Category Art

4 Corners: An Interview with Saki Mafundikwa

This month we take a trip to ‘The Motherland’, Africa. A continent, that certainly earns its status as the cradle of civilization due to the fact that most scientific research points to this as being the place of where Man first originated.
Historically, evidence of African art and design can be found within almost all cultures and societies across the world. From the tribal, geometric and abstract forms that inspired the paintings of Picasso and the roots of Modernism to the ancient Adinkra symbolism that is reflected in many European decorative design elements and fabrics.
For those of you unfamiliar with Adinkra symbols, they are a comprehensive lexicon of visual icons created by the Akan people of Ghana and Gyaman people of Cote d’Ivoire in West Africa and devised to communicate proverbs.
They are just one of the many African writing systems that were highlighted by the distinguished Zimbabwean graphic designer, Saki Mafundikwa in his landmark and definitive book on the subject, Afrikan Alphabets.
And as this month celebrates the anniversary of Zimbabwe’s Independence, I can think of no more fitting designer to introduce to you today.Saki Mafundikwa

Source: Aahn Sang Soo

Saki Mafundikwa, founder and director of the Zimbabwe Institute of Vigital Arts (ZIVA).

What’s your background?

I’m Founder and director of the Zimbabwe Institute of Vigital Arts (ZIVA), a graphic design and new media training college in Harare. I was educated in the USA, with a BA in Telecommunications and Fine Arts from Indiana University and an MFA in Graphic Design from Yale University. I returned home in 1998 to found ZIVA after working in New York City as a graphic designer, art director and design instructor. My book, Afrikan Alphabets: the Story of Writing in Africa was published in 2004. My first film, Shungu: The Resilience of a People – a feature-length documentary – had its world premiere at 2009’s International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA). It won the prestigious Ousmane Sembene Award at Zanzibar International Film Festival and Best Documentary at Kenya International Film Festival, both in 2010.

How did you get started in design?

I was a talented child and was always drawing, which led my father (a school teacher) to buy me a drawing book, crayons and water colours. I grew up in colonial Rhodesia and for Afrikan kids, art was not offered as a subject in the curriculum. So I taught myself drawing through observation. I looked everywhere: nature and everyday life. I drew my father’s charts for his history, geography and science lessons and discovered that I enjoyed lettering the most. It was only after my arrival in the States in 1980 that I discovered graphic design! I talked my way into the department without a portfolio. I never looked back.Identity for the Black Documentary Collective

Identity for the Black Documentary Collective

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

After grad school, I moved to New York and worked for a black-owned ad agency. They had hired me my last summer of grad school so I never went through the process of hunting for a job. I learned a lot on that job but after a while, the work wasn’t challenging enough so when they laid me off during a slump in business, I struck out on my own, freelancing for a variety of clients. I did a lot of book design, album and cd design and anything else that came my way. The main challenge I faced in those days – at least I thought it was a challenge – was I was always typecast! I always got ‘black’ projects from mainstream clients. Soon however I realised that it wasn’t such a bad thing because of the sensitivity I gave the work. I came to the conclusion that, in a predominantly white industry, to be called upon to create work for your own people is a source of great pride. Design is not very well understood in the black community, so to be able to create work the people could relate to was quite inspiring. This way, I felt, I could help our people understand and appreciate good design. One can draw from our rich cultural heritage in a subtle way and when the audience ‘gets it’, well, there’s no better feeling!Cover design for Thomas Mapfumo's Corruption album

Cover design for Thomas Mapfumo’s Corruption album

Who are your greatest inspirations and influences?

My source of inspiration can come from anything or anywhere. Everything around me comes into play by keeping an open mind. My work has been influenced by a I draw my inspirations and influences from the great Afrikans from all forms of creativity. Bob Marley, Fela Anakulapo Kuti, Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, Kwame Nkurumah, Marcus Garvey, Malcom X, Cheikh Anta Diop, Franz Fanon, Patrice Lumumba, Thomas Sankara… there are many!

The ancient Afrikans of antiquity who created civilization, mathematics, science and invented the alphabet in Egypt… yes, we have a glorious past and we can – no, make that SHOULD – learn from them. They are a source of great pride and inspiration and their accomplishments and contributions must be part of every curriculum in every school from grade one.

