Lakwena Maciver: A little bit of Africa on every street

This Ugandan-British artist turns words into titanic pops of colour on city streets all over the world.

London-based artist Lakwena Maciver’s huge outdoor murals may be influenced by the exuberant scale of neon signs in Las Vegas but her most recent work, commissioned for the Africa Calling exhibition at London’s Southbank, drew on her African heritage.

Maciver visited her father’s home in Uganda for the first time as an adult and her installation for the exhibition is bred out of this experience. During her trip she snapped photos of patterned minibus taxis and the intricate grille work on building facades.

For Africa Calling – curated by Kathy Shenoy of ethical online store Shake the Dust and Liezel Strauss of Subject Matter Art and the My Japan photographic project – she presented three small wooden-panel paintings. Emblazoned with the words “karibu” (“welcome” in Swahili) and “paco” (“home” in the Ugandan dialect of Acoli), they are rendered in striking colours and graphic patterns.

“These pieces are a way of processing what I experienced there and the idea of ‘home’. They’re about understanding who I am and where I come from.”

Her body of work centres on signage, language and social phrases.

Language is really important in what I do... Words, typography and language – the meaning and the actual visual look of words.

She creates work in multiple media that lives inside galleries, on the street and sometimes on apparel and products for brands such as Adidas, Converse, Diesel, Palladium Boots, Red Bull and Toms.

Maciver’s street murals are titanic and painted in brilliant colours reminiscent of early Technicolor films. The first one she ever painted, saying “I Remember Paradise” on a wall in Miami, has lettering that is taller than her.

The London-based designer grew up predominantly in England but she is preoccupied with things that reference her African roots.

Her aesthetic is made up of bold graphics, geometric fields, text and bright colours: “This is influenced by what I saw growing up and what appealed to me – which were the things that referenced my African heritage.”