As a student, it was difficult to learn about African graphic designers, let alone ones concerned with channelling the power of design for good. I remember the excitement I experienced when I finally discovered Chaz Maviyane-Davies.
Here was somebody creating striking, clever and provocative work. Challenging several perceptions at the same time:
- That design is about pretty images
- That design in Africa cannot be used effectively to challenge social injustice
- That there are no African graphic designers of note (his work is internationally acclaimed)
- That design wasn't even considered as a viable profession for Africans before our generation (speaking as an early 80's baby)
Maviyane-Davies grew up in 1950's Harare in what was then Rhodesia and a racist state. He did what it took to pursue his dream, which involved leaving the country to study, returning in 1982 and starting his own design agency, The Maviyane Project. His driving force being that things needed to change for the good of the people.
Maviyane-Davies now lives and teaches in the US and continues to champion change for the good of Africa (and other places around the world suffering social injustice). He challenges his students to avoid being proponents of what he calls "homogenized blandness"* – the practice of embracing technology to the detriment of our idiosyncratic visual languages. The result being uniform mediocrity. He extends this challenge in particular, to his fellow Africans:
“It’s about breaking down and finding the inherited, mythically infused iconography and then rebuilding it in order to fit the feeling and nature of where we are now. The tone, rhythm and depth of our identity is special and can be used to talk to each other today. And we have to use that visual language to slowly try to bring some of our personality and presence into the design arena.”*
(*Check out the great article these quotes are taken from, available to read on AIGA.org)
Also check out his powerful project "30 days of 'graphic activism'" – a series of works created in the run up to the 2000 Zimbabwe elections.
Images: Palestine poster from AIGA.org; "Flies" – found on The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research. Check their post to read Maviyane-Davies' commentary on the piece; "Absolute Power" and Zimbabwean posters found on Ethan Zuckerman's blog (read more about their context there); the man himself, image from AIGA.org. "Coca-Colonization" found on Another Limited Rebellion.