Ndumiso Nyoni uses his illustrations to share authentic African experiences with the rest of the world

Johannesburg-based illustrator and motion designer Ndumiso Nyoni was tired of seeing Africa misrepresented on the world stage, so he has made it his mission to capture the true diverse glory of the continent in his artwork.

Africa is many things to many people. The continent, with its sheer size and cultural diversity, is home to resilient, community-minded people who are all too often represented artistically through an inaccurate, Western lens. It's an oversight that is gradually being corrected, though, thanks partly to the work of creators like Ndumiso Nyoni.

A lifelong art lover, Ndumiso's earliest memories of interacting with a creative culture can be traced back to watching cartoons and reading comics with his older brother, Sindiso, who is also an illustrator. "After watching an episode of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or reading the latest issue of Batman, we would always spend time trying to draw these characters," Ndumiso tells Creative Boom. Yet despite this passion, he never saw a future in it or felt it was a viable way to make a living.

"Art wasn't seen as a responsible career path in our hometown of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe," he explains. "Teachers, lawyers, doctors, those were the aspirational careers, so it was unpopular when I moved to South Africa to study Multimedia at the University of Johannesburg."

But after graduation, Ndumiso found work as a motion designer and digital composite artist in a 3D animation and VFX studio. His childhood love of illustration and character design forged all those years ago with his brother was reignited here. Shortly afterwards, he started working on personal artwork in his spare time.

"My partner encouraged me to start sharing my artwork on social media, and I was overwhelmed at the positive feedback and response I got," Ndumiso reveals. "I was invited to work on some children's books, exhibitions, and brand collaborations with the likes of Cartoon Network, Disney Africa and Comedy Central. I think it was at that point that I officially became a professional illustrator."

In his work, Ndumiso consciously strives to incorporate African themes that more truly and sincerely capture the spirit of his home. "Africa is one of the most diverse continents," he says. "From the Cape to Cairo, we all have unique languages, cultures, and traditions, yet we also share many similarities. We are resilient, we share a love for patterns, music and art, we are resourceful, and we have a strong sense of community and are always looking out for one another."

He says, "I think that's what I love to explore the most, the differences and the similarities that make us unique as a continent of people. When I first started illustrating, I explored my own Ndebele heritage. Still, I have explored many other cultures over the years, including the Masai of East Africa and Yoruba in the West. In my latest work, I celebrate the Sapeur sub-culture in the central parts of the continent."

Perhaps nowhere are these influences on display more than his illustrations, which see familiar icons such as Frida Kahlo, Thelonious Monk, and even the Powerpuff Girls reinterpreted through the African lens. Resplendent with the colours and patterns of his home continent, these images of famous people and cartoon characters are, in part, a response to the art Ndumiso engaged with as a child.

"As a kid growing up, I read a lot of Tintin and Asterix comics," he reveals. "But now and then, I would encounter an issue where the African characters were portrayed in a derogatory way. At the time, I didn't understand or have the vocabulary to explain why these characters felt wrong or weren't a true representation of me, but it definitely felt wrong.

"In a way, it denied me and many other African kids at the time the opportunity to have comic book role models or characters to look up to that looked like us. Now that I am in a position where I can create and I have an audience, I've started to explore reinterpreting world icons, but through my own unique African lens. It's my way of making these icons relatable and resonate more with the current younger generation of Africans."

In a broader sense, these illustrations combat the stereotypical depictions of Africa, where poverty, hardship and conflict have been the main focus for decades. "There is no denying that these things exist and are very much a part of our lives," says Ndumiso. "But this is such a one-dimensional view of our people, who are resilient and able to adapt, often learning multiple languages or moving to new foreign lands to support their own people back home and evolve their culture.

"Africa is such a vibrant and colourful continent, whether it's a bustling marketplace in Mombasa or a beautifully decorated Ndebele village in Mpumalanga. There is always excitement, laughter and movement, and I don't think this is celebrated enough."

When it comes to the artists that Ndumiso channels into his own work, the world-renowned Ndebele artist Esther Mahlangu is a key influence. "Her work is intricately beautiful and demonstrates the beauty and sophistication of African art," he says. "She has put Ndebele art and people on the map, and I hope I can do that with my own art one day."

However, Ndumiso's biggest inspiration, first and foremost, is the person who made him believe art was a potential career in the first place: his brother Sindiso Nyoni. "I think without him, I would have never pursued my interests in art," he says.

"He continues to inspire me with his collaborations and with how his art style continues to evolve. It's really special because I get to see him do his thing on the world stage, but he is still the same, down-to-earth older brother I used to draw in our parent's backyard."

Speaking of the world stage, Ndumiso is confident that perceptions are changing and that Africa is being recognised on its own terms for its own creative merits. "It's inspiring to have publishers, art curators and global brands reaching out to feature and collaborate with African creators," he concludes.

"It provides the perfect opportunity for us to share authentic views, experiences, and art from the continent with the rest of the world. I definitely believe that with time, the world will come to know and celebrate Africa as it truly is."


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