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Courtesy of Netflix

Watch Three South African Illustrators Talk About Netflix's Strong Black Lead Content

Karabo Moletsane, Delmaine Donson and Sinomonde Ngwane illustrate what 'When They See Us', 'Good Girls' and 'She's Gotta Have It' all mean to them as artists.

At the BET awards last year, Netflix aired their "A Great Day in Hollywood" photo which captured Black talent such as Spike Lee, Ava DuVernay, Lena Waithe and a few others all in the parking lot of Universal Studios. That moment had been inspired by the 1958 photo "A Great Day in Harlem".

Additionally, there was a video which featured the 47 Black talent whose films and series are currently being streamed on. This initiative became known as the Strong Black Lead Content which Netflix's Director of Brand and Editorial, Maya Watson Banks, described as being "relatable and real, always unapologetically Black, and assumes context and knowledge so that content doesn't need to be watered down."

Netflix spoke to three South African illustrators, Karabo Moletsane, Delmaine Donson and Sinomonde Ngwane, about their favorite Strong Black Lead Content and got them to each produce an artwork.


Karabo Moletsane is an illustrator, street artist and graphic designer who says that "art has given her the necessary tools to give an accurate representation of her narrative". Speaking about the personal importance of Ava DuVernay's powerful four-part series When They See Us, Moletsane says that, "What resonated for me was that this is not a First World or Third World problem—this is a global Black problem.

This is the artwork she produces:

Still taken from video.

Sinomonde Ngwane is a graphic designer and illustrator who decided to illustrate Ruby, a character in the comedy series Good Girls. Ngwane says that, "I love how she's entered a male-dominated world and excelled at it. I think Ruby is a metaphor for someone who is redefining, someone who is challenging, someone who is taking control of their life and dominating where they are."

This is the artwork that she produces:

Still taken from video.

Delmaine Donson, a photographer, digital artist and oil painter, describes a Strong Black Lead as someone who can "inspire change and is strong enough to take the first step to creating change. A person that is able to influence the minds of others and give them a different perspective". She says that she relates quite well to Nola Darling, the main character in Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have It. Donson describes Nola Darlingas a woman who is "bold, makes her own rules and doesn't live under the laws of patriarchy."

This is the artwork that she produces:

Still taken from video.

Watch the full video below:

Why I Drew This | Strong Black Lead | Netflix South Africawww.youtube.com

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(YouTube)

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Photo courtesy of Martin Senkubuge

Ugandan Artist Martin Senkubuge is Dismantling the Stigma Around Vitiligo

Ugandan artist Martin Senkubuge is using his artwork to start conversations and raise awareness around the skin condition vitiligo.

In September 2019, Ugandan artist Martin Senkubuge was showcasing artwork at a group exhibition in Kampala when a woman approached him. She was drawn to a painting of his titled Melanin Tattoo. Ready to pay, she asked him if there was a particular story behind the painting. Senkubuge said the painting, which confronted issues around skin whitening, was inspired by Michael Jackson and how he bleached his skin.

“Artists should do research before presenting their work,” she said, disappointed, and less motivated to purchase the piece. The woman was a Michael Jackson fan and she knew that the late pop star had suffered from vitiligo, a skin disorder that causes loss of skin color in blotches and patches. From that moment, Senkubuge was inspired to learn about the pop star’s relationship with vitiligo.

He would find out that the star had received criticism from the public, on the assumption that he had chose to bleach his skin. If a man of such international acclaim was treated this way, how were those who were poorer treated? In other parts of the world — in remote places where public ignorance thrives — those living with the condition are seen as a bad omen or cursed.

Senkubuge wanted to change that. He soon founded the Part of Us initiative. The main objectives of the initiative are to visually amplify vitiligo voices, fight against stereotypes and stigma, and embrace vitiligo as a natural skin condition using visual art.

In his small studio in the outskirts of Kampala, the 25-year-old artist draws hyper-realistic charcoal portraits of persons with vitiligo. Between April and May, 2022, Sunkubugbe conducted an online survey where respondents revealed that they faced stigma, trauma, emotional stress and social injustice as a result of vitiligo. In his campaign along the way, he has been the recipient of a slew of recognition and external support. In 2020, he won a project grant of 2 million Ushs ($559) from Goethe Zentrum, Kampala (GZK).

Together, with a team of volunteers, he organized a solo show in the premises of GZK throughout April, 2021. Under Part of Us, the exhibition advocated for inclusivity of people living with vitiligo. Recent data from Global Vitiligo Foundation indicates that about 70-100 million people are affected by vitiligo in the world. In Africa, people living with vitiligo are stigmatized for the entirety of their lives. In this interview with OkayAfrica, Senkubuge talks about combating stereotypes around vitiligo and challenges faced by his initiative.

Photo courtesy of Martin Senkubuge


What was your turning point in your art career?

October 2021 was a game changer. It was during this time that my lost hope was restored. At first, it was when my artworks were featured in a Guardian article by John Agaba. Then a journalist from BBC World Service contacted me after reading the same article. This was a dream come true and, for the first time, my dad believed that his son would make it as an artist. Additionally, this international recognition and attention towards my drawings became a strong affirmation that my artwork is relevant. I cannot afford to reconsider being a visual artist; I firmly believe that I will die one.

What motivated you to launch your Part of Us visual campaign and how has been the journey?

When my work went viral on the internet and media, a number of people living with vitiligo reached out to me with interest in working with me. I then decided to create a lifetime campaign that would allow me to work with more people living with the condition. Following this global publicity and attention, the Part of Us Initiative has since embraced and focused on the New Art Movement of Vitiligo Art and creativity, with an aim of dissipating stigma, trauma and psychological stress amongst people living with this skin condition. Later on many creative minds and artists, mostly fellow youths, reached out asking how they could take part in the campaign.

We then decided to establish Part of Us as a Nonprofit Organization, a foundation made up of creative people, people living with vitiligo and humanitarians who don’t live with the skin condition. In addition to creating awareness through visual arts and creativity, the Initiative gives us a chance to directly impact many more people living with vitiligo who may not be interested in appearing in artworks due to various personal reasons.

Martin Senkubuge artwork

Photo courtesy of Martin Senkubuge

With the stigma surrounding vitiligo not only in Uganda but on the continent, how do you find and approach models for your portraits?

At the beginning, in 2019 and 2020, I would post on my social media platforms asking for contacts of people with vitiligo. After talking to about 60 over the phone — since it was during the lockdown period — only three gave me the benefit of trust. It was challenging then to convince many, since opportunists have taken advantage of their condition and left them more emotionally damaged. Currently, the fact that more writers and journalists have continued to document and cover my work and stories of the models [helps.] Most of the new models already have hints about my clear vision and they are more than willing to contribute to this vision.

Martin Senkubuge

Photo courtesy of Martin Senkubuge

How has your initiative impacted the people living with vitiligo? Any success stories?

Keeping in mind that our ultimate goal is to create awareness, end stigma and transform lives, we have a number of successful stories. For the first time we celebrated World Vitiligo Day in Uganda on the 25th of June this year. It was a successful photo-shoot event accompanied by indoor games, eats and drinks, networking and sharing about life experiences. We have been able to receive more local media coverage which wasn’t the case the first two years when we were always turned down due to the intensity of myths surrounding vitiligo.

One of my pioneer models, Eva Atukunda, stopped covering her blotches with make-up after seeing her face all over the internet and on big screens. Waking up every morning had become a lifelong responsibility to her and her two young children who she had trained to apply makeup so that they could finish fast and go to school. When she posted her face on Facebook for the first time without makeup, many were shocked by her courage. One gentleman, who had never looked at himself in a mirror for about 23 years, directly messaged Eva and he never remained the same. Isaac is the other person in my drawings. He is a model and vixen who has been identified by many more videographers and modeling agencies to work with him. There are many more individual stories but most importantly our initiative continues to receive and register more people living with vitiligo.

Do you believe that art can reduce stigma and myths surrounding vitiligo in Uganda and Africa at large?

I believe that art can reduce stigma and myths. Looking back in the old times of Caravaggio, [Claude] Monet, Rembrandt and Leonardo Da Vinci times, artists were mirrors to their societies. They would capture moments and events which greatly and diversely informed our present times in terms of medical, health, technology, education, life trends, fashion, and politics. I believe that, as artists, we have a high sense of imagination which we can use to either build or destroy the world through our executions in fine arts, films, animations, musical lyrics and videos, designs, content on the internet. One of my philosophies as a researcher and a visual artist is that the more we paint, draw, and showcase a challenge based on research, to the public with consistency, vision and reason, we can positively influence transformations in various societal perceptions.

What are your future plans?

Through social media, many people living with vitiligo have reached out to me from different continents to be drawn. I am now looking forward to a global project which will be extremely unique. We have our second edition of the Part of Us Art Exhibition in June, 2023. I am glad that more artists, both male and female, have joined me to make this exhibition more relevant. We shall always hold biannual Art Exhibitions with purely artwork creation inspired by vitiligo skin condition. I plan to go for further studies, with my research focusing on Vitiligo and the myths, stigma, beliefs surrounding it.

