Artists We Love: Baba Tjeko

INTERVIEWED BY Michaela Stehr IMAGES courtesy of Baba Tjeko


Local artist and designer Baba Tjeko chats to VISI about the symbolism in his work, his creative process and his collab with MINI.

Image credit: Brandon Barnard Photography

Tell us a bit more about how you got into art. 

Growing up in the small Free State town of Vredefort, art has always been part of my life from as far back as I can remember. During my time at pre-school, I was fascinated by colours, crayons and magazines, and the love for creating and experimenting just kept growing. In high school (Barnard Molokoane High in Parys) I started reading about South African artists, such as Gerard Sekoto, George Pemba, Dumile Feni, David Koloane, and others, and I decided that it was something I wanted to pursue post Matric. Although I wanted to study Fine Art, I ended up studying Creative Multimedia, majoring in Advertising Design. 

What inspires your pieces? 

My work is highly inspired by the Basotho culture, stories of the marginalised black people and nostalgic colour palettes. I am driven to express both the vibrancy and depth of the African people and their culture. I see my role as playing a part in carrying through and evolving the Basotho culture and African principles in general. Being a great lover of colour and aesthetics, I enjoy combining the two to create beautiful balanced forms. I envision my work living in various unconventional spaces, such as architecture, fashion and interior design. 

Tell us about your collaboration with MINI.

I was approached by an agency that was working on MINI’s Modern African Gentleman campaign after they saw my work on social media. They were attracted by my unique Litema-inspired designs that have rich traditional influences and contemporary appeal. The brief resonated so much with me because it spoke of a man who is deeply rooted in his traditional background while he confidently exists in a contemporary space without losing his identity. I created an artwork for a special-edition of 20 MINI Clubman cars that featured my bespoke graphics on the roof and side-mirror caps. There was great feedback from people who loved the work, so the collaboration was a success.

What is the difference between the process for your portraits versus your abstract pieces? 

There is not much difference as my process of creating is very much spiritual and meditative. I get into a mode of being guided by inspiration and intuition that determines the mediums, the style and the outcome of the final work. 

Do your colours hold any symbolism? 

My colours are very much inspired by a nostalgic palette. With the work I do, I need to reconnect with the past and be in touch with the energy of the times. My colour choices symbolise old values and substance. I think there is something soulful and profound about the old era that resonates with the person I am. 

Do you have a particular piece that is important to you? 

I think it’s the one I did for MINI South Africa because not only is it aesthetically pleasing but it has inspired a lot of young people in villages and rural townships to believe in their talents and cultural heritage. 

Are there any local artists you admire? 

I admire Laduma Ngxokolo and Nelson Makamo for taking ownership of their work, for their humility and the financial success they continue to achieve. 

What are your plans for 2021? 

I am working on a product range that aims to communicate the idea of a united Africa. I may not be able to go into details, but it’s one item that many young Africans would proudly love to own – and I am excited about it. 

Where can people get hold of your work? 

My work can be viewed on Instagram (@baba_tjeko) and a catalogue of my limited-edition prints can be requested via info@babatjeko.co.za.