What is the project you are most proud of?

My Afrikan Alphabets book! As you can see from the previous question, I am a researcher and historian, especially OUR story! There should be more books, especially for the young ones, and our students. We keep talking about design being Eurocentric but without resources like textbooks about and by us, how do we expect the young ones to ‘get it’? We got it through years of study and research. We must provide them with the resources.Afrikan Alphabets

Afrikan Alphabets

What would be your dream job or project?

A design textbook for Afrikan students on the continent and in the diaspora. This would be a dream come true. I have already begun work on this project.

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

All the Afrikans who invented writing systems whether living or dead. These people rendered the commonly held belief that Afrika had no writing, (the dark continent myth) moot. The two professors at Indiana University who took a chance on me and admitted me into the graphic design department without a portfolio: Professor Tom Coleman and Professor James Reidhaar. The head of department at Yale University School of Art, Alvin Eisenman is the one who pointed me in the direction of writing in Afrika when I was applying for admission to the Masters programme there. I had some amazing teachers along the way, and the best one is Bradbury Thompson who is the most humane and caring teacher I’ve ever had.

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

Always keep an open mind, if you don’t you block some blessings that might be meant for you. As the original people, children of the sun, we have such a rich bounty of inspiration: our music, dance and art – they are all connected, there is no separation. Sankofa: learn from our rich past in order to inform our lives today and the future.Identity for the Zimbabwe Institute of Vigital Arts

Identity for the Zimbabwe Institute of  Vigital Arts

What’s next for you?

I have made the transition to film-making seamlessly and am working on my second documentary, which should be out by year’s end. I have a piece of land outside of Harare where I do organic farming, rear cattle and goats and would like to put up some greenhouses for horticulture. I see a strong connecting line between all the things I do. The design school I run in Harare, the books I write, the films I make and the organic farming – they are all connected. Each one informs the other.




Lois Mailou Jones – A Life in Vibrant Color: Born in Boston in 1905 and trained at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Loïs Mailou Jones began her career at a time when racial prejudices and gender discrimination were strong in American culture. This exhibition surveys the vast sweep of Jones’s seventy-five years as a painter stretching from late Post-Impressionism to a contemporary mixture of African, Caribbean, American and African-American iconography, design and thematic elements. Exhibition Hall at Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. From 19 April through to 29 June 2013. For further information, go toïs-mailou-jones-life-vibrant-color


International Reggae & World Music Awards (IRAWMA), established in 1982 acknowledges and honors the accomplishments and contributions of reggae and world music artists, including: songwriters, performers, promoters and musicians.

For more information call: 954-251-1643 Or visit:

Marketing Indaba The fourth annual Marketing Indaba Conference, will take place on 15 and 16 May in Cape Town. And in Johannesburg on 29 and 30 May. For more information visit


POINT is a two-day International design conference in London, which aims to celebrate “excellence in design and its influence in contemporary culture and society”. Featuring over 40 top speakers, the conference’s start-up theme is ‘authenticity’. 2-3 May at RIBA. 66 Portland Place, London W1B 1AD. For more information and speaker line-up

Alan Fletcher’s Colophon Presented by the Wynkyn de Worde Society and St Bride Foundation. This talk is based around Fletcher’s largely unknown series of books Monographica, and hopes to give some context to their creation whilst at the same time offering an overview of Fletcher’s fifty-year career. Thursday 9 May 2013 at 7.00pm In the Bridewell Hall, St Bride Foundation. Tickets: £15.00. Friends of St Bride Library: £12.50. Students: £10.00 (bring NUS card). For tickets visit

4 Corners: An interview with Michael Thompson AKA Freestylee

This month we head to the Caribbean, or more specifically one of its biggest islands, Jamaica. Last year was a momentous year in Jamaica’s history; celebrating 50 years of independence from Britain with global events, coupled with the most outstanding display of sprint athletics the world has ever seen at London’s 2012 Olympics.

In sport and music, there is no doubting the enormous impact Jamaica has made on the world, but what about in design?

