INTERVIEWED BY Lindi Brownell Meiring IMAGES courtesy of Monica Obaga
Hailing from Nairobi, Kenya, graphic designer and illustrator Monica Obaga creates colourful artworks inspired, in part, by animation, Kisii soapstone sculptures and Maasai beadwork. VISI caught up with her to find out more about what influences her work and what she loves most about being creative.
Where are you currently based?
I’m newly based in Washington, D.C. Spring in this city is a revelation.
How did you initially get into illustration and graphic art?
I’ve been doodling all my life. My maths exercise books in Standard 3 can prove it, wherever they are… Up until I was 12, I thought I would be a fashion designer.
What do you love most about being creative?
What I love most about being creative is that it’s the thing that can take a situation from hopeless to endless in possibility. Creativity is inherently human because we don’t know the future. We’re creating each moment as we live it. If creation is the act of making from nothing, then creativity is the attitude required for it to happen. When you’re aware of it, it’s so empowering!
Describe your style in three words.
Colourful, minimal, African.
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Loved discussing African art with @designindaba. Is African art still debatable? #linkinbio How about… Art made by Africans… – I've only wanted to attend my entire adult life! 😱 This year at the festival, @wanuri presented the idea of joyful African mythos. I was one of the artists she chose to express that. The piece you see is based on the #Woodabe festival, #Gerewol in #Niger. #africanart #kenyanartist #kenya #designindaba2019
How much has Africa influenced and inspired your work?
Funny story… my first real colour palette was based on Maasai beadwork. It’s evolved over the years but that was my way of stamping my work as African without being derivative. The abstract, organic shapes in my work are directly influenced by the soapstone sculpture from Kisii, where my parents are from. I love that something that could be called ‘modern minimal’ is a traditional craft of my people.
I don’t consider myself a great artist, but when I started posting on the internet, you couldn’t run a search for African artists that weren’t from West Africa. I think I just wanted to encourage young and talented African people to put their work out there, in progress, without fear. There is so much out there now, so in turn, young and incredibly talented Africans inspire me today!
Is there a project you’ve worked on that has stood out for you?
So many! I really loved working with Girl Effect on illustrating their global teen-girl-powered e-zine. That was one of the times I really felt like I was giving back and honouring my past. I illustrated a tote bag for a sustainable fashion company and have carried the bag around with me all year. I was also lucky enough to work with Wanuri Kahiu illustrating her Design Indaba presentation. Because of her, I got to explore and share African mythology in the geekiest way possible. What a treat!
Any exciting plans for 2019?
I am currently working on a dream project with a dream company, but I can’t talk about it yet. Stay tuned!