Multidisciplinary artist Vuyo Mahashe taps the South African slang "Browski" for the title of his piece celebrating the beauty of the country as he sees it for the Swatch Calling initiative.
Multidisciplinary artist Vuyo Mahashe taps the South African slang "Browski" for the title of his piece celebrating the beauty of the country as he sees it for the Swatch Calling initiative.
Image: Supplied

East London-born dancer, choreographer and multidisciplinary artist Vuyo Mahashe is the SA winner in the Swatch Calling initiative, a design competition launched by Swatch at Expo 2020 Dubai.

Swatch is the official timing provider for the six-month-long event, which ends on March 31 2022. To celebrate the opening in October 2021, Swatch also revealed a new collection of special edition watches and four on-site concept stores. This is the sixth time the brand has been an official partner at a World Expo since the inaugural event was held in Canada in 1986. The Dubai showcase is the first World Expo to be held in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) region. It was delayed by one year due to the pandemic.

In the spirit of the Expo theme — “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future” — the Swatch Calling initiative was an invitation to emerging artists from all 192 participating nations to design a canvas for the brand’s Swatch X You customisation platform. Winning designs that celebrate a country’s culture by incorporating historical landmarks, fun facts or key visual elements are featured on Swatch X You channels for a month and are showcased at the Expo.

“When you wear a Swatch, reading the time is an experience. With a mix of materials, innovative light reflections on your wrist, subtle and shout-out-loud patterns, all of our watches let you express yourself just the way you want,” says Swatch on its website.

According to the judges, Mahashe’s artwork “captured the hearts and minds of many who dream of visiting and learning more about this vibrant and beautiful country”. His striking design, which incorporates symbols unique to SA, will be featured throughout March 2022.

“The vibrant colours and geometric shapes represent the landscapes of SA — from our mountains that stand proud to the deep-blue oceans. We may disagree on many things as South Africans, but we can always agree that ‘Local is Lekker’. This artwork is a good reminder of what a great and colourful nation we are,” says Mahashe.

Vuyo Mahashe.
Vuyo Mahashe.
Image: Daniel Meurer

A graduate of the Tshwane University of Technology and the Cape Academy of Performing Arts, Mahashe has worked locally with Cape Dance Company, Cape Town City Ballet, Darkroom Contemporary and Joburg Ballet. He is the founder of New Age African Ballet as well as the Browskies Group. Mahashe has trained with and performed work by luminary international choreographers. At the time of writing, he was preparing for an “unmissable” new staging by Sadlers Wells, the Pina Bausch Foundation and Ecole des Sables of Pina Bausch’s 1975 Rite of Spring at the Adelaide Festival in Australia.

Far from being idle during the pandemic, Mahashe says he pushed his creative limits by experimenting across art disciplines. In a Facebook post, he writes: “I have always believed myself and my brand to be broader than the confines of only being dancer or choreographer. I am so thankful to be exploring many different sides of my ideas and artistry. A special thanks to the exceptionally talented Phathu Designs for the fruitful collaboration and for producing the finishing details to the (Swatch Calling) illustrations.”

Vuyo Mahashe's full design for the Swatch Calling initiative.
Vuyo Mahashe's full design for the Swatch Calling initiative.
Image: Supplied

He says he has always admired Swatch for its ability to “embrace artists of all backgrounds”. Swatch loves art, and takes their creations beyond the practical. “More than a watch, a Swatch has always been a canvas on the wrist for artists all around the world,” says Swatch on its website.

His winning artwork was submitted under the Browskies Group banner, a young SA-based collective of artists from Mahashe’s home country as well as Germany. “I conceptualised the design and Phatu Nembilwi added the finishing touches to the illustration submitted to Swatch. My desire was to create art that best represents our diverse culture and heritage in SA. We are privileged to be living in such a beautiful country and I think we often take that for granted. I wanted this piece to represent that beauty,” says Mahashe.

He does wear a watch. Dancers need to keep time, right? He remembers the first watch gifted to him by his mother when he was still a child. “I think it was a plastic Spider-Man watch. I didn’t attach any significance to it at that young age though. Now I’m excited to own my first Swiss watch with my design. It’s a dream come true,” he says.

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