Were he still alive today, I would have loved to have interviewed Wilfred Limonious; a designer and graphic artist who made a real name for himself in the 80s and early 90s with colourful, charming and characterful artwork for many Jamaican LP record covers – a sample of his work is shown at the end of this article.

Instead, we are extremely fortunate to feature the talents of Michael Thompson, AKA Freestylee. Someone who I believe carries on in Wilfred’s tradition in championing reggae music, but with a strong, sophisticated illustrative style all of his own.Michael Thompson

Michael Thompson, AKA Freestylee. Jamaican graphic designer and founder of the International Reggae Poster Contest.

What’s your background?

I am Jamaican by birth. I left for the United States in 1990, and worked as a freelance graphic designer with companies such as Citigroup, Sanofi Aventis, Bank of America and Estée Lauder. I am also a Creative Activist, using social design as a tool for awareness on a number of international concerns and solidarity. I am the founder of the International Reggae Poster Contest; a visual arts celebration of the positive impact of reggae music globally, and a platform to present a vision to establish a Reggae Hall of Fame in Kingston, Jamaica. I have had a number of international exhibitions of my Freestylee work; one-man show and group exhibitions.Dancehallstylee, by Michael Thompson

Dancehallstylee, by Michael Thompson

How did you get started in design?

I studied graphic design at the Jamaica School of Art. After finishing my studies my first work was in a small screen-printing operation operated by a Rastafarian by the name of Jah Ned. There I learned to experiment with simple silhouetted graphic design concepts suitable for screen-printing and poster art. It was after winning a poster contest to Cuba that I had a break and was hired as an apprentice with the Daily News newspaper in Jamaica. This was a big step closer to what I wanted to do: layout and design. In the mid ‘80s, I was offered a job at Paisley Kelly Kenyon & Eckhart Advertising in Kingston, Jamaica. Many years later, I joined a public relations firm Mike Jarrett Communications, also in Kingston, as an Art Director. My activist poster designs started in the late 1970s. My first activist poster was created after an incident in Jamaica called the “Green Bay Massacre”. This took place 5 January, 1978, where a number of alleged young gang members from a poor inner-city ghetto in Kingston were lured to a military firing range outside the capital where they were ambushed and executed by the Jamaica Defense Force soldiers. Back then, I had no computer so it was strictly hand-painted acrylic on poster paper. My recent episodes of creative activism started about 2008. I began the journey of Freestylee, Artist Without Borders, a new phase in my awareness activism.Emperor Haile Selassie, by Michael Thompson

Emperor Haile Selassie, by Michael Thompson

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

As a young designer just completing art school and without job experience, it was not easy to find positions in Jamaica as a graphic designer or as an illustrator. I had to make connections and work my way through the hurdles by constantly improving my portfolio and finding other opportunities, and use this process to learn new things that later on I could apply to my creativity process. In 1978, I entered a local poster competition and won a place on the Jamaican delegation to the 11th World Festival of Youth and Students in Havana, Cuba. You can imagine the jubilation at the time. This was a massive event with youths from many countries participating in political and cultural activates. I entered again in 1982, and won another place, this time to Moscow, the 12th Festival of youth and students. These competitions and trips further sparked my interest in poster art. The colourful silkscreen and lithograph posters I saw in Cuba, created by ICAIC (Cuban Institute of Cinematic Art and Industry) and its sister offshoot OSPAAAL (Organization in Solidarity with the People of Africa, Asia, and Latin America) made a tremendous impact on my work. If you are familiar with Cuban poster design you can see the influence in my Freestylee posters. It was an exciting and important time for me. The poster competitions and visits to Havana and Moscow created opportunities and opened doors for me in Jamaica, due to the exposure and publicity my works received. Moving to America I had to make new connections and start the process all over again. I had no computer skills to be a designer so I ended up designing T-shirts the old fashioned way for a small company called Wet Paint, in NYC. I later bought a computer and taught myself how to use this new technology. Dancehall, by Michael Thompson

Dancehall, by Michael Thompson

Who are your greatest inspirations and influences?

