Illustrating vernacular South African terms

Kobie Niewoudt explores “Tsotsitaal” (the slang language among Cape Town's youth) with her illustrations and quirky gifs.

As a child, drawing captivated Kobie Nieuwoudt. Her parents and educators praised her skills as a young artist, which prompted her to pursue a career in illustration.

After she completed a degree in graphic design from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), Niewoudt said the exposure to the commercial side of design through studying was invaluable. Despite the education in design, she still felt “voiceless” in the world of art. She had hoped that her years at university would cultivate her artistic voice.

Niewoudt believes that having a particular style is beneficial when approaching potential clients for work, as they know exactly what to expect. On the other hand, being versatile is personally rewarding. It all depends on who your target audience is, Niewoudt says.

Illustration was essentially a personal outlet for her during her studies, “a means to escape the formal requirements of commercial design briefs” Niewoudt says. Encouragement to further her passion for drawing came from a lecturer at CPUT and Niewoudt, enrolled in a post-graduate course in illustration at the University of Stellenbosch. This decision allowed her to experiment and develop her voice as an artist. “Looking back, I now enjoy the illustration for the same reasons as when I was a child, for the solace and focus it provides,” says Niewoudt.

Smiley. Sheep's head is a traditional meal among township residents

In her latest series of illustrations and GIFs, called "The Performative Nature of Tsotsitaal", she explores the communicative nature of “Tsotsitaal” – the language used by gangsters in South Africa’s townships. She illustrates the various terms used between youths in the townships and explores the social functions this slang-based language serves in contemporary South Africa.

For Niewoudt, the way in which people communicate verbally and non-verbally is immensely interesting.

Growing up in an Afrikaans household, Niewoudt wanted to investigate a form of communication that differs greatly from the culture and language she knows. She also wanted to communicate it through a medium she knows well.

Alongside her favourite mediums like pencil sketches, gouache and collages, Niewoudt added a digital medium to her repertoire after she was introduced to

GIF making. “I usually give myself the challenge to create an expressive, entertaining GIF out of the least amount of frames. I enjoy a challenge,” she says.

Niewoudt says her motivation to create stems from her strong opposition to the idea of the “creative block”. According to her, when she has an idea for a project she can’t let it go until it’s completed. “I stopped believing in the ‘creative block’ because once you say you have a creative block it makes it worse and you start believing it,” she says.  


Yellow pages. Commuting in communal taxi.

Ukusbheka. Taking care of yourself

Kobie Niewoudt was one of Design Indaba’s Emerging Creatives in 2016

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