That tactile, visual, high-energy scene -- largely ignored in the white-dominated design establishment -- inspired graphic designer Garth Walker to create i-Jusi, an arresting eight-page irregularly published magazine that debuted at the end of 1995.
"I wanted a vehicle to show what was happening in Durban generally and to showcase what black South Africans were doing in particular," the 41-year-old Durban native explains. "You walk on the streets here and find all these wonderful advertising signs and colorful fabrics, and the materials inspire the graphic design process." They certainly do, and many took notice -- even in far-flung places like New York, where Walker's magazine scored an Art Directors Club Silver Cube this year.
"I-Jusi" is Zulu for orange juice, which is also the name of Walker's design company. He hoped i-Jusi would encourage artistically conservative South African corporations to take a chance and commission designs incorporating indigenous motifs. Traditionally, those companies opt for designs geared more to Americans or Britons than to South Africans.
African sensibilities deserve respect, Walker maintains, not only because blacks represent more than 80 percent of the 35 million population, but because they're pretty nifty. "Blacks have a surrealist view of imagery," says Walker, who is white. "They'll superimpose an image of, say, their girlfriend on a soda can, or put one thing on top of another and add a lot of garish pattern and color. From a design standpoint, you can work with mismatched images to create that surrealistic view."
But Walker emphasizes that he's not just trying to reproduce African designs. Rather, he wants to develop a new design language reflecting what he calls "the fruit salad" of South African cultures, which includes, among others, Zulu, Xhosa, Ndebele, Afrikaner and "English."
You'd have to be quite familiar with South Africa to infer that from i-Jusi. The editorial content is spare; typography is dropped, almost Raygun-like, on heaps of images. There are no page numbers and no table of contents; indeed, there are no articles, really, and nothing to orient an uninitiated viewer. "It's beautiful but I'm not sure what it's trying to say," admits Gary Koepke, a creative director at Wieden & Kennedy.
I-Jusi's sense of freedom and playfulness is immediately clear, though. Colors smear and blend without sacrificing the cohesiveness of the image or composition. The cover of the most recent issue features three words under the title: "Now with power." Below it, a black man strikes a Charles Atlas pose, but you see only the biceps; the headless torso is a gleaming new engine.
For those who know South Africa, i-Jusi does indeed have a social context. Much of the imagery suggests force and ubiquitous violent crime, which is a debilitating national problem. In one of the issues that have come out so far -- 500 copies are published irregularly -- a newspaper clip is pasted on a white page: "Five slain in night of bloodshed," reads the headline. Below that is a quote from a government official that's circled in blood red: "We can't keep picking up bodies like this." It's horrible -- and archly, darkly comical.
Graphic design luminary Tibor Kalman has visited South Africa, and he admires i-Jusi's attention to vernacular: "They're using vernacular elements and bringing them to the attention of a trained design audience," observes the president of M&Co. and the former editor of Benetton's Colors. "It helps to illustrate the notion that under your nose there's a lot of beauty and great design that doesn't look like beauty and design. It has passion, optimism and power."
Jeff Christianson, who's artdirected at Metropolis, I.D. and other magazines, says incorporating indigenous concepts in design is actually in step with global trends. "When you look at some of these pages and at the Indian and African designs, it kind of sums up the current moment in the world of design. It's a complicated, geometric, weird combination of rational and wacky elements. It's very cool."
So far, i-Jusi has not persuaded clients to be daring. Walker laments that 90 percent of Orange Juice's clients still insist on vanilla. "They fear anything that's too ethnic or too politically correct or incorrect," he says. "There is fear that if we go local it'll be demeaning. That attitude comes from not having a clearly defined idea or vision of what a South African-centered style needs to