My source of inspiration can come from anything or anywhere. Everything around me comes into play by keeping an open mind. My work has been influenced by a number of artists, designers and events. The influences do not materialize from any one source. My visit to Havana exposed me to the works of designers in that country and the fine art of poster design. This was an amazing cultural experience that had influenced greatly my design aesthetics. Some of the Cuban designers who greatly influenced my own art are names like René Azcuy, Fabian Muñoz, Nelson Ponce and Eladio Ravidulia. Other contemporary socially conscious artist on my list are JR, Ai Weiwei, Banksy, these are the people I admire for the activism as well as their artworks as well. I also admire the creativity of Greek illustrator and designer, Charis Tsevis, Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, love his fun colorful works. I am also influenced by Roots Reggae Artistes such as, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Burning Spear. Their messages of truth, equal rights and Justice are ever inspiring and comforting.

What is the project you are most proud of?

I have no one piece to single out. Yes, some are more memorable of course, because of the impact the work has had. My Haiti Posters, designed in solidarity with the people of Haiti, devastated by the 2010 earthquake, are the ones I am happy to have contributed to the Haiti Poster Project. I am also proud of my Arab Spring posters supporting the grass roots uprising across the Middle East region to remove oppressive governments from their backs.Haiti poster, by Michael Thompson

Haiti poster, by Michael Thompson

What would be your dream job or project?

I have already started on a dream project. The Reggae Hall of Fame. In 2012, I started a “why not?” campaign to establish a Reggae Hall of Fame Museum in Kingston, Jamaica. Interest in this led to my founding the International Reggae Poster Contest. Today, my partner Maria Papaefstathiou, and I have successfully launched the second annual contest in 2013. For the inaugural contest in 2012, we received 1,142 Posters from 80 countries. We also held two exhibitions of the top 100 posters. The first exhibition was held at the National Gallery of Jamaica, and the second at AKTO Design College in Athens, Greece. We also auctioned a selection of posters from the contest in Kingston, Jamaica, and raised over US$6,000 for an important Institution in the history of reggae music, the Alpha Boys’ School. Alpha Boys’ School is a Sister of Mercy run school for wayward boys in Kingston, Jamaica. This school is credited with shaping the musical journey of many of the founding fathers of Reggae Music. Raising money for this school is one of the contest objectives. I also had the opportunity to rebrand the school’s corporate image. The director of the school Sister Susan Frasier, decided to use one of my iconic Poster images to celebrate the school’s new logo.

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

There are many in the field who deserve to be recognized in the field of graphics and poster design. For example, some of the new young Cuban artists who have taken the baton from the earlier masters. Today, access to the wider world is still limited to Cuban designers due to the limited access to high speed Internet and the embargo. Slanted magazine, from Germany, an independent publication on graphic design, typography, photography, and illustration— has launched a crowd-funding initiative for a project to expose the works of the amazing young Cuban poster designers through their magazine. I am delighted that they are reaching out to the young Cuban designers and giving them an opportunity to share their art on such an international scale. There are also other young artist and designers who are creating powerful designs and illustrations; Taj Francis, a young Jamaica illustrator is one to be applauded for powerful and dynamic illustrations. Dane Thompson, who is my son, for his urban design aesthetics that are outside the box. I find his creative visual expression captivating and fresh.

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

I am not always one to give advice, However, the best advice I can give is to be passionate in what you do. Open your hearts and eyes to the issues of the wider world. Educate yourself about the problems confronting a large segment of the world’s population; poverty, oppression and lack of resources we take for granted in the western world. We are designers and we have powerful tools at our disposal so lets use them to help bring about positive change and support those who are making a difference for the marginalized and impoverished people of the world.Egypt Revolution, by Michael Thompson

Egypt Revolution, by Michael Thompson

What’s next for you?

I am looking forward to new opportunities for Freestylee exhibitions in 2013. At the moment, I am in discussion with a gallery in New York, for an upcoming Freestylee poster exhibition in Spring. On 14 April 2013, I will be conducting a talk about my work at the Allentown Arts Museum in Allentown, Pennsylvania. I am also looking ahead for more creative activism initiatives that will make a difference, and to expand the International Reggae Poster contest campaign toward our objective the Reggae Hall of Fame Museum.

