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Open Manifesto

Nine vignettes of identity.

An essay by S.B.

{30th of November 2008}


Author’s note: The format of these vignettes happily and gratefully references Ryan Gander’s ‘Loose Associations’.

Mention the name Osbourne Ruddock to someone and you’ll probably be greeted with a puzzled expression. Mention instead his pseudonym King Tubby and they’re more than likely to recognize the name of the Jamaican sound system pioneer (and widely considered to be the father of Dub).


With its crippled economy and notoriously high crime rate, the Island nation of Jamaica can only but inspire personal reinvention. This has been expressed via the theatre of the pseudonym. Put together Jamaica’s heritage as an English colony and the Rastafarian devotion to the Ethiopian King Salassi and you end up with a deeply engrained aspiration to nobility. And if you’re born into an impoverished Trenchtown and unlikely to be royalty by birth the easiest thing to do is to simply invent it. The result is an entire royal subculture of faux but colourful identities built by competitive spirit and aspiration.


Alongside King Tubby, atop this collective throne, sit many other kings—King Stitt, King Horror, King Ska, King Big Edwards, a handful of Princes—Prince Buster, Prince Far I, Prince Jammy, Prince Jazzbo, a couple of Lords—Lord Creator, Lord Tanamo, Lord Koos of the Universe, and many other incarnations of high social status such as Sir Coxsone, Sir Biggs, Count Ossie, General Echo and Admiral Cosmic.


(The rest of this article is available, in print, in Open Manifesto #5)


Stephen Banham is an Australian graphic designer, writer, and founder of Letterbox, a typographic studio. In 2003 he completed a Master of Design in design research from RMIT. In 1991 he printed the first small issue of Qwerty, the first in a series of six experimental spiral-bound issues. His work on the Qwerty series (1991-95) was published in Eye magazine (no. 46, vol. 12, Winter 2002) along with an interview of Banham.


Banham has also been a contributor to, or featured in, countless design publications including Baseline magazine, Emigre, Adbusters, Face, Typo, Eye, Monument, Desktop, Grafik, Comma and many others. Perhaps more importantly, Banham has brought discussion of the cultural and social aspects of typography to a wider public, arguing these points in daily broadsheets such as The Age and The Australian newspapers.