addition to being able to see and buy art and design by some of the leading African artists and designers, The African Renaissance features an innovative and interactive set of activities, which include workshops, debates, panel discussions, keynote lectures, live performance, and themed dinner.

Click here for more information on purchasing tickets.

THE U.S:

IMAGINARY POSSESSIONS: The first substantial presentation of his recent work at a U.S. museum by pioneering filmmaker, director, and theorist, John Akomfrah. ‘Imaginary Possessions’ presents three distinct films and a new commission that deftly excavate the fragmented identities of colonial subjects while challenging the received codes of cinematic representation. Runs until February 1st 2015 at the Eli and Edythe Broad Museum, East Lansing, Michigan 48823.

For more information visit http://broadmuseum.msu.edu

AFRICA:

DESIGNING AFRICA: Exploring Provenance and Materiality interrogates two particular areas of design – visual communication and material exploration. Designing Africa showcases the work of visual artists Momodou Ceesay, Clari Green, Pwavidon Mathias and Brian Omolo with origin as the underpinning theme. How do we define where we come from? By communicating their origins, present, future and imagined states they redefine the identity of Africa through printmaking, graphic design and illustration.

For more information visit the African Artists’ Foundation website

THE CARIBBEAN:


THE TRINIDAD & TOBAGO FILM FESTIVAL (TTFF) 2014: 
Founded in 2006, the trinidad+tobago film festival (ttff) is an annual celebration of films from and about Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean and its diaspora. The Festival also screens films curated from contemporary world cinema. In addition, the ttff seeks to facilitate the growth of the Caribbean film industry by hosting workshops, panel discussions, seminars, conferences and networking opportunities. Festival runs 16 – 30 September.

For more information visit http://www.ttfilmfestival.com

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 at info at jon-daniel dot com.

4 Corners: An Interview with Carolyne Hill

I first encountered the work of Carolyne Hill, this month’s profiled designer, at the Black Cultural Archives, the UK’s first and foremost Black heritage institution, which was recently rebranded and relaunched this July into a £7 million refurbished historical building in the heart of Brixton. Her family and most notably her mother Dawn, who is chair of the BCA, have been staunch supporters of this organisation for many years. Carolyne, specifically has lent her considerable talents in design and branding. However, as I would later come to find out, this is but one small facet of Carolyne’s many achievements thus far. Her background as a graphic designer, previously specialising in retail and ‘destination branding’ has seen her working for many of the high streets most recognised brands. Now working as Associate Director and branding specialist for Harrison:Fraser, I have no doubt that she is carving her own place in history as one of the few women of colour to ascend to such a position. Ladies and gentlemen, please be upstanding for Carolyne Hill.

Carolyne Hill

Carolyne Hill. Graphic designer/branding specialist

What’s your background?

I’ve always seen myself as an ‘Original Londoner’ born and bred, but equally proud of both my British and Jamaican heritage. My father is English and my mother is Jamaican. My grandmother on my father’s side was very creative and was always painting; this was a big inspiration from an early age. I would say ‘when I grow up I’m going to be an artist!’

Branding for Rhythm Kitchen, designed at The Yard Creative

Branding for Rhythm Kitchen, designed at The Yard Creative

How did you get started in your field of expertise?

I have worked for a range of design consultancies in London for various clients over the last 15 years. I studied retail interior design and business management at the London College of Printing. Having graduated and finding it hard to get a job in interior design, I managed to get a graphic design job from Design Week listings. From then on I was a graphic designer doing something I’d always loved and been passionate about.

Poster for African Street Festival Street Style

Poster for African Street Festival Street Style

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

I still think the biggest challenge for me was just getting that first job. Upon graduating you come into the industry with all these hopes and dreams and then you can’t even get an interview! I worked at The Conran Shop weekends and was an office intern doing filing work during the week. It took more than a year until I got my first design internship at Elemental Studio in Loughbrough Junction, which then led to me getting my first actual full-time paid design job at Astound, working for clients such as Tesco, B&Q and 3M. Once ‘in’ I’ve worked hard at achieving my goals at every stage and those first contacts I made working at Astound have stayed with me throughout my career and have helped in finding the right kind of work with the right people. 

Identity for Kaleidoscope Cinema – a pop-up cinema run by Jewel Hardy

Identity for Kaleidoscope Cinema – a pop-up cinema run by Jewel Hardy

Who or what are your greatest inspirations?

At school I was fascinated by the Pop Art era. I was a big Andy Warhol fan as a teenager and when studying GCSEs I discovered Bridget Riley, who as well as sharing my birthday, was a great inspiration as a fellow south Londoner from Norwood where I was at school doing my best at creating my own ‘Pop Art masterpieces’ for my coursework! I was impressed with her artwork and career as a strong female artist – I loved her bright colours, geometric forms and stripes. My parents were also a big influence as they always instilled in me that I could achieve anything and supported me along the way in my decisions to study and work in design. Today I find my biggest inspirations come from those around me such as my friends and my peers. I enjoy seeing people being successful with whatever they are doing and this spurs me on to find the next challenge.

Handpainted sign for Lola's Casino

Handpainted sign for Lola’s Casino

What is your best piece of work or the project you are most proud of?

