Saki Mafundikwa:

Visual Communicator, Design Educator, Author, Filmmaker, and Farmer.

I am a visual communicator, design educator, artist, author and even more importantly, a farmer. I dedicate my life to sharing Zimbabwean culture through design, film, and education. Afrika has to find Afrikan solutions to her problems otherwise we will always be colonized by others.

I graduated with an MFA in Graphic Design from Yale University in 1985. A TED2013 speaker, I currently lead workshops and lecture in universities throughout the world, helping designers create a new visual language by understanding their own culture. It’s my personal goal to transform global awareness of typography, symbolism, and design culture.

“As the original people, children of the sun, we have such a rich bounty of inspiration: our music, dance and art – they are all connected, there is no separation. Sankofa: learn from our rich past in order to inform our lives today and the future.”

Afrikan Alphabets debunk the myth of the dark continent. They lay to rest the lies born of ignorance that have been leveled on beautiful momma Afrika.”

“The story is at the beginning.”

“We must go to the past so as to inform our present and build on the future.”

“Sometimes you have to leave home to discover yourself. If I hadn’t left home, I would never have become a graphic designer, and I would never have discovered African alphabets.”

“Art was not taught in school when I grew up in Zimbabwe. I taught myself drawing through observation of nature and everyday life. As a kid, I always doodled, and my doodles were always letter forms. I didn’t know that the letters I saw in books were printed by printing presses, I thought they were hand-drawn. And so, I developed a love of typography from a very young age. It is only when I came to the US in 1980 that I realized that what I had been doing for so long was called ‘graphic design’.”

Afrikan Alphabets debunk the myth of the dark continent.

My graduate work in typography led to expertise in the written traditions of the many Afrikan alphabets and their symbolic representation. These studies led to a comprehensive review of African writing systems, ‘Afrikan Alphabets, The Story of Writing in Afrika’, published by Mark Batty in 2004. It presents more than twenty African symbol systems and alphabets in use. It is currently being considered for an updated second edition by Cassava Republic Press, London.

 “I see Afrikan alphabets offering a breath of fresh air that can rescue the Roman alphabet from the vagaries of style and trends. As a typographer, and more importantly as a designer, I am in the business of the creation and peddling of ‘Beauty’. Aesthetic value has gone out of typography in recent memory. Afrikan alphabets offer a more aesthetically pleasing perspective and alternative.”

“The creation of a new visual language looks inward for influence.”

I have learned a lot about design and design education in the past forty years. It’s been a long road full of lessons. I continue to learn about design — especially from Afrika and other non-Western societies. It has always been my dream, hope, and wish that Afrika makes an indelible mark on the field of DESIGN.

Literally means when you climb a good tree. A symbol of support for good causes. This is from the Akan aphorism, “Woforo dua pa a na yepia wo,” which translates, “It is when you climb a good tree, that we support you.”

I am often called upon to bring my knowledge of Afrikan design to the western world through workshops and lectures.

During the early 90s in New York, I was an Art Director at Random House, I also ran my own design studio, and I taught design as an adjunct professor.

After a decade in New York’s design world, I returned home to start the Zimbabwe Institute of Vigital Arts (ZIVA) whose doors opened in 1999. I wasn’t happy with the work coming out of my country and decided that Zimbabwe deserved a world-class design school that looked within our very beautiful country for design inspiration. The idea was for a sort of “Afrikan Bauhaus”. Politics derailed my dream as prospective funders balked at Robert Mugabe’s autocratic rule of Zimbabwe. The school ran for twenty years without funding. Despite these challenges, many of my students have found career success in design firms, corporations, and international design schools.


Recorded Presentations and Lectures Short List

TED Talent Search 2012

TED conference, Long Beach CA 2013

World Domination Summit, Portland OR 2014

TEDGlobal 2017

Civilization Design Lecture Series

Letterform Archive 2020

Vigital is a word of my own creation, coined to describe the zeitgeist intersection of digital tools and visual arts in design today. ZIVA is also the word for ‘knowledge’ in Shona.

