Face value

This Mandela Day, we pay tribute to our home-grown hero with Garth Walker's cover design for the 29th issue of "ijusi" magazine.
The cover of edition 29 of ijusi by Garth Walker.
The cover of edition 29 of ijusi by Garth Walker.

How do you represent an icon whose image has been so reproduced that it has seared itself into popular culture?

This was the question facing Garth Walker, founder and editor of ijusi magazine, who was inspired to dedicate the next edition's cover to Nelson Mandela after his death in December 2013.

"I did a lot of corporate work on Madiba tributes after his death, so it was topical around the time I needed to brief the next issue," explains the veteran South African graphic designer. Walker coincidently shares the world leader's birthday today, an international day honouring Mandela's values through volunteering and community service.

Photographers, writers and designers' graphic contributions poured in to Walker's studio in Durban, referencing famous images of the late president.

Rather than choose any one image, he opted for a digital collage to make up a portrait of the Apartheid struggle leader's face. 

I didn't want to use a 'standard' Mandela image for the cover, so I nicked bits from images on Google, which took hours, he says. 

"Then all the bits were twiddled in Photoshop to get what I wanted," adds Walker. "Hair from Morgan Freeman (I think)... the smile was a combo of his [Madiba's] teeth and another mouth... The shirt was a piece of a scan I have of Cote d'Ivoire fabric – I have a big collection of textile scans... Other bits were scans from consumer magazines."

He posterised the image and layered it with colour blocks of varying opacity. 

The one feature that Walker was unable to match was the leader's eyes: "He had droopy eyelids at the outer corners. They sloped down, too. He had little in the way of eyebrows and his irises were sort of bluish. In the end, I gave up looking and used his eyes from work I had on file." 

"My wife met him and she said (as have many others) that he had a very powerful aura about him. He must have had something the rest of us don't. I like what I hear about him from the interviews I've heard with [his former personal assistant] Zelda La Grange," he reflects.  

I'm skeptical about heroes, but I do feel Nelson Mandela was the real deal.

"Many have an interest in abusing his legacy. As I learned doing this issue of ijusi, many of us don't see him as the icon he's promoted as being. That, I think, sums up the reality," muses Walker. "I think Mandela would agree – and that's why he is a true great."