This illustrator’s striking work honours the women who shaped South Africa

Ruramai Musekiwa grew up around strong African women. These powerful figures moulded her perception of the world, developing within her the personal conviction to strive for greatness. But the media’s representations of black women told a different story. If they were depicted at all they were weak, marginalised. This false image of the role models she knew tore at Musekiwa. And she wouldn’t stand for it.

Motivated by her desire to reconstruct the media’s skewed idea of black women, Musekiwa pursued a career in the arts. Now a graphic designer and illustrator, she has created a series of posters titled “Sibahle”, meaning “we are beautiful”, to honour the black women who have shaped South Africa. The art captures the likes of Miriam Makeba, Noni Gasa and Simphiwe Dana in striking style, giving young women an inspiring reference point for what they might one day achieve. This is much more than a collection of beautiful pictures – it’s a long-overdue social movement.

“I’d like for young girls to understand that there is beauty in uniqueness,” says Musekiwa. “You can’t offer anything to the world when you don’t recognise your worth.” The successful people we identify with in the media become our personal idols, and those with the ability to speak universally can develop into global icons. But, though our world is richer for its exposure to global trend setters, we’d be remiss to forget that South Africa is full of its own heroes. Musekiwa’s work offers the chance to celebrate a particularly special group of them.

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