By Ashleigh Lakieva Atwell

A West African man created over 350 emojis based on his culture after being underwhelmed by the lack of options.

O’Plerou Grebet of the Ivory Coast started making emojis with his people in mind and launched Zouzoukwa, meaning “image” in the Bété language.

“Basically, my idea was to create emojis so Africans can have emojis they can relate to,” he explained to BBC.

The images include an array of popular food dishes, regional transit and dark-skinned Black people making faces typically used by Africans.

The idea struck him suddenly while he was conversing with a friend on WhatsApp.

“Seeing all the smileys embedded in the application, I thought that was missing some to describe our Ivorian realities, to make our jokes,” the 21-year-old recalled to French publication Le Monde in 2018. “And I thought I could create it myself!”

Grebet didn’t have to look far for inspiration.

“Everything I see around me, on a daily basis, inspires me,” he said. “I draw for a very long time, alone in my room, first on paper and then on the Photoshop software.”

When he shared the first image, a plate of cassava and plantain, on Instagram it received over 1,000 likes. So far, he’s won two awards for his work. As for what’s next for Grebet, he has some lofty goals.

“The next step for me, after Zouzoukwa, is to learn about 3D and virtual reality, in order to create filters and find a new way to pay tribute to the African culture,” he said.

Described as a shy graphic design artist, Grebet won the Young Talent Award at the Africa Digital Communication Days back in March.

The rising tech entrepreneur collaborated with the French channel Canal+ to feature his emojis on social platforms during the football World Cup over the summer.

He said his parents gave him the creative freedom to “let him follow his passion” which ultimately led to Zouzoukwa.

Zouzoukwa is only available on Android devices right now, but Grebet is working on expansion.

He wants to “create an application that allows Zouzoukwa to be used by anyone on a phone. And why not, one day, whether they are directly integrated with phones or in applications such as WhatsApp, Telegram or Facebook Messenger. There, finally, the loop would be buckled. “

This Article first appeared on Blavity

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