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Artist of the Month: Dolph Banza – Between Tradition and Afrofuturism

AMI is exploring this month the work of Dolph Banza, Rwandan illustrator at the head of the creative company InkStain based in Kigali.

We were introduced to Dolph's work through YaAdam Fye of Fyen Network, with whom we had spoken about the launch of the first Gambian animated series, “Princess Halima”. She revealed that Dolph Banza was the illustrator behind the Princess Halima character and we were curious to know more about him.

Dolph's work is fascinatingly diverse. Indeed, while he produces many illustrations for children's literature paying tribute to African cultural traditions in the broadest sense, he also produces creative work featuring black heroic characters evolving in futuristic universes.

In an interview with Dolph, we explored the fantastic world of illustration and animation.

Can you tell us a little bit about Inkstain and the work you do there as "Creative Director"?

Drawing has always been my favorite activity since I was very young, I had a dream of making it a profession later as an adult, after school I worked as engineer for half a year then decided to quit and try out my luck in the creative field. After working for a creative company for two years I decided to start my own, my own because I wanted a space where I could express myself freely. Back then there was no creative nor art school in Rwanda, so I had to train my people in order to have them as employees, I still do.

What kind of illustrations do you mainly do? When you make an illustration, do you prefer to have carte blanche or more specific instructions? What tools do you use?

Most of the drawings I make are meant for behaviour change communication, we help organisations to express themselves in the field of women empowerment, health and education mainly; time to time I also make children’s book.

Each task comes with its own challenges, I like listening to clients before I add in my own ideas, the outcome of my work is a mix of client’s instructions and my own or the team’s ideas.

Now I use the iPad pro as a drawing tool, drawing on iPad is like having your favourite toy as tool of trade.

You also do a lot of animation work, how did you get into this field?

The exponential rise of technology has filled the world with screens, information on the paper is static, on the screen it can be dynamic. Animation is illustration with an added dimension and any illustrator who wants to innovate looks at animation as the future of illustration.

I have always had interest in 2D animation, today it is easy to learn any skill online. I am proud to say that I was among the first people to make animation in Rwanda.

When we look at your work, we see a lot of illustrations featuring black characters or fantastic landscapes. Would you say these are your favorite subjects? Would you define your work influenced by Afrofuturism?

Apart from being an illustrator, I am also a science enthusiast, this is probably why there is a lot Afrofuturism in my work.

My interest in drawing black characters comes from the belief that we need to tell our own stories as Africans, when I look at ancient African masks I see artists who had great imagination in creating mystical stories that can be considered as an equivalent of today Sci-fi, I think today’s artists still have a long way to go to bring back the artistic greatness of the past.

Have you had any professional artistic training or do you consider yourself self-taught?

I consider myself a self-taught.

What are your first memories of creating art?

When I was a toddler, I didn’t have toys; my young brother was only one year younger, my mother would hand me a pen and paper to scribble things and she would have time to take care of my young brother too while I am busy scribbling. Slowly I started asking for my pen and paper frequently.

What does "drawing" mean to you?

I actually discovered that drawing was more scientific than people think, drawing to me is a study of the relationship between lines, the type of relationship between lines is the reason why you like the look of an item/object over an another. It’s called design.

Can you tell us about your creative process by choosing one of your illustrations and describing it in your own words?

The creative process can vary depending on the nature of the task but let me use my sci-fi female character “K’manza” to describe how I go about drawing.

I have interests in science, history, spirituality and design. I look for ways to mimic all those topics in my personal creations, this was the base to me creating this character, my concept.

First, I sketch out different figures, sketching is research, nothing is sure yet except the aim.

After sketching comes the inking process, this is where some of the lines are reinforced to make it in the final artwork. Colour comes in to join the ink, at this stage the initial sketch is gone. Colour doesn’t have to be just an element of embellishment but rather an element of storytelling. Layout is done when I have a fully coloured illustration, it consists of placing the illustration together with other elements like text or background.

Recently we interviewed YaAdam Fye from Fyen Network about their latest project, the "Princess Halima" series. Can you tell us about your meeting with the Fye sisters for whom you drew the character of Princess Halima?

I was happy to bring the Princess Halima to life, this project pushed me to explore the ancient Fulani culture in terms of clothing, props, architecture and so on. I liked the chemistry we developed with the Fye sisters while working on the project, I did not keep up with the project because I was going through a difficult phase with my company back then.

Who else have you had the opportunity to collaborate with?

I have and still collaborates with people from all around the world, but mostly people who have ties with Rwanda in particular or Africa in general.

You are based in Kigali, Rwanda, are you familiar with the local arts community? Do you participate in artistic events in Rwanda?

The art scene in Kigali is making its way, most artists operating in the similar fields know each other, I like to attend exhibitions and hang out with fellow artists.

What are you currently working on?

Right now, I am making a children’s book about oral health for a Nigerian nonprofit and a series of animated games for an international organization that put play at the center of children’s education.

Where can we see your work ?

My work can be seen on my personal Instagram page, on my InkStain’s Instagram page, and also on my company’s website.

What would you like to achieve in the next 5 years?

I want to move away from the commission universe and make room for my personal expression, to achieve that I will have to completely change my income model. I want to bring more science and more ancient and future Africa to my creations.

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