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Women Shaping Design Series: Karabo Poppy Moletsane

Illustrator, graphic designer and street artist Karabo Poppy Moletsane chats representation, capturing the attention of global brands

By Esihle Mngini  | August 3, 2022 | Art

From moveable exhibitions to curating, nail art and illustration, this year’s cohort is a multifaceted representation of women visionaries conquering the design space on the African continent and abroad. Here, we speak to the illustrator, graphic designer and street artist.

Take us through your background.

Growing up as the youngest of four children and the only girl, I would see my older brothers doing certain things that people around me would say were reserved for boys alone. My brothers and I would have none of it, and I would participate in the same activities they did. As I grew older, this perception did not change much. But I was determined that it should. And I wanted to inspire other girls to do the same. I was told that girls and women (especially Black), do not start businesses in male-dominated industries. I was told that girls and women (again, especially Black) do not become street artists, especially in South Africa, where the rate of violence against women is alarming. I have subverted both these stereotypes. I am inspired by the visual aesthetic of Africa, both contemporary and traditional. So, I set out to preserve and celebrate it, representing the unrepresented by exploring South Africa’s creative identity through my craft.

Why illustrating?

I am driven by a desire to be the voice I often missed and longed for. In university, we seldom learned much about Black, female, South African illustrators. Upon obtaining my degree in Visual communication, I experienced great difficulty finding illustrators whom I could model my career. That was not because incredibly talented Black women artists do not exist in South Africa, but they are often not offered the same notoriety as their white or male counterparts. I wanted to be this representation for the next generation of young Black illustrators, especially those who are women, as our challenges are extremely specific. I am responsible for using the influence I have gained to elevate others from underrepresented communities and pay homage to those who have inspired my stylistic and conceptual approach.

You are known for working with leading brands. When did you realise you could monetise your illustrations?

I have never consciously set out to make a living from my art, but because I am determined to continue creating, it was important for me to understand that to do so, I would need to cohere my desire to create within the demands of everyday living. It just so happens that since the beginning of my career, I have had the privilege of working with individuals, brands and companies such as Apple, Instagram, Greenpeace, Sony Music, the university of California, The Wall Street Journal and Black coffee. I feel overwhelmingly humbled to bring a shared vision to life and benefit from it financially.

What is some of the best advice you would give someone in your industry to stay motivated and push boundaries?

Talent is vital but cannot stand on its own. It works better combined with business skills, dedication and collaborating with people with whom you share similar views. Create the spaces you want to be in and tell the stories you feel are unheard – the world needs more of that. Do not let fear stop you, whether of failure or worrying about whether things will work out. Hold onto what you believe is your purpose, so use that to guide you.