Message from the Society for Environmental Graphic Design (SEGD):
“Garth Walker has established two of South Africa’s most successful design studios and his current firm, Mister Walker Design, works for many of the country’s best known corporate and consumer brands. But Walker’s real passion lies in developing and encouraging a design language “rooted in the African experience.” Since 1995, he has published ijusi, Africa’s only experimental graphics magazine.
“Walker will be a keynote speaker at the 2011 SEGD Conference+Expo+Awards in Montreal June1-4. He took a few minutes this week to tell us about design in South Africa—in both its corporate and vernacular forms—and how it continues to evolve post-apartheid.”
1. How has the design culture in South Africa changed in the post-apartheid years?
It’s more “international” and perhaps more “American,” as black South Africans are very USA influenced. We are now operating globally (with apartheid we were somewhat cut off), so we have a need to look more like London, Paris, or New York than we do “African,” which is seen as a problem. South Africa is in some ways the dominant economy in Africa, so we see ourselves as being on par with the “best in the West”—and Africa is where we happen to be located. So post-apartheid has seen a difference, but more catching up than a real change design-wise.
2. You launched ijusi in 1995, just a year after South Africa elected its first democratic government. Were those two events related? What inspired you to start a magazine that celebrates Africa’s distinct visual language?
The two events were coincidental. I’d just started out on my own in 1994 and had no work or clients. So to keep occupied, I designed a magazine using my personal vernacular collection as the starting point. I was lucky with a printer who wanted to approach the ad industry for print, and my first issue was the vehicle. They printed it for free and I then sent it to every design magazine I could find an address for. The rest (as they say) is history. It was and still is a very unscientific mechanism for publishing a magazine. The Africa part was a no-brainer, as living in Africa, I wasn’t going to give Graphis sleepless nights, but could produce a magazine that was truly unique. It still is.
3. How does your work for corporate clients relate to what you do with ijusi? Do you express or honor in ijusi what can’t be honored in your corporate work?
Corporate pays the bills and keeps the studio going (well sort of), and ijusi is the fun stuff. The two don’t get to meet very often, as clients are terrified they might “look African” when they want to be seen as “world class.” I stay sane by doing personal work, much of it photography (a lifelong obsession) and the balance design. Most of that is for magazines/cultural groups/famous designers etc. who want “something African” for whatever they are doing back home (like Frankfurt or Paris).
4. How would you describe the uniquely African visual language you celebrate in ijusi?
Basically, “stealing” the visual stimuli around me, and then re-interpreting it. As Picasso said, “good artists copy, great artists steal…” So I’m a thief. As I was born here, live here, and will die here, one could argue I’m stealing from myself (as I’m an African).
5. Is the discipline of environmental graphic design recognized in South Africa? Has your practice included much EGD?
EGD? What’s that? So no, we don’t know what it is, haven’t a clue. The little that’s done is by the city architects or property developers and it’s usually bad. But the stuff ordinary South Africans do is amazing. We have the world’s best gravestones, urban squatter architecture, and vernacular signage, and this is the stuff I’ll be showing in Montreal.
The 2011 SEGD Conference+Expo+Awards are sponsored by AD/S Companies, Archetype Signmakers, ASI | Signage Innovations, Big Apple Visual Group, Color-Ad Signs & Exhibits, CREO Industrial Arts, Design Communications, Nova Polymers, Pattison Sign, Principle Group, Sign Media Canada, Sign Works, Signalex Inc., Signs of Perfection, Systeme Huntingdon, The Taylor Group, TFN Architectural Signage, Urban Sign Company, and Zip Signs.