Garth Walker: Why Durban is a hotbed of creativity

The founder of 'ijusi' magazine credits the city’s unique cultural mix and location as the inspiration for his graphic work.

Graphic design veteran Garth Walker thinks South African graphic designers have an identity crisis.

“South Africans are trained in the international style because we have to compete in a global market. So a graphic designer in Cape Town, Durban or Joburg is not doing things, which are that different from Paris, London or New York – we speak a global language,” he says. 

But therein also lies part of the problem, according to Walker, simply because Cape Town, Durban or Joburg is not Paris, London or New York: “We don't live that life and we are not the people who represent those cities. We need to communicate in a language that is ours,” he says.

Walker believes designers need to tap into their environments for inspiration and authentic visual expression and for him Durban, with its unique blend of characteristic proved to be a hotbed of creativity. 

“Durban is dazed and confused. It has no idea what it is. It is a truly African city in the sense that it is a fruit salad; a point of multiple connections, which means you don't have a preconception of what the city is, you can make it what you want it to be,” he says. “If you look beyond the obvious, and you actually look for stuff you’ll find a culture on our streets that is the lifeblood for designers, everything you’ll ever possibly need to know is on our streets, in townships and graveyards,” he says.

The first issue of ijusi magazine exemplifies this approach. For the launch issue he wanted to capture a sense of place of Durban. He went around the city hunting for signs of takeaway joints that sell bunny chow – the quintessential street food from Durban made with half a loaf of bread hollowed out and filled with curry.

Issue ten with the theme "African Blood Mixture" also encapsulates the ethos of the magazine as a whole: “It’s African; it’s blood, which is common to all of us and it’s a mixture, so it is not one thing in particular,” he says. 

Despite having travelled extensively he hasn't been able to find a context akin to Durban anywhere else:

In a South African context there are more creatives in more creative fields that have a connection to Durban than any other city. The problem is in order to survive and thrive most leave. I am old enough to understand that the sense of place Durban gives me is the perfect launchpad for the whole ijusi initiative because in a nutshell it is a magazine about a sense of place, he concludes.