After learning how to create emojis through YouTube tutorials in 2017, O’Plerou Grebet an Ivorian digital artist and art student at the Institute of Sciences and Communication Techniques in Abidjan, dedicated everyday of 2018 to creating and posting a new culturally relevant emoji.
Grebet told CNN the genesis of his project saying, “I noticed that media and most articles about Africa were talking about the bad sides of the continent only. They reduced the image of it to a land in war where people are poor and hungry. These elements are true but it’s not everywhere on the continent.”
His designs draw from history and contemporary African life. In fact, his first emoji was of Foutou, a staple Ivorian meal made from ground cassava flour and mashed plantains.
He told the publication that the process was a natural progression for him, “It was not really hard because I know how to draw with my hand, so, it’s like I just transposed the skills to the computer.”
Other emojis he’s designed include a traditional three-legged pot used to make ‘Potjiekos‘, a local South African meal, ‘Crece‘, a delicious crispy snack sold in Ivory coast, zebra-striped plastic teakettle sold in Senegalese markets and a ‘shekere’, a West African percussion instrument made with a dried gourd.
The digital artist went on to incorporate his over 350 emojis into an app which he called ‘Zouzoukwa‘ meaning “image” in the Bete language of Ivory Coast
“I think the app was important because I really wanted people to be able to use my work in their conversations, and have stickers that correspond to their realities,” he explained.
It is reported that the app has been downloaded more than 120,000 times on Google Play and the Apple app store. It also went on to be nominated for the best app of 2019 by the African Talents Awards, which celebrates young Africans in creative fields.
Grebet said he is committed to doing more to tell African stories with his emojis. He plans to create merchandise from his art and travel the continent to gain more inspiration.
For the sale of merchandise, he told the New Yorker he hopes to start an e-commerce site, “so people could buy clothes, phone cases and other objects made from my work.” adding that he aims to continue “sharing African culture” using augmented reality.
He also explained that engaging with his audience also matters, “People reach out to tell me what they think I should design, or what they think is missing… Those interactions are some of the aspects I like best about what I do.”
“I have to travel and discover other African countries,” he said. “I have to immerse myself in their cultures in order to create emojis that truly represent them, instead of looking for pictures on the internet about meals I never tasted or places I never went to.”