"To speak a language is to take on a world, a culture."
                                                                         Frantz Fanon
Under Apartheid, black South Africans were prevented from living within town or city limits, forced to carry special identity documents, under the scrutiny of rigid pass laws. These pass books temporarily granted blacks access to the segregated economic hubs of South Africa, dominated by the minority whites. It was commonplace for migrant black laborers to partake in a grinding daily commute from their townships, often situated far outside the urban centers or within the homelands, only to complete the same journey back at the end every workday.

The pass laws were abolished in 1986, and by 1990, after Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, with the dismantling of the Apartheid regime pending; there was a massive influx of people from rural communities into the cities in search of work. Under this mass urban migration, as a means of survival, many people became informal street traders, selling anything from single cigarettes, to bananas, padlocks, and traditional medicines. Through sheer resourcefulness these somewhat vagabond street vendors began to promote themselves using rustic, self-made signage and advertising, almost instinctively utilizing graphic techniques to promote their services and products; peddling their wares in the most derelict of circumstances. Makeshift stalls were littered across the old transport depots, mainly taxi ranks and train stations, many hailing back to the time of the pass laws, and many still in existence to this day. The image below illustrates one such sign, stating “Shoe Repairs Here”. Garth Walker found this sign on an abandoned shopping trolley in front of Durban’s train station in 1994. A truly remarkable piece of hand-lettering, this sign would prove to be the starting-point for the Ijusi vernacular, signifying a pivotal moment in Walker's extensive South African Image Collection, now the largest extant anywhere in the world. 

From shoe repairs to editorial, Ijusi is an experimental magazine first published in the early years following South Africa’s first democratic elections circa 1994. From the beginning Ijusi posed an important question: “What makes me South African, and what does that ‘look’ like?” As was the case with the Soviet Union in 1917, the new social order begets a new visual order. With the demise of Apartheid Ijusi set out to gradually piece together the various cultural polemics, political dichotomies, and social potentialities that have evolved following South Africa’s transit post-1994, with the subtext: ‘If we live in Africa, we should look like Africa...’

Walker released the first issue of Ijusi (above) in early 1995 from his small studio in Durban; then called Orange Juice Design. From its inception Ijusi effectively showcased the burgeoning visual culture of a newborn South Africa. Resultantly, Ijusi has come to be recognized for its quality in diversity across the globe. Over the following years, subsequent issues have made invaluable contributions to ongoing discourses surrounding representation and identity in South Africa, specifically within the context of Graphic Design, Illustration, Typography, Writing, and Photography. 


Ijusi is still independently published by Walker in a small print run, roughly twice yearly from his Durban based graphic design studio, now called Mister Walker. Nearly two decades after the first issue was published, and nearing thirty published issues, Ijusi has become an historic visual record of South African culture, as well as an agitator for afro-centric design.

Ijusi’s influence within the South African design community is unparalleled. The magazine is theme-based, with previous issues focusing on anything from death, pornography, religion, and race, to typography and storytelling, all situated within the colloquial and demotic. Collaboration is another key term, not only amongst creatives in developing towards a finished publication, but also between other design outfits, notably BitterKomix (above). Collected and viewed together, all thirty-odd issues of Ijusi are a concise visual record of South African society since independence, incorporating all the subtleties of transformation, negotiation, and transition; a timeless reminder that design can have a conscience. 

Despite having a print-run in the low hundreds, Ijusi has developed a strong international following, achieving cult status largely due to its rarity and the fact that it has never been commercially for sale. Ijusi has always been free, handed-out to anybody who sees virtue in its perspective. The fact that Ijusi is Africa’s only experimental design magazine is also a factor in its popularity amongst collectors. Ijusi features in the collections of some of the world’s foremost art museums, despite having existed on a wing and a prayer, thanks to the generosity of various creatives, printers and suppliers whom have offered their talents and services gratis over the years.

Reaching the end of its second decade, Ijusi magazine, now accompanied by the Ijusi portfolios, has turned into a canonical body of work, testaments to a developing country effectively dealing with various socio-economic stratifications and cultural dichotomies. More so, Ijusi is a cultural institution, thanks to the combined efforts of South African artists and designers that are actively taking part in this ongoing cultural revolution. Ijusi is often satirical, readily utilizing parody, but the publication has never been a negative or even critical commentary on South Africa. Rather, Ijusi is a path of discovery, helping to establish the wealth of talent, rich traditions, hope and strong sense of heritage within South Africa, with its diverse cultural backgrounds, each with their own contribution to make, exposing a creative poignancy and visual vocabulary that is unrivaled anywhere else. 

For more information on Ijusi, and a concise digital library of all the published Ijusi magazines, visit: www.ijusi.com .

Text Copyright © Shane de Lange, Garth Walker, 2012.
Image Copyright © Garth Walker, 2012.

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