01 Jun The Africa Centre Unveils New Logo and Brand Identity
New Era: The Africa Centre Rebrands
For almost six decades, The Africa Centre has been known as a cultural hub that celebrates African identity and creativity. The charity has a proud record of hosting generations of Africans in the diaspora seeking a sense of home and community. As it moves into a new phase of its existence, it will continue to champion the cause for Africa and serve its diverse communities.
Autumn 2021 will see the opening of The Africa Centre’s new headquarters in Southwark, London. The building will comprise an African restaurant and bar, an exhibition space, learning and research and business centre. With all these exciting developments, it appeared an opportune time to rethink the centre’s brand identity. Following a robust process towards the end of 2020, The Africa Centre commissioned South African design studio Mam’gobozi Design Factory to create a new logo that would carry the institution into the 21st century.
Nontokozo and Osmond founded Mam’gobozi in 2016 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Their playful collaboration began with the creation of greeting cards with messages in local African languages. This desire to represent African identity and expression has always been at the heart of Mam’gobozi’s work. The studio has since grown into a platform through which the pair could experiment and play, a creative space without rules.
They understood that the discipline of graphic design was founded on western principles and have been working to find space for other identities and forms of expression within the field. A space for voices in their mother tongues. Many of their projects are still self-initiated.
“We’re solutionists,” explains Tshuma. “We don’t just want to make a logo. It’s always about giving you an identity in a way that makes you proud. There is an underlying African identity in everything we do. That is who we are.”
The two designers were tasked with conveying the richness and diversity of Africa in an image that would become the crest of the new Africa Centre.
The centre has always been a strong voice against the stereotypes about Africa, and the too-familiar shape of the continent – powerful though the symbol is – has been retired from the logo. Africa is more than the map, and the centre’s doors are open to any African from anywhere in the world, and to everyone else who wants to come and learn about Africa. The geography, therefore, seemed an unnecessarily limited understanding of the offering.
Tshuma and Tshabalala wanted to showcase Africa as a place of knowledge and the birthplace of humanity. Their design process is explorative, and as they dug into ways of representing Africa they came to a few dead ends.
“With every single project, we try to be critical. We asked ourselves this – what does the symbol really mean? In the quest to create these visual identities we always try to question the original things that we reference. Everything has been colonised. So, it’s also important in our process to do the research into that particular thing that we claim as African,” says Tshabalala. “We enjoy taking one step back with the client. It looks pretty, but these are the concerns. That engagement is always very rich.”
Vision and inspiration
The designers chose to approach the project in a different way. The Africa Centre offers a place where people can come together and find a sense of unity.
“With unity comes rebirth,” explains Tshuma. “And a new way of seeing things. When you share a moment with someone from another African country, you start to understand who they are. That moment is almost like a rebirth. You learn things, it shifts your perspective. So, with unity comes rebirth, and with that comes many forms of knowledge and wisdom.”
They began to look for symbols that are used from Cape to Cairo that represent this kind of wisdom. They gathered African graphics from all four compass points and the heart of the continent.
The symbols include an Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic that means rebirth, an Imazighen symbol that means wisdom, an Adinkra sign meaning knowledge, a Nsibidi image meaning wisdom, a Luba symbol meaning Unity and a Ndebele symbol meaning knowledge. The five pan-African symbols are placed together to form a totem, a spiritually significant symbol that is across Africa for protection. It is recognisable by all generations and all peoples.
This totem has been adopted as the new emblem of The Africa Centre and is complemented by text in the Mutapa Font, an African inspired typeface that was created by Zimbabwean designer Tapiwanashe Sebastian Garikayi. The totem depicts a vertical structure, which represents the building itself – a holding ship for the knowledge, wisdom and unity of Africa. Those who come together in The Africa Centre can access and gain this knowledge, share stories and find a sense of home.
“Our work is specifically for us, our history and our people,” says Tshabalala. “As we create, we are also learning about where the symbols come from. Digging up of that information enables us to learn more about our countries and the connections that we have, rather than the borders that were created by the west.”
The Africa Centre is a home away from home, an African embassy of sorts that is based in London. It offers a place of refuge, celebration and entertainment. This new logo will come to represent this to the people who already cherish the centre, and to the new cohort of people whom the building waits to welcome.
The Africa Centre’s Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Belvin Tawuya said: “We specifically sought an Africa-based design agency to help us create an original, compelling and inclusive brand identity. Mam’gobozi Design Factory was appointed following a very competitive process, they stood out because of their design thinking, which is rooted in African identity, culture and heritage”.
“There is a very rich and powerful narrative behind our new logo and we proud of what Mam’gobozi has delivered.”
The Africa Centre’s new branding can be seen on the recently installed hoarding design at the site of the charity’s new flagship building in Southwark, London. The artwork was jointly created by Aurélia Durand, who designed vibrant Afro-Pop illustrations and visual artist Sani Sani, who painted a mural with the help of students from nearby Borough Academy.