Creatives can genuinely shape culture and society by working with progressive brands
On Tuesday, Studio Yukiko, Joshua Kissi, Karabo Poppy Moletsane and Eddie Opara called in from across the globe to tell us about some recent work and the ethics behind their practices too.
Not to brag or anything but we’re pretty sure we’ve got this online Nicer Tuesdays thing down at this point. And if you tuned in earlier this week, you’ll know what we mean. Joining us from Berlin, New York, and Johannesburg were Studio Yukiko, Joshua Kissi, Karabo Poppy Moletsane, and Eddie Opara and each left us feeling creatively renewed and inspired on what was a pretty bleak evening here in London.
The theme of the evening was clearly about staying true to yourself and your vision, whether that’s pulling on your heritage, uplifting others or being staunch in your belief that a creative route is the right one. Below, we run through a few highlights from each talk but keep an eye on the site over the coming weeks as we’ll be uploading the videos of the talks in full.
Start every project like you were born yesterday
Dialling in from their studio in Berlin and kicking off the evening were Michelle Phillips and Johannes Conrad AKA Studio Yukiko. Focussing on creative direction, art direction, editorial design for magazines and artist publications, alongside a load of cultural and personal projects too, Yukiko has always been an exciting studio to follow.
After sharing snippets of other projects, Michelle and Johannes treated us to a potential NT first by sharing a “graveyard project”. Emerging from a pitch – something the studio usually avoids as they’re stressful and not conducive scenarios for creativity – Yukiko shared their proposed (and declined) identity for a theatre in Munich. The theatre is a progressive one and sits on a street with several luxury fashion shops meaning it’s somewhat of a disruptor, something which became a guiding word for the project. As the project began during lockdown, Yukiko was unable to get out and do first-hand research as they usually would, and so they prowled Munich using Google Street View, which is how they discovered the plethora of DIY signs and letterings all over the city. It was from this discovery that they landed on the idea of using the most rudimentary tools available to them: clip art, free fonts etc. The concept was to democratise the identity and almost give it back to the people by taking away the elitism associated with both design and theatre.
Unfortunately, they lost “very, very hard” but the identity was a clear success with those in the chat on Tuesday evening. And anyway, “We’re not particularly interested in design that looks nice,” Michelle and Johannes told us. During the questions after their talk, where we heard about the processes that guide their experimental work, Michelle left us with a handy bit of advice: Start every project like you were born yesterday, like you don’t know anything.
GalleryStudio Yukiko: Munich Kammerspiele Poster proposals (Copyright © Studio Yukiko, 2020)
Photography by nature is a colonial medium and we need to change that
Joshua Kissi, a photographer whose work celebrates the African diaspora and all its nuances, was next up, dialling in from New York where he was born and raised by Ghanian parents. He delivered a jam-packed ten minutes covering how he gets inspired to make work and his meditations on the problems with photography as a medium. Joshua explained how, for him, it’s imperative to stray away from the dangers of a single story – or a single photo. What he means by this, is that there are layers to identity and nuance to people’s stories and it’s easy to fall into the trap, as a photographer, of just telling one facet of an individual or a community’s story. This is dangerous as it bolsters stereotypes and feeds inaccurate narratives and, in turn, “people have a polarising view of Blackness because they don’t see nuance”. He used the example of Moonlight, saying that when the film was released, people were floored by the sensitivity of the story, as they hadn’t seen that facet of the Black experience depicted before.
Joshua also told us about when he travelled to Ghana, to create work there. He was conscious that he needed to show a truthful story of what Ghana looks like. And part of that was acknowledging the colonial history of photography, especially in a place like Africa. “A lot of people don’t realise the colonial and harmful, negative nature that went into how photography began,” he explained, outlining how this even stretches to the fact that film and cameras were not made depict Black skin. When he’s working, therefore, he always strives to think how he can best depict the tone, depth and range of Black skin. It goes further though, as even the language surrounding photography is associated with violence – to shoot, capture etc, so Joshua is constantly thinking of new words to describe his own storytelling. “The way we look at stories in western society is ownership,” he said, but there are other ways to operate, and it’s for this reason that whenever Joshua takes someone’s photos, he makes sure he gets to know them, finds out their background and brings them a print of their portrait as soon as possible.
As a South African creative, heritage plays a role in everything Karabo Poppy makes
Karabo Poppy grew up in a small town in South Africa, mostly known for being a mining town and there wasn’t much to do, so she filled her time by consuming media. “To sum up: I grew up in front of the TV,” she joked at the beginning of her Nicer Tuesdays talk. What she missed, however, were images of people who looked like her or who lived in places like her, she wanted to know where her South African culture comes from and she wanted to see that reflected in the media. And she soon realised she wasn’t the only one feeling this way. What followed was an incredibly educational and inspiring talk about the wave of creativity that has swept South Africa and much of the continent, a wave that Karabo has been heavily involved in. Karabo introduced us to the work of incredible illustrators, artists and fashion designers from South Africa, all of who have been involved in embracing western influences but preserving African heritage at the same time.
She spotlighted a dream commission with Nike as one of the project which has allowed her to do just that. The sports giant approached her to create a line of Air Force 1s – a shoe she has always associated as being worn by culture-leaders, and as someone who wants to tell stories associated with culture on canvases which are accessible and wide-reaching, it was the perfect brief. A visual which Karabo often pulls from are the old style barber shops signs which feature all over South Africa, as it’s the only media she saw growing up that showed an authentic narrative to her. Today, she embodies that kind of representation in all of her work asking “what am I doing as a Black African woman to preserve the South African aesthetic?” It’s for this reason that her Air Force 1s materials, patterns, colours and motifs are associated with her homeland, marking Karabo’s attempt to share authentic stories. “I want to tell the stories of South Africa that people don’t usually get to see,” she explained.
Radical brands can genuinely shape culture and society
Finally, closing off the evening was Eddie Opara, a long-time partner at Pentagram New York, originally from London. From his house outside of New York City, he took us through a project he’s clearly passionate about – his (and his team, who got a shout) branding for re—inc, a brand launched by Tobin Heath, Christen Press and Megan Rapinoe, and Meghan Klingenberg, all members or former members of the US women’s soccer team. Eddie and his team collaborated closely with the soccer stars to create a brand which is reflective of the progressive and radical ethics at the core of everything its founders do. The project represents Eddie’s outlook on design, with him citing a Milton Glaser quote: “Design is the process of going from an existing position to a preferred one.”
The “master element,” as it became known, is the reverse “e”, a simple yet effective way to represent how re—inc wants to reshape narratives and have an impact on society. The idea is that the company and everything associated with it is the “visual antithesis of the norm,” and “changing the status quo.” An upcoming collaboration for re—inc which Eddie has been involved with is a line of merchandise with Michelle Obama’s initiative When We All Vote, encouraging people to get out and vote in the US election, as soon as possible. And it was this message that Eddie left us with: “If you are in the United States and you are listening to my words, please can you go and vote as soon as possible…. We need to speak up and this our moment to do that… If we push ourselves down and keep quiet then we are no better than the people who are attacking us.”
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