Expressive illustrations by Pola Maneli

Former ad-man Pola Maneli left his job to pursue a freelance-illustrating career.

After a stretch moonlighting as an illustrator, Pola Maneli recently quit a promising career in advertising to pursue a full-time freelance career. Maneli, also a 2014 Design Indaba Emerging Creative, started off as a graphic designer in Port Elizabeth before relocating to Cape Town to work as an art director at another agency.

“The cool thing about coming to Cape Town [from Port Elizabeth] is that shit – the identity politics and how they affect different people’s lives to varying degrees – has become so much more focused and more prominent in my life since moving to here,” Maneli says. 

His work often has a political agenda and looks at everything from pop culture and identity politics, to governance and online activism, like the #blacklivesmatter campaign. Maneli’s work also very specifically references social issues in South Africa, such as the stigma surrounding HIV\AIDS, police brutality and the life of excess lived by South African president Jacob Zuma; work that he feels didn’t often align with his job in advertising.

Now no longer an ad-man and living the freelance dream, Maneli is able to devote time to creating work, which responds to the socio-political milieu in South Africa. He presented two art pieces at Protest, a group exhibition held at Hazard Gallery in Johannesburg. Curated by Beathur Mgoza Baker, the show represented artists and artworks that engage with notions of resistance in South Africa.

The first of Maneli’s two pieces, “All that Power” was a commentary on the President Jacob Zuma’s lifestyle of excess and what Maneli reads as an absolute commitment to a life of hedonism. The second piece, called “Rice”, is a reference to the “rice incident” in Bizana, Eastern Cape. A truck containing rice and sugar overturned near an informal settlement in the region and the community members helped themselves to the fallen contents.

“We used to do this all the time when we were kids,” says Maneli. “If a truck overturned it was like Christmas. There was an unspoken agreement between the people ‘looting’ and the driver.”

On this particular day, this unspoken agreement was breached when the police arrived and fired live ammunition into the crowd, killing two and injuring 11.

“I was thinking how weird it is that those people who are poor were killed because they wanted rice,” he said.

But his work is not all Jacob Zuma and police shootings, Maneli also has a love for street and popular culture and “making stuff that is still undeniably cool”. His latest collection of illustrations, “Street Wear”, is a series inspired by the street style and the street photography movement being mastered by South Africans such as Trevor Stuurman.

It’s still early days, and Maneli enjoys freelancing because it allows him to “control and curate the kind of work [he] accepts”.  The illustrator spent a week behind the Design Indaba Instagram lens exploring themes such as unconditional love (“Is it even possible?” he asked) and lust, drinking beer, the Charleston massacre and the never-ending cycle of daddy issues.

Visit our Instagram account to see last week's take over by Pola Maneli. This week, we’ll be sharing images from our Mandela Day camping to donate R1 000 to 67 South African’s

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