Dodgy Design?

Even the packaging of eKapa was problematic, reports Kim Gurney

Sessions eKapa opened up avenues of thought in unpredictable ways, best exemplified by the Ofili-esque design on promotional T-shirts and posters, according to eKapa co-ordinator Julian Jonker. He said the design caused controversy even within Cape as to whether the portrayal of a black head with exaggerated features was inappropriate or exactly on point. The design provoked a silent protest from a group of delegates (dubbed “Coon Revolution”) who appeared on the final day sporting both accused T-shirt and faces painted.

Jonker felt the intervention was appropriate and head turning, given Cape Town’s particular challenges of identity and representation. He said in an open letter on Cape’s website: “There were calls throughout the conference for a new critical language and this witty and uncompromising performance was certainly a closer stab at it than some of the histrionics of the day.”

Scholar Thembinkosi Goniwe also referred to the T-shirt in his panel presentation: “Cape Town is very Eurocentric and colonial and yet this T-shirt is black.”

But the man behind the design, Peet Pienaar, was nonplussed. He said that in addition to the exaggerated facial features, other objections included the gold necklace (interpreted as bones) and the gold star on the tooth. Pienaar thought it all a storm in a teacup and said he was trying to design the funkiest person he could conceive.

“If we had done a completely minimalist western design, no-one would have said anything because that is what most people want to be: bad and second-hand versions of the west. Look at most design around us — we become lame versions of the west and call it aspirational,” he said.

Goniwe has previously taken issue with Pienaar’s work, in particular a proposal in 2000 to undergo a public circumcision as a performance piece. At the time, Goniwe expressed concern about the appropriation of a ritual and its consequent reduction to a commodity.