Voices for Africa

The Artwork ‘Africa’ by Graphic Artist Patrick Thomas

November 12, 2020

How the artwork Africa by renowned graphic artist Patrick Thomas became a powerful symbol of the Djimon Hounsou Foundation.

I think it’s beautiful to connect through an image, through art. As a graphic artist I put my work out there having no idea how people will respond. So, for it to – 20 years later – end up in a conversation and collaboration with you Djimon, is quite extraordinary.

DJIMON: Patrick, real pleasure talking to you today. Before we get started, let me briefly introduce myself to our audience. I am Djimon Hounsou, an actor and activist. I have appeared in numerous movies related to the theme of slavery such as Amistad, Gladiator and Blood Diamond. When I played Cinqué, an African slave who led a revolt on a Spanish slave ship, in Steven Spielberg’s film Amistad, this really opened my eyes to the devastating effects of the slave trade and the loss of connection between the uprooted souls of Africa and their motherland. This in turn inspired me to establish the Djimon Hounsou Foundation, a California-based nonprofit that aims to reconnect the Peoples of the African Diaspora with their roots.That said, it’s not me who is getting interviewed today, it’s you . I am very excited to introduce you all to Patrick. Or Patrick, why don’t you do that yourself?

PATRICK: Djimon, it’s an honor. I am Patrick Thomas, and as you know, not quite as well-known as you are. I usually try to avoid categories, however when pushed, I describe myself, as a graphic artist, although my practice is much broader than that. I am also an author and an educator. Interestingly, like yourself, I have always been a nomad. Born in Liverpool, I studied at the Royal College of Art in London before setting up an art and design studio in Barcelona. Eighteen years later I relocated to Germany, where I opened up a second space in Berlin where I am now. I am also a Professor of Communication Design at the Staatliche Akademie der Bildenden Künste (State Academy of Fine Arts) in Stuttgart, South Germany.

DJIMON: I can definitely relate to your nomad lifestyle, I moved from Benin, West Africa to France, and eventually to the United States. But while we always seem to have lived a thousand miles apart, our paths eventually crossed. Let me briefly summarize how: earlier this year, in 2020, I founded the Djimon Hounsou Foundation (DHF) to strengthen Africa’s intergenerational identity and self-awareness by reconnecting the African Diaspora with Africa and combatting modern-day slavery.

Doing so, I sought for a powerful symbol to convey the essence of our charity. When I finally came across your artwork Africa, it captivated my imagination right away. It is very much in line with what DHF stands for. That said, can you please show your artwork to us and tell us the story behind it?

PATRICK: Firstly, thank you for tracing the design back to me. This can’t have been easy given that my signature is famously pretty illegible! The piece Africa is 18 years old and was originally commissioned by La Vanguardia, the most popular daily newspaper from Catalonia, Spain. For seven years, I designed many covers for them, specifically for their financial supplement section ‘Dinero’. This image started life as one of that series and is my response to an article about an initiative of the IMF (International Monetary Fund) to financially support the African economy.

The artwork is simply a literal interpretation of the idea of the world aligning or grouping to help the African people. Quite often I play with ambiguity in my work, and this is a good example. Often people come up to me with their own takes and interpretations, which is something that I have always enjoyed. I like to leave space where people can project their own thoughts and ideas. I feel that it can be the kiss of death for an artist to over-explain a work because that can often shut down other possibilities of interpretation. Art should ask questions more than give concrete answers.

DJIMON: Indeed, the meaning of an artwork is always in the eye of the beholder. And that’s the beauty of it. As far as I am concerned, your artwork Africa touched me very profoundly. It says so much about me and my people. When I look at it, I see the stranded souls of the African Diaspora reconnecting with their African roots and culture. I see the countries of the world reuniting with the cradle of humankind, the mother of all mothers, Africa. In essence, I see a very powerful and positive symbol of Pan-Africanism.

PATRICK: This interpretation makes me very happy. The application of my artwork for such a cause seems an even better fit in many ways. When I think about it, I used to listen a lot to African soundtracks from the 80s when I created Africa, especially to Fela Kuti and Roy Ayers’ “Africa Centre of the World”. It’s quite possible that their message somehow influenced this piece on a subconscious level.

At any rate, when you initially explained the vision to me and asked for permission to use my artwork, it took me about one second to decide that I was 200% behind your amazing project.

DJIMON: Wow, thank you, Patrick. I am quite honored. Quite tellingly, this artwork is not the only project of yours with a connection to Africa …

PATRICK: True. Just two weeks before the COVID-19 lockdown in March, I was invited to South Africa to give a talk at a very prestigious conference called Design Indaba. Their mission is to inspire and empower people to create a better future through design and creativity. The organizers there very kindly put together an amazing teaching program that involved me and my assistant traveling around South Africa for 2 weeks working with local students on art projects. We held workshops in Johannesburg, Pretoria Durban and Cape Town. It was one of the most rewarding projects that I have ever worked on. I would love to return some time.

DJIMON: This sounds like an amazing trip. I can personally relate to that experience because Durban is where we filmed Blood Diamond with Leonardo DiCaprio. Well, all good things come to an end, and so does our interview. Patrick, thanks again for your support. Your artwork is a very meaningful contribution to our cause that clearly communicates the aspirations of our foundation. We are very humbled and are looking forward to continuing our collaboration with you. While this might be the end of our interview, this is the beginning of our partnership.

PATRICK: Thank you, Djimon. The honor is all mine. I think it’s beautiful to connect through an image, through art. I put my work out there having no idea how people will respond. So, for it to – 20 years later – lead to a conversation and collaboration with you Djimon, is quite extraordinary.

About Patrick Thomas

Patrick is a graphic artist, author and educator. He studied at Central Saint Martins and the Royal College of Art in London before relocating to Barcelona in 1991. He currently lives and works in Berlin, Germany.
If you appreciate Patrick’s art as much as we do, please don’t be shy and let him know: