Rhodé Marshall finds out from Afrocentric artist Baba Tjeko how he uses the continent’s symbols and patterns to tell the stories of the voiceless.
Afrocentric artist and designer Baba Tjeko has positioned himself as someone whose work fits into the contemporary art space, yet his brand is trendy enough to collaborate with commercial entities in fashion, interior design, entertainment and architecture.
“My mission is to be a world renowned artist and designer who represents the marginalised and tells authentic African stories through visual art mediums,” he told #Trending.
Tjeko, who is from the Free State, says his work focuses on the undiscovered perspectives that lie within those who move around unnoticed.
Drawing and telling stories through images was always a part of his life, something he formalised when he went to study creative multimedia at the National Electronic Media Institute of SA in Joburg, majoring in advertising.
“Upon finishing my studies, I worked as an illustrator and graphic designer for media houses and government departments. And although the work was within the creative space, I was not content and I struggled to find my authentic creative voice. That led to me revisiting my third-year design paper in which my chosen theme was on the disappearing Basotho mural art form called litema.”
Tjeko says this is where he discovered that young people showed little to no interest in the art form, inspiring him to use his work to play a part in preserving the culture and memory of litema.
“I started sketching and integrating the unique patterns in my work and slowly developed my own style.”
Tjeko says he is inspired by African symbols and patterns, a nostalgic aesthetic, black identity and the work of other creatives who are breaking barriers using art to tell their stories, such as local visual artist and performer Manthe Ribane, as well as installation artist Theaster Gates, designer Virgil Abloh and hip-hop artist Donald Glover, all from the US.
“Coming from a disadvantaged background, one of those whose self-worth was crushed by a colonial system, I want my legacy to be inspirational; someone who defied the odds and declared dreams of a poor black child valid. I seek to create good, timeless work that continues to inspire black kids.”
Tjeko takes on commissioned work and does various collaborations with creative agencies and brands.
“I have worked on Channel O visual activations for events such as Music Is King, Bacardi Holiday Club and AKA Orchestra on The Square. I have just finished two commissioned projects for a car and coffee brand that are launching this month.”
Tjeko is currently running a limited edition artwork print for sale, inspired by traditional Basotho homes.
“Although I am in the process of developing an online platform and store for my work, social media remains my favourite medium as it allows for direct interaction with clients, potential collaborators and people who support me.”
- Keep an eye on the artist’s work by following him on Instagram @baba_tjeko