Karabo Poppy Moletsane is a graphic designer, illustrator and street artist. Picture: Supplied
Karabo Poppy Moletsane is a graphic designer, illustrator and street artist. Picture: Supplied

How being inspired by her heritage has made Karabo Poppy one of the most in-demand artists

By Thobile Mazibuko Time of article published Sep 26, 2021

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You cannot talk about illustrations without mentioning the name Karabo “Poppy” Moletsane. The 28-year-old has made a mark for herself as one of the best street artists in Mzansi.

And that has made her one of the most in-demand artists, not only country, but on the continent as well. And it makes sense because she is heavily inspired by the visual aesthetic of the continent.

She looks to both our traditional and contemporary heritage, to innovate her aesthetics of what constitutes African design.

“I believe that it is in the everyday seemingly mundane events where this aesthetic is at its most beautiful to me. So I set out to preserve and celebrate it in my work and represent the unrepresented,” she wrote on her website.

Poppy has worked with several major brands, including and most famously, Nike. In 2019, she designed an exclusive range of Air Force 1 that were popular among basketball players such as Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, who created more interest. The Lakers star wore the NikeAF1XKarabo Poppy sneakers during last year’s play-offs in Los Angeles.

That sneaker design won the BASA Beyond Border Partnership Award.

In 2019, she was listed on Forbes “30 Under 30” under the creative category. Again last year, she was named “Creative of the Year” by Between 10and5.

She also features in the music scenes as she is the designer behind the cover of Vol. 3 of Music For The Movement, which features Yara Shahidi, Chlöe Bailey and many others. She has also designed music covers for Nigeria’s Burna Boy, Manu World Star and Black Coffee - to name but a few.

Moletsane has also done work for the first African series on Netflix, Queen Sono, and When They See Us. She also worked with Converse, Absolut Vokda, K-Way, Stylin’, Pond’s, and many other brands.

It’s partly why she was the obvious choice to design the limited edition can for coffee brand, Ricoffy’s 50th anniversary.

Limited edition Nescafé Ricoffy designed by Karabo Poppy. Picture: Supplied.

“I’m so honoured to have got to tell our country’s story of ‘beauty within diversity’ on a product that has been part of many a story time about my heritage between my father and I. This limited-edition tin design was inspired by how much about our culture and heritage is shared through storytelling and encourages us to listen more to the stories of others around us too,” says Poppy.

She has always wanted to collaborate and support other artists and designers in the industry. And that has resulted in a new campaign, The Breathing Space, with Halls.

The programme is a dedicated hub in the centre of Joburg, where up-and-coming artists and designers can breathe for their craft and bring their flavour to life in the freshest ways, under Poppy’s guidance and mentorship

The results are that she will be mentoring two fine artists, a fashion designer, a collage artist, an illustrator and a typographer, and helping them get to another level with their work.

“I will be working with six incredibly talented and diverse creatives on a series of projects/tasks in the hope of accelerating their careers by sharing my expertise and experience, as well as working with them on honing in their different crafts. The mentees were chosen from an open call on Instagram where I received over 1 000 portfolios. I chose these six creatives for their potential, talent and a desire to collaborate with them,” Moletsane says.

Although she has been in the game for some time, as an artist, she constantly needs something to inspire her work. To make sure she’s always on top of her game, Moletsane takes walks through Joburg and Pretoria CBD to look at and experience great examples of a contemporary African aesthetic and examples of the beauty in every day of these areas.

Poppy will also collaborate with the artists to release different bodies of work after the programme.

As a queer person who advocates for LGBTQ+ rights, she celebrated this year’s Pride Month (Pride Month was in June) by collaborating with Disney Plus to design the character of Thalia from Hercules.

Speaking of that collaboration, she said: “I am using my art to continue celebrating and encouraging pride in being yourself by illustrating Thalia. It's not often you see a plus-sized Black Disney+ character, so I wanted to celebrate and honour this representation too as we take this month to remember equal rights for all.”

Thalia from Hercules designed by Karabo Poppy. Picture: Instagram/@karabo_poppy.
Nike AF1 sneaker painted by Karabo Poppy. Picture: Instagram/@karabo_poppy.

In July last year, Moletsane collaborated with one of South Africa’s finest fashion designers, Rich Mnisi, to release a collection inspired by the lockdown.

Speaking about the collection at the time, she said: “I am so proud to introduce the @rich_mnisi x KARABO POPPY 'Running Errands' collaboration is OUT NOW! An errand-wear capsule collection which combines different artistic styles intersecting multiple identities just as complex as our country with diverse people and cultures puzzled together.”

This article first appeared in Sunday Insider, Sep 26, 2021

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