Tusk: The Partners’ tribal take on an ‘authentic’ Africa

Published:  December 8, 2014

London-based The Partners have created a new identity for Tusk and the annual Tusk Conservation Awards — celebrating those who have undertaken outstanding acts of environmentalism throughout Africa — using a composition of geometric shapes able to evolve from a tessellated pattern to a unique wordmark. Applauded across the global design industry, the identity is yet to stir question as to whether the graphic representation of an ‘authentic Africa’ considers the sensitivities of cultural appropriation.

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The rebranding sees an enlivening of a tired logo — formerly a silhouette of the African continent, which creative director Stuart Radford says, ”gets you to ‘Africa’ very quickly, but doesn’t feel African, in the sense that it doesn’t have much personality.” Wanting to add pattern in a ‘novel’ way, he continues to note that there wouldn’t be any integrity in adopting an existing pattern.

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“To create an emotional connection to Tusk’s roots, we looked into the cultural influences across the continent,” the studio explains. “Taking inspiration from tribal art, we designed a unique graphic pattern that encompasses the four letterforms of T-U-S-K in black, white and orange geometric shapes.” Earlier in the development, the branding contained a lot more colour, but was eventually stripped right back. “The orange retains some connection with the Tusk Trust brand and we felt this shade of orange was the strongest option in terms of feeling authentic.”

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As a cost effective way to raise the awards’ profile, a limited number of wristbands were created by a group of women in Enkiito, Kenya, to be given as tokens of thanks to supporters within the public eye. The studio say it was “quite a challenge trying to art direct [the women], from the UK – there were some issues incorporating the logo in to the beading technique, so we had to send a kind of bead-by-bead guide”.

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“Feeling authentic” is an interesting choice of words for the studio — that something ‘feels’ authentic, rather than ‘is’ authentic. Similar to our recent article challenging cultural appropriation, a generalised style of African tribal art has been appropriated, but all cultural meaning attached to the styles has been left behind, rendering the pattern meaningless. This also appears apparent in the ‘art direction’ of the Kenyan women who did the beading. Potentially, if traditional African artists or groups had been involved, something unique and ‘authentic’ could have been created, but instead, it is a graphic derivation that is superficial in meaning. The Partners appear to have stayed distant and aloof in this project, and not involving themselves in the grass roots Africa that they so heavily reference. Criticism over this, however, has been completely absent, or drowned in the initial wave of global praise.

It is undoubtedly a comprehensive, beautifully resolved identity and branding project, but perhaps their use of the term ‘authenticity’ should have been left behind.



One Response

  1. I was a little perplexed as to why Brand New failed to critique this re-brand for its cultural appropriation, glaringly obvious as it is. And even more disturbed that no-one commented on it in the comments section. Engage critically, rather than join in the circle jerk?

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