Anja Venter is a multi-talented creative with qualifications in Visual Communication, Mobile Media and Information communication technologies for development.
For Women’s Month 2021, Anja contributed to the #ReImagineTheRandSA campaign that features the works of 3 local artists who reimagined South Africa’s currency to include powerful women. Anja channelled Lilian Ngoyi, Sophia Williams-De Bruyn, Rahima Moosa and Helen Joseph who marched on the Union Buildings in 1956 to protest against apartheid pass laws.
In the Q&A below, we chat with Anja about her career, women empowerment and her definition of success.
Can you start us off with a short introduction to Anja Venter?
I consider myself an “Art-stronaut” that explores the creative universe through a variety of media and practices. I’m currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, focusing on Applied Design and Fashion Communication. I’ve made pictures for client campaigns, clothing, jewellery, video games, animations, comics, you name it! I’m also currently working on my first novel.
What made you decide to become an artist and how did you go about it?
My path certainly wasn’t linear – and when I had to enrol for a degree I was *this* close to enrolling for Medicine! After making excessive pros and cons lists, I figured that I would be very depressed if I weren’t being creative for a living. I studied Visual Communication at Stellenbosch and have not stopped studying since! While working I’ve completed my Masters in Mobile Media at UCT, my PhD in ICT4D (Information communication technologies for development) and now I’m hanging around CPUT as a post-doc.
How do you describe your work and design style?
My design style is somewhere between comics, pop art and pop surrealism. I have three brothers, so growing up we watched a lot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Batman. Comics have been central to my developing style, but my influences range a bit wider: I draw from Japanese aesthetics, science fiction futures and historic art movements like Dada and the surrealists.
What has been the most defining moment of your career thus far?
There are many projects that I’ve been super proud to be involved with, such as recently working with the embroiderers that do Christian Dior’s garments to create custom jackets for one of my favourite video game franchises, creating cover art for Apple Music, a mural for Nike’s Johannesburg HQ, making comics with superstar editor Shelly Bond…but being invited to collaborate on the #ReImagineTheRandSA project with Capitec is a next level for me.
What does women’s month mean to you?
For me, women’s month is a time to reflect and recalibrate. How much progress have we made since last year? What do we want to see in the next year? I am not proud of the way this country treats women, and I want to help affect change.
What is the message you would like to convey through your work on the Reimagining the Rand series?
That when women come together to speak truth to power, we can change the world.
Who are the women in your life who have inspired you and taught you important lessons and values?
My mom, Prof Isabella Venter, has taught me to be an organised and ambitious person. She is a computer scientist and was one of the first women in this country to work in that field, which had massive challenges, especially while raising four kids. Yet she’s always handled the pressure with grace and elegance. Then, my other mother, Minnie Daries, who at the age of 84 is still one of the sassiest people I’ve ever met. She has this thing she says “Gee pad, of ek maak ‘n pad!” (Give way, or I’ll make a way) Which has become a mantra for me! Never let your starting point dissuade you from working towards your goals.
How do you define success?
My definition of success changes all the time. If you asked me two years ago I would have said success equals fame and riches! But these days, especially with the pandemic, I measure success in the quality of people I have around me. If you can afford the necessities, doing work that you love, being surrounded by creative and compelling individuals who appreciate you. That is success to me.
Do you have any advice for women looking at art and design as career choices?
It depends on what kind of career you want. I’d advise young people to find role models, contact them and learn from them. The best way to learn, in my opinion, is through collaboration! Find more experienced people and find ways to work together.
In your opinion, in the creative industry and South Africa in general, has there been more movement towards gender equality?
From a clean statistical point of view, there is a fair amount of gender equality in the creative industry. Yet when you look at the intersection of race and gender, there is great discrepancy – very few women of colour are represented. I’ve heard many theories about why this is the case, including stigmas around art education and gendered technology use. From my PhD research, I found that the young women enrolled in design courses often faced a lot of mobility issues, particularly young women who came from resource-constrained areas. The expectation is that you must work late in studio and if you use public transport or don’t live close to campus, this can be an insurmountable challenge for a young woman. Particularly in our country, where the danger is very real.