Hailing from Lagos, Nigeria we introduce you to Karo Akpokiere a graphic designer and illustrator. In his youth, a present that he received from his parents sparked a curiosity in him to delve into the world of urban contemporary visual culture and communication. That with a few nudging words would set him on the path to leave a future in science aside, embracing design.
In talking with Akpokiere via an email exchange over a two-month period this past Spring 2011, a couple of things become apparent. Despite electrical outages that sometimes hamper his ability to work, Akpokiere is adamant to utilise the Internet to foster connections with a sphere beyond his physical daily life and realities. He utilises Seek Project, a self-initiated platform to showcase his work, develop and exchange ideas as well as to solicit collaborations with those of similar minds. Despite not having had the opportunity to venture out of Nigeria, his work has preceded him both internationally and within continental Africa. Features include notable Japanese online publication Shift’s 2011 calendar and later this year, showcasing in South African graphic publication Ijusi.
As we begin to speak about his references, he mentions that Keith Haring, amongst other world renown names, is inarguably one of his favourite artists and that the “breadth of his work and his willingness to make his work accessible and visible” speaks to him. He happily states that he is “thoroughly excited whenever he see his work.” Looking at Akpokiere’s work, it is fathomable that Keith Haring would be a strong influence. I am however curious, if he might have some African designers or artists that might be equally compelling for him. The dearth of information online or in print, makes me wonder but more truthfully hope that he may have access to a treasure trove of info that hardly makes it out of each locale due to lack infrastructure etc. He had this to say…
“To be honest, I found out about Garth Walker and Ijusi magazine via Another Africa’s Facebook page. I absolutely love the work he creates and I intend to contribute a drawing for the upcoming Ijusi issue. Some other African Designers and Artists I admire are Peet Pienaar (South Africa), Saki Mafundikwa (Zimbabwe), Victor Ekpuk (Nigeria), Frédéric Bruly Bouabré (Ivory Coast), these are names that come to mind readily. I am also drawn to traditional African Art mostly because of the use of signs, symbols, motifs, patterns and repetition and geometric shapes.
I believe there are a lot of Artists doing excellent work on the continent but, one has to dig deep to find them and their work. Documentation isn’t a strong part of the culture and nature abhors a vacuum, so the foreign artists inspire because they are there, visible for most to see and be inspired by.
A friend and I had a conversation recently were we talked about how the advertising and Graphic Design from 70’s and 80’s Nigeria was more appealing, memorable compared to what’s been done now but, we also realised the designers behind those works are nowhere to be found, we don’t even know their names! Its as though a whole generation of Designers went underground.”
I wonder how we can discover this apparent lost generation and their works? In the meantime, an introduction to the burgeoning new generation. Akpokiere recently completed an illustrated alphabet series Illustrated Letters A-Z, part of a project to draw daily over a one-year period. This work contemplates disregarding the rules and strictures behind conventional typography, an exercise to explore the notion of type as images.
Karo Akpokiere (B. 1981) a child of the 80’s born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria on a robust and consistent diet of cartoons, comic books and drawing time. He is that guy who drew a lot in class.
His enthusiasm for drawing alongside supportive parents and some path-altering words he heard in 1998 gave him all the motivation needed to leave a possible career in science to focus on taking courses in art and design from Yaba College of Technology, Lagos from the early 2000’s to the mid 2000’s.
While in school, he received a gift from my parents, the book 100% Cotton, T-shirt graphics by Tim Fletcher and Helen Walters. He regards this publication to be a career defining book. It opened him up to a unique and interesting world of urban contemporary visual culture with some of the artists behind the shaping of this culture, their work(s) and their philosophies. Artists like David Kinsey (Unlearn), Shepard Fairey (ObeyGiant), Keith Haring R.I.P (Pop shop), Takashi Murakami (Kaikai kiki) were featured in the book. The artists he ‘met’ via the book did more in shaping the direction of his work in ways which are personal and unique to me than school itself and they also helped me in developing the ideas behind the formation of the SeekProject while in school. The SeekProject is a platform for the creation of self-initiated and commissioned work, a platform for creative independence and growth.
Upon leaving school with two diplomas, one in general arts and the other in graphic design, he worked as an art and craft facilitator in a Daycare Center and more recently as a designer in advertising and brand-marketing whilst still drawing for his own personal sake. In June 2008, he made the decision to leave advertising behind to focus on operating SeekProject, developing his drawing skill in order to be correctly positioned to take advantage of the plethora of opportunities available for him as an artist, both online and offline.
In 2009 December, he started a daily drawing blog where he attempts to post a new drawing daily for 365 days with the intent of exhibiting the drawings in whole or in parts when he reaches the the 365 drawing target.
It has been a challenging ride so far but, he says that he has loved every moment of it.
All images courtesy of the artist, Karo Akpokiere. All rights reserved.