Our June issue is themed ‘Denim & Design’, and stars Terry Pheto embellished with striking illustrations by 26-year-old Karabo ‘Poppy’ Moletsane, who is a Gold Craft Loerie award-winning Johannesburg-based illustrator, street artist and designer. Karabo’s pride and passion is all about the preservation of the African aesthetic, according to her Instagram bio:

‘I look at what makes the African aesthetic to be beautifully unique and find ways to authentically document it using contemporary and unconventional mediums.’

The combination of internationally recognised local actress Terry Pheto’s strong portrait and Karabo Poppy’s beautifully jarring illustrations is enough to grab the attention of any art and design enthusiast. So much so that you can’t help but ask:

Who is Karabo Poppy Moletsane?

She boasts an impressive design and street art resumé, with clients including the likes of Google, the Wall Street Journal, Apple, Nike, The University of California, the (RED) campaign, Pharrell Williams, Greenpeace, Woolworths, Cointreau, JAIN, Sony Music France, Cotton:On International and Russell Hobbs.

If you take a leisurely scroll through Karabo’s Instagram account, you’ll be treated to a very visually satisfying journey, featuring her inked arms, sightings of the cities she visits and, of course, a peak into her art portfolio. It piqued our interest, so we decided to pick her brain a little.

Karabo before international acclaim

Karabo grew up in Vereeniging and moved to Pretoria to study, where she received a BA in Visual Communication at the Open Window Institute in 2014. This is what she shared about her career journey:

‘Growing up, I had always been obsessed with art and basically drew every day. I ended up going to The Open Window Institute, where I received my degree in Visual Communication, and my love for illustration grew. I finally entered into the street art scene when I aimed to find a new canvas to make my work more accessible.’

Karabo on the challenges women in the arts face

‘Some of the challenges I found with being a woman in art – specifically being a black female freelance illustrator and graphic designer – was that I couldn’t find anyone that shared my narrative within the industry. When I was studying, there weren’t many people fitting the description (black female illustrator/graphic designer and street artist) that I could look up to and learn hopefully from, so I aimed to be that for the next generation of women in this industry.

‘Similar challenges also exist in the world of street art in South Africa, where even fewer females are prominent in this male-dominated industry. Having a female street artist trying to break boundaries in street art is not always well received by veteran male street artists.’

Karabo on her Marie Claire collaboration

How long did it take you to do the illustration for the cover?
‘The illustration took about two days to complete, if we don’t count reverts.’

What was your inspiration behind the illustration?
‘The inspiration behind my illustrations is always the pursuit to preserve, explore and celebrate the African Aesthetic. I look at what makes the African aesthetic to be beautifully unique and find ways to authentically document it using contemporary and unconventional mediums.’

What does the snake symbolise?
‘The snake in the illustration symbolises the uniquely fierce nature of a generation of African women unapologetically pursuing their dreams with excellence and pride.’

More on Karabo

Karabo Poppy Moletsane has also created illustrations for a music video that was awarded ‘Music Video of the Year’ at the French Music Awards and was nominated for ‘Best Music Video’ at the Grammys. Most recently, Karabo created a Google Doodle for International Women’s Day 2018.

To see more of Karabo Poppy’s work, check out her social media accounts:

Instagram: @karabo_poppy
Twitter: @karabo_poppy

Our ‘Denim and Design’ June issue, with cover star Terry Pheto, is on shelf now. Be sure to pick up a copy, full of intriguing reads and visuals.