Moeketsi Lebakeng’s minimal illustrations pay tribute to Africa’s women

Moeketsi Lebakeng uses illustration to celebrate his everyday heroes – African women.

To pay reverence to the obstacles that African women face and overcome, Moeketsi Lebakeng has illustrated a collection of portraits of exceptional women. 

The Johannesburg-based creative tells us his work is very much about celebrating the African women in his life. “My mom played an important role in my upbringing and she made so many sacrifices to put me through school, which has led me to become a fan of incredible women,” says Lebakeng. His mother’s sacrifices have not been lost on Lebakeng, who is now a college graduate working as a user interface designer at Native VML, a South African advertising agency. And like most modern creatives, he moonlights to get his illustrations done. 

Lebakeng experiments with a combination of an in-vogue minimalist style and a distinctly African aesthetic. “[My aesthetic] has changed a lot since I started but I have sort of found my style and I’m working towards perfecting my craft,” he says.

The women in his illustrations are in no way homogenous characters – he celebrates the women who wear crowning headwraps, the women in ornamental earrings and the women who like to ride motorbikes.  “I have had the chance to talk to a lot of African women who have overcome some obstacles in their lives,” says Lebakeng. “And I decided to focus on creating work that reflects how much I appreciate them.”

As a player in the South African creative scene, he also appreciates the work of Sindiso “Riot” Nyoni and Lazi “Greiispaces” Mathebula, even citing them as big influences in the way that he approaches illustration and design. Lebakeng believes that creatives in the country can be competitive on the global scene: “The scene is growing so quickly and we have such an abundance of highly creative people that we have gotten to the point where we able to compete with the rest of the world,” says Lebakeng.

He also believes that African illustrators have a key distinguishing tool at their fingertips: “We have African aesthetics at our disposal if we try to add that to our work then we are bound to stand out. Our work should never look western when we have so many cultural elements,” says Lebakeng.