On the rise to being recognised as one of the country’s new icons, and developing a unique style in a world that is increasingly homogenous, Seth Pimental (aka @african_ginger) talks with After Dark’s Leah Jasmine about carving acceptance in a world of darkness.
After Dark: How do you see yourself in the context of South African art?
African Ginger: I see myself as someone against the grain of mainstream media and against generic illustration and artwork. Someone that’s kinda weird. Lately, I’ve been finding myself calming down a lot of my subject matter. For a while I’ve wanted to focus on phobias and stuff, and I kind of realised if I had to work on something like trypophobia or something it would trigger a lot of people and I’ve reached a certain audience now where I can’t really do what I want but I’m still trying to slide through the cracks and go against the grain – be that teenager that was very anti-everything and maintain that.
After Dark: Is there something you’re saying beyond the aesthetic of your work?
African Ginger: All my works have no meaning and they’re all open to interpretation, I’ve always said this, however, they do have a deeper meaning to myself and they all have something to do with the psyche. A lot of them have something to do with mental illness; depression, anxiety, dealing with imposter syndrome, dealing with the day to day mundane stuff that we as millennials feel, this overwhelming pain. The people who relate the most to my work are the ones going through the same things that I’m going through and I feel like that’s why I make so much. It’s related to everyone.
After Dark: Your work is particularly noir from a visual and tonal perspective. How do you explore and celebrate black excellence in your design? Do you consider yourself as part of the Noir Wave?
African Ginger: I like to think I’m part of the Noir Wave in a subtle way. I’m very inspired by the Noir Wave, I’m inspired by underground African street cultures. For a long time I feel like when I would make art, or even before that, a lot of art I feel is focused on black narratives or non-white narratives, a lot of them were more focused on what happened during apartheid and somewhere post-apartheid but no one wants to join the conversation of what it’s like to be a person of colour in a post-apartheid urban culture, especially within Johannesburg. There are so many other things we have to tackle – we have to tackle self-hate, our own demons and stuff no one wants to speak about it. I wanted to create a narrative for young non-white South Africans to relate to. We grew up in unconventional homes and a lot of rebellion, a lot of angst and I want to create something for us to relate to. Celebrating being a person of colour, that’s my main goal. To celebrate the beauty within us and who we are and why we are the way we are. It took me a long time because I was very against my own heritage, against myself as a teenager and growing up I’m learning to love myself a little more, especially in the context of being a South African.
After Dark: What draws you to fashion?
African Ginger: I was a skateboarder as a teenager. Very angry. A lot of the stuff you wear and what you’re into is based on your niches and as a skateboarder I’ve always been into skate culture and skate fashion, everything about me is skate-inspired, even the way I paint, the wabi-sabi mentality all the way down to how I dress, think and speak, who I interact with as well.
After Dark: How have your experiences been in fashion, like the Converse x Jagermeister Enter The Woods project?
African Ginger: That was a really fun experience, I just feel bad because I wish I had more time, I wish it was a weekly thing where I could spend a week on each pair of shoes. I customised using some free-flowing illustrations from my mind with an element from Jager and it worked out perfectly, but I feel like I could have done better with more time. But it was so much fun, it’s rare that you go out in Johannesburg and have a very social experience where it’s non-condescending, non-arrogant, everyone’s so down to chill with you. People were just sitting down and conversing with me, it was cool.
After Dark: What are your aspirations in terms of making an impact on local arts and culture?
African Ginger: I just want to make something that people like me can relate to, and I’m starting to realise that more and more people like me are coming out of the shadows. When I was younger not a lot of people were into what I was into, and now more and more people are starting to embrace those niches and I just want people to feel comfortable and accepted. One of my favourite rappers [milo] says “Acceptance is a hell of a drug” and I really wish people could feel accepted because I think it links back to what I was saying before, our own inner anxieties are killing us. Not just our anxieties but we feel like we’re our own worst enemies, we are our own worst enemies and if you feel accepted in a bigger context in a massive audience you’ll feel more accepted within yourself.
After Dark: Who are your influences?
African Ginger: Before I was very influenced by a lot of skate-style illustrators, your Barry McGees, your Shepard Faireys, but the older I got I started getting more experimental and I started checking out guys like Patryk Hardziej, Patrycja Podkoscielny and Ivan Solyaev, a lot of Polish and Russian artists. I’m very inspired by the Russian Wave and Russian designers but lately, I feel like I’ve done enough research on them where I don’t take a lot of influence from other artists anymore. I take some stylistic choices and mark-making techniques from different artists but I try and incorporate those into myself, you know Picasso has a saying that goes “steal like an artist” and that’s the one thing I’m trying to do. Not steal, but to reference everything whether it’s real-life textures to actually painting stuff to my drawing style to colour schemes from different artists, combining different colour schemes, it’s all an amalgamation of everything that I see, put into my head, and churn out. A lot of the time it doesn’t come out the way I want it to but it does come out the way I think it needs to.
After Dark: Your work is often more detailed than initially meets the eye, requiring the viewer to truly explore each piece with their eyes before processing what they’re seeing. Can you talk us through this process?
African Ginger: So this process I have is very detailed. Extremely detailed. I’ll usually do a ton of research on stupid stuff, like the Oedipus complex or something, and then I’ll illustrate a male, an effeminate male, that seems quite passive and sensitive, but then I’ll overlay that with this aggression, this anxious flowing feeling in my head and I’ll draw this male, I’ll scan the drawing and take it into photoshop and I’ve made custom brushes so I’ll work with a stippling brush and a charcoal brush, I’ll add lots of minute detail into this portrait and from there I’ll take some textures that I’ve made that will emphasise the feeling I’m in, whether it be angry and angsty or sad and depressed and I’ll take those textures and add them into the portrait. The textures will speak levels of my own inner demons, and the figure itself will speak about a different person and their experiences and how they’re trying to fit into society. I work on my phone a lot, so I’ll take that illustration and put it on my phone and add small details with tattoos. With the tattoos, I’ve done a lot of research and I know a lot of different meanings so for example, if I had to put a wolf or a snake or a gypsy, those are symbolic of unity and not necessarily aggression, but peace and free-flowingness, so I’ll contradict the illustration with this anxiety-driven brush mark over this face with this feminine character that’s emphasised by this gypsy, free-flowing, so it’s contradictory, how could this character be free-flowing if they’re continuously thinking to themselves but that’s what we all go through. Every human is just this one massive walking paradox. Massive oxymoron. A lot of my works are contradictory and that’s cool. I don’t want you to glance at it, I want you to engage with it and figure out what the brushes are, who the characters are, and take apart the narrative.
After Dark: If you could sum up your purpose in a single statement, what would it say?
African Ginger: I’m just trying to make people feel comfortable with who they are and with themselves. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, I still feel like I don’t belong anywhere but I want people to not feel the way I feel.