Nah Leave Di Area, by Wilfred Limonious

Nah Leave Di Area, by Wilfred Limonious

Wild Apache album cover, by Wilfred Limonious

Wild Apache album cover, by Wilfred Limonious

Christmas Time, by Wilfred Limonious

Christmas Time, by Wilfred Limonious

Special thanks and credits to Maria Papaefstathiou, graphic designer and blogger based in Greece and to the record label, Power House and Christopher Bateman for use of the Wilfred Limonious artworks via the websites; and

For more information Michael’s work visit

This month’s network of events


TYPO | San Francisco 2013: Part of an annual series of international design talks, TYPO San Francisco takes the theme of ‘Contrast and Compare’; inviting speakers and audience members to reflect on this idea in the design world. 11-12 April at Yerba Buena Center for Arts, 701 Mission Street (at 3rd Street)
San Francisco, CA 94103-3138.  For more information, go to


Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival. Revamped and redesigned with a new broader vision, this premier Caribbean cultural event will showcase acclaimed global artistes and artisans over 13 days on a beautiful island in the sun. From 30 April to 12 May 2013. Visit for details.


Candice Breitz / The Woods. The first solo show of Johannesburg-born artist, Candice Breitz. Featuring a trilogy of video installations which look into the world of child performers and the performance of childhood in order to probe the dreams and promises embedded in mainstream cinema. Runs until 30 March at Goodman Gallery, 163 Jan Smuts Avenue, Parkwood, Johannesburg, 2193. For more information visit


Afrofuture: As part of Milan Design Week, La Rinascente’s flagship store will be celebrating the world’s original design festival Salone del Mobilein dynamic style for 2013 as it presents ‘Afrofuture’. Through media, events and performance, La Rinascente will demonstrate the exciting mind-shift in African technology and how it’s radically shaping new notions of design. Milan Design Week runs from 9-12 April. For more information visit or contact at the press office.

‘JAMAICONS’ – JA50 Anniversary Exhibition

6 August 2012.

Jamaica and its diaspora celebrate their historic 50th anniversary of Independence.

To mark this event I was privileged to have the opportunity to create a series of several bold, iconic artworks representing a select group of Jamaican historical and cultural figures.

This unique outdoor exhibition was launched as part of the annual Brixton Splash Street Festival in London, which embraced Jamaica’s 50th anniversary celebrations and national motto, ‘Out of many, One People’ as its central theme.

The iconic display dubbed “Jamaicons” was a cultural hijack of the exterior picture wall of the renowned Ritzy Picturehouse cinema in Brixton, and the first time the organisation had ever permitted it to be used in this way.

There is no doubting the enormity of Jamaica’s cultural impact on the world. Therefore selection of just nine individuals to portray Jamaica’s true historical depth and breadth was certainly a challenge. However, I made my selection based on my own personal judgement and decided to leave it to ‘the people’ to determine if what i had portrayed was just.

In my selection, I not only wanted to ensure I had a fair mix between male and female, but also between the deceased and the living; the political and the cultural; and the famous and the infamous.

The artistic style of the portraits is deliberately graphic and contemporary, thus embracing a younger audience to be drawn to the more historical and political subjects, without alienating an audience who already has a heightened awareness and black historical consciousness.

The iconography of the portraits is then further embellished through the consistent powerful use of the Jamaican national colours of black, golden yellow and green.

Through these images, the emotion I hoped to elicit was one of ‘Pride’. Not just from Jamaicans, but also from the public in general.

Brixton Splash 'Jamaicons' Panoramic by Kofi Allen







Their prominent display at this time in Brixton was extremely fitting. Not only for its historical importance as a home to primarily Jamaican immigrants that formed part of the ‘Windrush Generation’ of the 1940s and 50s; but also due to its significance as Britain’s premier multicultural heartland and a place, that admirably reflects the Jamaica’s national motto, ‘Out of many, One people’.

The resulting exhibition was embraced not only by all the Brixton Splash festival revelers, but also by the thousands of daily Brixton residents and visitors who passed by for the following 3 months that it remained on display.

The final exhibition of nine ‘Jamaicons’ were: Queen Nanny, Marcus Garvey, Grace Jones, Robert Nesta Marley, Usain Bolt, Merlene Ottey, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Mary Seacole and Michael Holding.