Africa Dispatches: Isaiah Wakoli’s digital dreamscapes
by Charlie Mathews (@CharlesLeeZA) Disruptive. Bold. Audacious. The keen interest of digital artist, Isaiah Wakoli, in human behaviour reverberates in his work, which reimagines people and places and contexts in Africa. The 26-year-old digital art director, who calls himself a ‘curious artist’, is gaining attention because of his fantastical dreamscapes that mash the ordinary with the extraordinary.
Wakoli says: “I am on a mission to do an image a day for 365 days, and then convert this into a book.” To do this the designer would pick an image and try and recreate it in a number of ways. This fantastical, trippy landscape, in which a child leads an elephant next to a series of pills, is one of the results of Wakoli stretching his imagination through a practice of daily discipline.
Wakoli hails from Kenya, and has been working in the creative industries since he turned 21. He says his biggest influences are the American comedian, filmmaker and screenwriter, Buster Keaton, as well as Chuck Jones. For those of you who aren’t obsessed with toons, Jones was a US animator and cartoonist who made more than 300 animated films and won three Oscars. He created characters like the Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote, Marvin the Martian, and Pepé Le Pew. Wakoli says an important lesson he’s learned from Keaton and Jones is discipline.
As an entrepreneur who runs a small design and animation studio, the best part is seeing something you’ve worked on come to life. “The worst part,” he admits, “is that there is always a rainy and a dry season. Sometimes you can’t tell how long a dry season will last. That’s my worst part.”
Given the brilliant, imaginative work Wakoli’s doing, it’s unlikely he’ll have a dry spell that will last for long. Africa Dispatches caught up with the young digital artist.
Africa Dispatches: Why should brands engage storytellers to tell their stories?
Isaiah Wakoli: Stories are the simplest way to connect your brands with current and potential customers. They provide the basis of which people can understand not only the purpose but the origin of your purpose — in essence, why your brand exists. Your brand story is the human element of your brand, which otherwise can be considered an institutional entity.
AD: Have you always been creative? How did your creative life unfold?
IW: Growing up I wasn’t really much exposed to the art scene, but I had always loved music and drawing. Music has always been my biggest influence. Watching music videos made me want to know more. We had a really old computer in the house when growing up, and I used to spend a lot of time working on Windows Movie Maker, just mashing up different homemade videos.
AD: In an age where there is so much information, how do stories capture attention?
IW: I have always believed in these three things. One — tell people stories they want to hear. Two — give people stories that they can’t get anywhere else. Three — leverage the stories to co-create.
“There is this hypothesis in technology that there will be a time where the invention of artificial, super-intelligence will abruptly trigger runaway technological growth, resulting in changes in civilisation, hence the name: ‘singularity’. In this piece I’m try to visualise how the Maasai people will look at that time without losing their culture.”
AD: Your work takes your audience to incredible new worlds. Is this your intention?
IW: It wasn’t really my intention. I started doing this to break the cycle from the kinds of work I was doing. I wanted to work on something that had no brief and that allowed me to express myself as much as I could. I like the response I am getting. Sometimes I think people don’t get these images, but that is fine.
AD: What inspires you?
IW: I’m inspired by light and colour. I love how light can fall a certain way onto an object. To me, colour always brings mood. I feel like you can communicate a lot with no words by just using light and colour.
AD: What motivates you?
IW: Doing a good job and achieving the desired outputs or even better. I like the idea of different creative minds colliding and creating iconic work that will be still relevant years to come.
AD: What have you learned during the past few years?
IW: There is a sea of creatives out there and the trick is to stand out. And the only way you do so is if you experiment a lot.
AD: What advice for young people wanting to enter the creative industries?
IW: If you really want something, then you have to make it part of your life. Work hard and enjoy it.
Follow him on Instagram.
“This image is based on the Asaro people in New Guinea. I thought it was interesting that ,when the village was raided, they hid on the river bed, and made masks out of clay, and covered themselves with mud. The Asaro emerged, thinking this was a disguise, and their enemies ran away, thinking they were spirits.”
Charles Lee Mathews (@CharlesLeeZA) is the founder of TheWriters.co.za, a boutique strategy and content shop that helps brands better connect — and engage with — the people who matter most. When not writing, or thinking about human behaviour, she is a contributing editor to MarkLives.com through her monthly “Africa Dispatches” column.