“It was the most natural thing for me to come home and start a school of design. Because I figured, my god, how many hundreds of young people in Zimbabwe would never know there is a field called graphic design. It was the right thing for me to do, because I felt so fortunate that I was able to figure it out.”

“….Afrika is the source of it all. Let us go back to the source. The western world is looking to Afrika again for inspiration. This time they won’t simply walk in and take it (in fact, they don’t want to!) – rather, they will learn from us; there will be mutual respect for each other’s intellectual and creative property. There will be an equal flow of information and knowledge from north to south and vice-versa. That is the new order, and we are starting to create it now. ZIVA is only a small step in the right direction. We need more people who care to join us and chart the way forward.”

“The dream is for something to come out of Afrika
that is of Afrika.”

Literally means UAC lights. A symbol of technological advancement. Television is an emerging technology in Ghana. And this has translated into how we have embraced filmmaking in Ghana and other parts of Africa.

A personal statement about the power of film and its ability to bring stories to life would be good here.

Feature Length Film

Shungu: The Resilience of a People, 2009, an objective, in-depth look at the causes and effects of Zimbabwe’s political and economic decline through the voices of ordinary Zimbabweans, 54 min. (Password: rumbi2015_8172)

World Premiere: 2009’s International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA).

Official Selection: Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival (Greece), 2010.

Winner: Ousmane Sembene Award at the Zanzibar International Film Festival, 2010.

Winner: Best Documentary at Kenya International Film Festival, 2010.

Shungu: The Resilience of a People, 2009, an objective, in-depth look at the causes and effects of Zimbabwe’s political and economic decline through the voices of ordinary Zimbabweans.

Short Films

Heartline, 2018, a profile of Portland, OR Heartline installations by Joe Thurston, Horatio Hung-Yan Law, Daniel Mihalyo and Annie Han (Lead Pencil Studio), and Ethan Rose, 9.45 min. (Password: heart)

Kinects, 2017, a profile of Seattle Kinects installations by Wynia, Casey Curran and Ray Freeman, John Fleming, and Ethan Rose, 9.06 min. (Password: kinects)

Le Luminarie, 2013, A stroll through the annual light festival of Castrignano dei Greci

from 2013 workshop in Southern Italy, 11.45 min.

Dominic Benhura , 2011, a profile of top Zimbabwean stone sculptor Dominic Benhura, 15.14 min.

Basilwizi: People of the Great River, work in progress, 2010. “Basilwizi Trailer” 9.57 min.

Jerusarema Dance, 2007, 30 min

A profile of the traditional dance, Jerusarema, as performed in Murehwa, Zimbabwe, created on the occasion of its recognition as a “masterpiece of humanity” by UNESCO.

Mhuri Yekwa Simbanegavi, 2007, 15 min.
A short documentary about a rural family of musicians who make and play the traditional instrument, mbira.

Luciano in Zimbabwe, 2007, 13 min.
A profile of the visit and performance of reggae artist, Luciano in Zimbabwe in 2007.

Literally means he who does not know. A symbol of knowledge and learning. This Adinkra symbol relevantly and symbolically fit to represent the designer; as an ever evolving, ever learning creature.

Literally means King of Adinkra symbols. A symbol of leadership and charisma. This Adinkra symbol holds authority on any other Adinkra symbol. Authors are people who hold authority on certain subjects/topics.

Literally means bunch of cola nuts. A symbol of affluence, power, and abundance. The Farmer brings in abundance of what we need to survive. There are several Akan proverbs about cola nuts that attest to this truth.

I have a piece of land outside of Harare where I do organic farming, rear cattle and goats and would like to put up some greenhouses for horticulture. 

About the farm
I see a strong connecting line between all the things I do. The design school I run in Harare, the books I write, the films I make and the organic farming – they are all connected. Each one informs the other..

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