Culture
Image courtesy of the artist

Spotlight: NK Is The Future and Star of His Own Show

We spoke with the 18-year-old visual artist about creating art from his surroundings and empowering his generation.

In our 'Spotlight' series, we highlight the work of photographers, visual artists, multimedia artists, and more who are producing vibrant, original work.

In our latest piece, we spotlight Ghanaian digital artist NK. The self-proclaimed Afrocentric visual artist's love for drawing and sketching at a young age pushed him to explore the many ways in which modern technology supports and advances creativity. Simply playing around with a popular photo editing app propelled the young artist into a world of self discovery, empowerment, and a keen understanding about how big the Universe we call home actually is. As the digital creative puts it, "I think my interest in space and what could exist outside the world we live in also had an impact on my desire to incorporate futuristic technology with cultural art." Armed with a keen interest in all things Afrofuturist, NK's futuristic eye has gained the teen artist recognition from some of his industry faves, too.

We spoke with the 18-year-old visual artist about creating art from his surroundings and empowering his generation.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.


Describe your background as an artist and the journey you have taken to get to where it is today.

I grew up with an interest in art and drawing. I loved to draw and sketch, usually with both pen and pencils, whatever was interesting around me. I would make compositions of items within my surroundings and paste them on the walls of my parent’s rooms. My interest in the digital world peaked around the ages of 14 and 15 -- I've always been intrigued by astronauts and futuristic technology. I started digital art in 2017 when I created 2D pieces on the PicsArt app on a phone at home. Eventually, I gained access to the Adobe Photoshop software.

Artists like David Alabo, Beeple, Basquiat, and Juan Carlos Ribas inspired me and also made me think of what I could achieve if I tried. I spent a lot of time watching tutorial videos and related content online to be able to develop my skill. Initially, I created my pieces by combining a number of stock images and online resources to create an entirely new fictional scene. Around early 2020 I had a creative block and was desperate to find new sources of inspiration. Over time I came to the realization that my inspiration surrounded me and that I shouldn’t have to force creativity. I did more research on Afrocentric art and stepped out of my comfort zone to create my first Afrocentric pieces, “Gateway to Paradise” and “Modernization”. These pieces attracted a lot of attention and also the smArt magazine which granted me my first interview and magazine feature opening the door to new relationships in the creative industry, various opportunities, and collaborations.

What are the central themes in your work?

My work is mainly centered around the expression of development in the Black experience and empowering African Culture. I try to factor in Afrofuturism and Afrocentrism in making my pieces whether it’s how my models are dressed, their accessories, or represented by items that surround them. My pieces are intended to put forward the message of creating brighter futures and realities where Africans thrive. This helps give my pieces in themselves an identity.

How did you decide on using a digital medium for your art?

Even though I do draw and sketch, I also feel very comfortable using digital software which to me offers endless possibilities. I believe that using digital media as an African artist helps bridge the gap between technology and cultural art, directly falling in line with my field of interest, Afrofuturism.

How has the pandemic affected you creatively?

The start of the pandemic in 2020 was devastating. A lot happened during that period. It was during the lockdown that I made the decision to transition into creating Afrocentric art. We were made to take a break from school, which freed up a lot of my time. I had the time to research, watch tutorials and practice more. It might have been one of the most defining years for me as an artist. It also granted me a larger audience as everyone was made to work from home. I actually learned a lot and worked hard during that period and this led to my work improving massively.

Can you describe your artistic relationship with ‘Afro-futurism’?

Afrofuturism is a theme I can really relate to as a young African. It's our responsibility to contribute to our development as a people. I think my interest in space and what could exist outside the world we live in also had an impact on my desire to incorporate futuristic technology with cultural art. I like to think of what we can achieve, the seemingly impossible things, and then I pour out those thoughts and ideas into my art and that is why I immediately fell in love with Afrofuturism. We are the future, the stars of our own show.

Can you talk about your use of colors and accessories in your art?

The most dominant figure in my pieces is usually the black figure/model which usually stands out as the main subject. Regarding the backgrounds, I usually try to make a scene with colors to create a particular mood or in some of my pieces to complement the clothes of the model, usually African prints. They range from solid backgrounds to gradients and various sky textures. I use different cultural accessories both for beautification and also to provide that Afrocentric feel and message. I love to use various beads, bracelets, and traditional cloths with interesting textures to convey these messages of who we are as Africans and where we come from.


Artwork by NK

"Cultural Adornment"

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Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for YouTube Beauty

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