Graphic designer and illustrator Thulisizwe Mamba (22) has made it his mission to capture the spirit of South Africa’s youth culture.
Durban-based Mamba has run his own design studio called Less Studio + Co for almost three years, with most of the paid-for commissions coming from the advertising industry.
“My work as a designer and illustrator centres around documenting South African youth culture on the internet and offline. I tasked myself with this duty as I felt no one was documenting what being young in South Africa was like,” he says. Capturing aspects of today’s rapidly changing trends with his illustrations ensures that the moments are preserved as a reference point to show future generations where they come from, he says.
One memorable commission came from the online fashion retailer Superbalist last year for a project called Forever Emojinal. “They approached me to produce a series of 10 prints to sell on their site, because their target market is the youth in South Africa and I have a body of work documenting youth culture,” says Mamba.
The idea was to capture how young South Africans are trying to gratify the ache of wanting to fit in while also trying to stand out. “The heightened desire to be ‘cool’ on the interwebs by all means necessary has amounted to South Africa’s digital youth culture landscape being ‘forever emojinal’,” he says. “The outcome saw various characters from South African youth tribes presented in emojis that bear a relation to the character in terms of dress sense and usage.”
Mamba is involved in voluntary work through the BookDash designers group, which designs books for children. He also runs a workshop for Ubuntu Youth in Verulam, a small town north of Durban, where he teaches art and design to high school kids on Saturdays.
Mamba was named a Design Indaba Emerging Creative in 2015, and has big ambitions for the future: “I’d love to have creative agency focusing on youth culture and culture in general. I’d like it to be very responsive in terms of taking from the culture and giving back to the culture in a manner different to that of advertising. I understand how corny things can get when it’s about the culture, so I’d love to apply my witty approach to design and illustration beyond 2D surfaces.”
— Lesley Stones