A magazine for Africans and friends of Africa...Our Voices, Our Vision, Our Culture

Meditations on Illustration: An African Artist Reveals His Muse
By Ngong Ngangmuta

The beauty of being an illustrator is the inspiration and creativity it affords one. My earliest memories of drawing are from grade school in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The day I discovered my passion for illustration something just clicked. It was as if I discovered the answer to a question I did not know I was asking. As though it was always meant to be. To me illustration has always been a calling, a destiny and a journey.

If one was to start from this point and trace back through my life you would discover it is a study in illustration and form. The world through my eyes is line and form moving seamlessly in a delicate dance. What illustrators do is try to capture moments of this inner symmetry and realize them in ink and paint. To create visions of things imagined, things hoped for, or things that could be.

I see myself creating artwork that has a purpose outside of the generation of money. My work presents African mythology, legend and history in a comic book form that has mass appeal- especially to young African children. Attending the American school in Addis I asked my 5th grade teacher why we only studied American history. She asked me why not- did I want to study African history? I want my art to educate kids- African and diaspora kids- about the richness of their own denied history and heritage. Kids who have traditionally looked solely to the West for heroes. 

Zeus, Apollo and Hercules are well known but what about African gods or African creation myths. Our folklore, history and mythology are not taught to youths in schools here or on the continent and are not readily available like that of other ancient civilizations. My heroes are drawn from these fertile African sources including inspiration from West African Anansi spider lore and ancient Egyptian culture.

Tracing back my influences what comes to mind is a sense of mastery. All the artists and works that have touched me have had a great sense of craft, pride and authority. My respect for master artisans stems from growing up in back home and listening to men and women of authority speak of their crafts. It became apparent to me at a very early age that if one was to accomplish anything in life it must be done with pride and mastery. So it has been this sense and feel that I have sought out in other illustrators. The style has never really matter just the sense. Thus artists from Marcel DuChamp to Jim Lee have all left their mark upon me and have pushed me to find my own voice on 8 1/2 x11 sheets of paper.

Ngong Ngangmuta, 30, is an artist/illustrator born in DC but raised in Addis Ababa to Cameroonian parents. His multicultural upbringing has exposed him to art from a plethora of cultures. He works in several different mediums as a sculptor, jeweler, photographer and illustrator. To see more of his work visitwww.myspace.com/zjiro