At the moment I’m most proud of the Lola’s Casino identity work for The Hippodrome Casino at Harrison:Fraser, where I am associate director. Last year I took a typography course at Central Saint Martins, and to see a direct link from new learnings to a finished logo up in Leicester Square makes me very proud. I like to think that I’m proud of whatever I work on and I hope my ‘best piece’ is still to come.

Work for South African-inspired Rooibos tea brand Cape Cape Tea

Work for South African-inspired Rooibos tea brand Cape & Cape Tea

What would be your dream project?

My dream project right now would be to design and build a pop-up restaurant – mainly because I’m a foodie and really enjoy going to these ‘blink and you miss it’ installations! In 2009, I was made redundant and decided to set up my own company, sharing a design studio with Arthur Irving and his company Skylark, which was an exciting and fun experience, hard work but very rewarding. Financial pressures and great job offers have led to me moving on from my own company, but I like to think that in the future I might work for myself again! I also have the dream to be ‘more of an artist’ – still working on that one!

Who in your field do you believe deserves credit and recognition?

There are so many people who could deserve some recognition. But in my daily design job, the printers and shopfitters who produce amazing results, often with the shortest turnaround times and last-minute changes, to bring our work to life – they are amazing and deserve credit.

Flyer designs for Manifesto

Flyer designs for Manifesto

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

Love what you do, work hard and don’t give up! Alongside anything I’ve ever worked at, I’ve always had a side gig. Whether it be designing flyers for friends’ club nights, creating events or taking pictures, these things add to your personal portfolio and whether starting up or working in the corporate design world you need this output to keep your creative spark alive.

What’s next for you?

As associate director at Harrison:Fraser I’ve got big challenges everyday and enjoy being part of a team in which is fast paced. Personally I’m enjoying learning how to use my new camera and building upon the personal design work I’m doing with Kaleidoscope Cinema and Street Style.

For more information visit www.harrisonfraser.com.

Network:

EUROPE:

RE-IMAGINE: Black Women in Britain. The BCA’s inaugural exhibition delves into the remarkable history of Black women in this country and spotlights some of their inspirational lives and contributions to British society since the Roman era. Listen to a tapestry of voices and reimagine the historical accounts of an 18th-century freedom fighter, social and political activists, talented musicians, writers and a woman serving in the Royal Navy. Until 30 November 2014. FREE admission. For more info visit www.bcaheritage.org.uk

THE LONDON DESIGN FESTIVAL 2014. First staged in 2003, the London Design Festival is one of the world’s most important annual design events. The Festival programme is made up of over 300 events and exhibitions staged by hundreds of partner organisations across the design spectrum and from around the world. Design Week is proud to be a part of this event and on Saturday 13 September at 10.30-11.30am at the V&A Lecture Theatre will be hosting a special talk, ‘4 Corners: Design from the African diaspora’. Here, Design Week columnist, Jon Daniel will introduce the thinking behind the column and select work from the USA, Africa, Europe and the Caribbean. For more information visit londondesignfestival.com.

THE US:

HERE AND ELSEWHERE. A major exhibition of contemporary art from and about the Arab World, New York’s New Museum’s exhibition brings together more than 45 artists from over 15 countries, many of whom live and work internationally. Exhibition runs until 28 September at the New Museum, 235 Bowery, New York, NY 10002, USA. For more info visitwww.newmuseum.org/exhibitions/view/here-and-elsewhere

FUNKY TURNS 40: Black Character Revolution Animation Art from classic cartoons of the ’70s. This special exhibition commemorates the 40th anniversaries of 1970s Saturday Morning cartoons that featured positive Black characters for the first time in television history. The exhibition includes original production pieces and drawings used to produce these cartoons. Also included are images from the animated opening to Soul Train and two of the few Black cast/Black-focused animated features that have been produced since the 1970s: BeBe’s Kids (1992) and Our Friend Martin (1999). Now on the second leg of a national tour showing until 20 October 2014 at DuSable Museum of African American History. For more info visit the DuSable Museum website for details.

AFRICA:

TriContinental Human Rights Film Festival 2014. Every year since its inception in 2002, the TriContinental Human Rights Film Festival has screened powerful films from South Africa and across the globe, exploring some of the most urgent local and global issues of our time.With a passion to support the fight for human rights and democracy through media, the TCFF offers stories from the bleeding edge of current social and political waves – stories that are not only relevant to our time, but skillfully told through beautiful cinema.TCFF is the only festival primarily dedicated to issues of Social, Political and Human Rights on the African continent. Taking place in Johannesburg, Capetown and Pretoria, 13-29 September 2014. For more information and submission details visit www.3continentsfestival.co.za

THE CARIBBEAN:

INTERNATIONAL REGGAE POSTER CONTEST 2014 Call for Entries is now open until until November,1st, 2014. The best posters will be selected by a jury of design professionals and will be published in a catalogue/book and exhibited around the world. The objective is to continue to build awareness for Reggae music and to celebrate the global achievements of Reggae and its impact on the world. The term Reggae encompasses all the popular Jamaican musical genres; Ska, Rocksteady, Roots Reggae, Dub, Dancehall and the unique Jamaican Soundsystem. They are looking for your talent and vision and we are very excited to see what designers can come up with in their original poster designs that will capture the energy and vibe of Reggae Music. The contest is open to all graphic designers and artists internationally. Artists/Designers are allowed to submit any number of original poster Entries. Posters should not have been published in internet, social

medias etc. For more information visit www.reggaepostercontest.com 

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 at info at jon-daniel dot com.