If you’re an avid follower of the South African creative industries, you’ve likely come across the striking works of Baba Tjeko. The Free State-born multidisciplinary artist works with painting, drawing, and illustration, and is best-known for his colourful, geometric Ditema works.
Working across the realms of visual art and advertising, Tjeko frequently collaborates with a number of brands, including MINI, Stella Artois, and most recently with Nespresso where he combined his signature visual style with the well-known coffee brand to bring the new Cape Town Envivo Lungo to life.
We caught up with Tjeko for a Q&A on his work, his influences, his artistic process, and the act of merging the worlds of visual art and advertising.
What are some of your earliest memories of encountering art and how have they inspired or influenced your practice?
My earliest memory was when I discovered books about art at the local library at the age of 12 in Tumahole township, Free State. It was then that I was introduced to artists such as Gerard Sekoto, George Pemba, Dumile Feni, and others. It was inspiring to learn about old artists who looked like me and whose works were appreciated internationally. It is because of those stories that I still work harder to gain global recognition in the art world.
Tell us a bit about your process. How does your work begin?
Anything can spark the inspiration for creative juices to start flowing. It can be a song, a documentary I have watched, or a certain colour palette in a magazine feature or on Instagram. As long as there is an emotional connection that happens, I am able to kickstart my process.
How would you say your work has changed or taken shape over the years?
I do not think my work has changed per se, I just believe it has evolved as I grow in years and wisdom. At first, it was just about me creating and expressing myself, today it’s about telling the story of who I am but also the story of my continent, it is the past, present, and future. I believe I am now contributing to a narrative that is far bigger than myself.
Your practice operates between the worlds of visual arts and advertising. Is it difficult to strike a balance between the two?
I think it is much easier to navigate the two worlds as an independent artist because there are no restrictions to influence me. I see both worlds as an opportunity to tell my story and push the African narrative. As long as we have audiences, then authentic art will always create real emotional connections that speak to the people.
Who are some of your artistic influences?
There’s a lot but if I can mention a few of them – Gerard Sekoto, Dumile Feni, Theaster Gates, and August Wilson.
Lastly, what’s on the cards for the rest of 2021?
We are working on launching an online platform to showcase and sell my artworks and collectable products. Besides that, I will be working on other iconic collaborations that people can know of when they launch.
Find out more about Tjeko, and view his work on his Instagram.