Pola Maneli illustrates South African identity politics

Ad feature: In partnership with Design Indaba, Cape Town’s festival of creativity, Design Week is highlighting the work of a series of South African creatives over the coming weeks.

In this piece, we talk to Pola Maneli.

Rice by Pola Maneli
Rice by Pola Maneli

After a stretch moonlighting as an illustrator, Pola Maneli quit a promising career in advertising to pursue a full-time freelance career. Maneli, a 2014 Design Indaba emerging creative, started off as a graphic designer in Port Elizabeth before relocating to Cape Town to work as an art director at Ogilvy & Mather.

“The cool thing about coming to Cape Town [from Port Elizabeth] is that shit – the identity politics – and how it affects different people’s lives to varying degrees. It has become so much more focused and more prominent in my life since moving here,” Maneli says.

His work often has a political agenda and looks at everything from pop culture and identity politics, to governance and online activism, like the #blacklivesmatter campaign.

Social Issues in South Africa

Maneli’s work also very specifically references social issues in South Africa, such as the stigma surrounding HIV\AIDS, police brutality and the perceived life of excess lived by South African president Jacob Zuma; work that he feels didn’t often align with his job in advertising.

“Advertising – I got so disillusioned with it,” Maneli says. “The thing with the advertising industry is that it’s just a majority of white guys who don’t know about any of that stuff. It’s this space of constant micro-aggression, people telling jokes that they don’t know are insensitive and you can’t exactly call them out on that because where do you begin?”

Now no longer an ad-man, Maneli is able to devote time to creating work, which responds to the socio-political milieu in South Africa. He presented two art pieces at Protest, a group exhibition held at Hazard Gallery in Johannesburg. Curated by Beathur Mgoza Baker, the show represented artists and artworks that engage with notions of resistance in South Africa.

A lifestyle of excess

The first of Maneli’s two pieces, “All that Power” was a commentary on the President Jacob Zuma’s lifestyle of excess and what Maneli reads as an absolute commitment to a life of hedonism. The second piece, called “Rice”, is a reference to the “rice incident” in Bizana, Eastern Cape. A truck containing rice and sugar overturned near an informal settlement in the region and the community members helped themselves to the fallen contents.

“We used to do this all the time when we were kids,” says Maneli. “If a truck overturned it was like Christmas. There was an unspoken agreement between the people ‘looting’ and the driver.”

On this particular day, this unspoken agreement was breached when the police arrived and fired live ammunition into the crowd, killing two and injuring 11.

“I was thinking how weird it is that those people who are poor were killed because they wanted rice,” Maneli says.

Not just sociopolitical

But his work is not all about Jacob Zuma and police shootings. Maneli also has a love for street culture and popular culture – “making stuff that is still undeniably cool”, he says. His latest collection of illustrations, “Street Wear”, is a series inspired by the street style and the street photography movement being mastered by South Africans such as Trevor Stuurman.

It’s still early days for Maneli but he enjoys freelancing because he says it allows him to “control and curate”.

To see more of Pola Maneli’s work see his behance page.

To see the full collection of featured South African creatives go to designindaba.com/southafricandesign.

Rice by Pola Maneli
Rice by Pola Maneli
From the Stranger Grapes exhibition held in Port Elizabeth, 2016
From the Stranger Grapes exhibition held in Port Elizabeth, 2016
Truths & Affirmations by Pola Maneli

Truths & Affirmations by Pola Maneli

Street Wear by Pola Maneli
Street Wear by Pola Maneli
Created for the cover of Vida e Caffé's Obrigado magazine
Created for the cover of Vida e Caffé’s Obrigado magazine
All that Power, is inspired by Kanye West's song Power
All that Power, is inspired by Kanye West’s song Power


Start the discussionStart the discussion
  • Post a comment

Latest articles