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If you are discussing typography in Africa then you will come across Saki Mafundikwa. Saki Mafundikwa is a Zimbabwean graphic artist that has influenced typography and graphic design all around the world. Mafundikwa is the author of Afrikan Alphabets , a comprehensive review of African writing systems. He has participated in exhibitions and workshops around the world, contributed to a variety of publications and lectured about the globalization of design and the African aesthetic. Mafundikwa was moved to draw from an early age.

Using a stick, he illustrated on every surface he could find—on the ground, in the sand, even tattooing his thighs and arms. He loved drawing letters in particular. Though he had not yet heard of printing and thought typeset words were done by hand, his aim as a child was to make letterforms as good as those he saw in books. Mafundikwa published the book Afrikan Alphabets, a history of African scripts and typography. This book is an illuminating and rare look at indigenous African graphic art tracing all the way back to ancient Egypt.

It is a culmination of 20 years of research in to the collective writing and graphical representation of African history. I returned home last year after an absence that totalled twenty years, going to school and then working in the US.

We are at a crossroads in the history of design right now with the young designers of the Western world rejecting the straitjacket confines of what design is and is not. First was the word, and it was modernism.

Not at all. They were magical things. I kept looking at the fetishes. I understood; I too am against everything. I too think that everything is unknown, is the enemy! I understood what the purpose of the sculpture was for the Negroes.

Why sculpt like that and not some other way? They were weapons. To help people stop being dominated by spirits, to become independent. If we give form to the spirits, we become independent of them. In fact, the Demoiselles may be the first European painting that consciously fulfilled a function like that of African sculpture.

So it is with this realization that only we, Afrikans, could set ourselves free that the idea of ZIVA came about. She asked me to be one of the trainers for the three-week workshop at Makerere University, Uganda. Raj Issar , aims to bridge the gap between north and south through cross-cultural exchanges and the sharing of creative and technological know-how, thus creating the two-way traffic we seek. I could not believe my luck!

Here was a golden opportunity for me to put my ideas to the test. I had never met graphic designers from Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, or Mozambique before, and I had to quickly snap out of the myopia of judging their work by European standards. T hese were Afrikan-trained designers — unlike me, an Afrikan trained in the west. It is madness. I was supposed to teach computer skills. In three weeks?

You gotta be kidding me! It hit me right then also, that we had to create a whole new design curriculum for Afrika! His radical approach to typography shocked my students, who were schooled in the modernist tradition. Invention and revolution result from tactical aggressions against the grid. Earls and other young renegade typographers made a huge impression on me; I realized that we are kindred spirits.

What they are doing dovetails with my ideas for Afrika. Graphic design cannot avoid the pluralism of influence wrought by the globalization of the canon.

They were stunned not because what I was saying was so far-fetched or difficult to swallow — they had never thought of things that way! We wanted to create a truly Afrikan book, using natural dyes and inks and some of the new fonts, but we only had ten days, so we opted for silkscreening the text instead.

The results were stunningly simple and amazingly effective. Varying style and structure in one unit is also prevalent in other Afrikan arts like music and dance; just listen to mbira music, deceptively simple to the uninitiated ear but extremely complex in structure to the trained musician. Take for instance textile design. That is how the market demands it. One looks at the graphic expression of the deconstructivists where razor-sharp precision is thrown out of the window in favor of looser and more atmospheric work and wonders why we are not encouraging our students to experiment with sensibilities that would come more naturally to them.

Take color for instance. Afrikans have their own palettes that have no kinship with the principles of color devised by such schools of thought as the Bauhaus. Why do we ignore those? The rest of the world would love to understand this Afrikan sense of color! Rhythm comes naturally to the Afrikan artist because of her proximity to nature in everyday life.

I saw stunning rhythmic patterns on baskets in Uganda and realized then that when we talk of rhythm in design today, we evoke the work of people like Piet Mondrian, who was inspired by the jazz music of the Afrikan Amerikans who in turn brought that stuff with them on their forced journey to the new world.

Can you imagine the potency of design work that looks at home for rhythmic inspiration! We could go on and on with the analogies; the fact remains — Afrika is the source of it all. Let us go back to the source.

The western world is looking to Afrika again for inspiration. There will be an equal flow of information and knowledge from north to south and vice-versa. That is the new order, and we are starting to create it now. ZIVA is only a small step in the right direction. We need more people who care to join us and chart the way forward. It is wonderful to see respect and light given to African designers, every child of african descent thanks you.

This great knowledge that is being shared. The Diaspora needs to be more informed. I am grateful for the awareness. Where can I purchase the book? I am doing well-I am teaching music while raising my children.

My connection to the world of art is ongoing personal projects which one day I will share. I hope you and your family are well. I have only fond memories of you, and am happy for your success in Zimbabwe and beyond-sincerely, Lisa Olsson. This was quite intriguing for me. Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.

Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email. We are on Instagram Follow me africandigitalart. Patricia Amira September 28, at am. Films that crossed over Myndz Community Blog. Henrycherylg July 17, at pm. Lisa August 26, at pm. Thalia May 7, at am. Troy Johnson October 11, at am. I will share information about this book and your work on my website as well. Leave a Comment Cancel Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.

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Brussels Belgium - African alphabets have a rich cultural and artistic history. Sadly, their story is little known both within and outside of Africa. The beautifully designed and illustrated book 'Afrikan Alphabets: The Story of Writing in Afrika' sets the record straight in a way that is easily accessible to everyone. Written by Saki Mafundikwa, graphic designer and founder of Zimbabwe Institute of Vigital Arts ZIVA , the book documents the rich alphabets and visual symbols of Africa and reveals the continent's valuable contributions to the history of visual communication.


Afrikan Alphabets: The Story of Writing in Africa



Saki Mafundikwa




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