Fables aren’t hurled at us like missiles, or dumped on us like a rock plummeting into the deep sea, violently, forcefully and without a choice. At least not to me. They float into our lives like a distinctively haunting Aria. Or like an Orchestra that either takes us to a distant place or breathes life into dead histories creating the fundamental We. Vibrating like Falsetto sounds, they bounce off our souls, reverberating and sending different sensations to our hearts and minds. These words fall on our tongues and from our lips the stories begin.
“Black is the colour of my true love’s hair. Black is the colour of my love so fair. Black is her body so firm, so bold. Black is her beauty, her soul of gold… I remember when she said to me, “don’t ever look behind”. She said “look ahead” and I would see someone always loving me. A picture is painted in my memory without a colour of despair.” Nina Simone
This is the song that came to mind when I first saw Jemma Davies’ charcoal painting Shompole. I was scouting for definitions or illustrations of beauty that make us question our knowledge and use of the word and voilà!
Just to give a general description of this work; here we see the main subject of the painting being a Woman holding a baby. She is adorned in beautiful traditional jewellery and wears a ‘leso-like’ apparel. The baby is clothed in light-coloured attire and is oh-so-adorably sucking on its finger. There’s a hint of vegetation in the background. The colours in the painting are mostly alternating varieties of grey, black and white.
I suppose Jemma’s decision to use charcoal for this painting is a neat ingredient that brilliantly brings out a softness in the subject’s nature; a gentle tenderness that is not emphasized enough in many representations of black women. It doesn’t however obscure her boldness, which is told by her definitive facial structure, her jawline and her cheekbones. The latter shows Jemma’s appreciation of a wider context within which her subject’s existence is cradled. The name of the painting and her ornaments suggests that she is perhaps from Shompole conservancy which is located south of the Great Rift Valley. Its climate is mostly dry and hot and the communities in that area are historically nomadic. Continue reading
I have always had a thing for paintings, even though I cannot for the life of me, name any surrealists or tell you anything about Jackson Pollock. I, however, am perpetually fascinated by how artists as the ‘seers’ of a society document cultural events and transitions. Coupled with my new-found obsession for all things Afrofuturistic, I have been exploring contemporary expressions that depict a futuristic African society that consists of a transfusion of African traditional philosophies into our current reality. I found this in Wangechi Mutu’s art.
One of my favourite paintings, The Bride who married the Camel Head, is especially outstanding. Its aesthetic quality only adds to the already profound meaning it conveys. The fun part is, It’s not just the painting itself but also the method with which she chose to articulate her expression that struck me as quite symbolic, I’ll get to that in a bit, first lets dig into the piece.
The painting is of what appears to be a human being, somewhat androgynous, sat on an earthy surface with surrounding vegetation. It features plants, leaves and flowers mostly on the head and face, and subsequently scattered on the arm, waist and lower abdomen down the pelvic area. You can also spot some snake-like animals which emanate from or are part of the plants on the head. The ‘being’ sits calmly holding what looks like a set of gums, gushing out blood. From the onset, I picked up on the resounding fixation on the theme of oneness and connectivity as everything in the painting is intertwined, overlapping and conjoined. It’s hard to tell where one thing begins and the other ends. Continue reading
I’ll just start with a caveat; I would have written this story in Sheng’ but some who might want to read it and don’t know the language would be completely lost. Secondly and the most important reason is that Sheng’ is so dynamic a language, that what I write today might not exist tomorrow or may have a completely different meaning which would render my story senseless.
Sheng is described on Wikipedia as a slang based language originating in Nairobi, Kenya and is heavily influenced by many languages spoken in the country. The word itself is coined from the words (S)wahili and (Eng)lish and was primarily a language of the urban youth but has now spread across social classes. Yesterday the Minister of education, quite predictably, condemned ‘Sheng’ and attributed the poor performance in ‘proper’ Swahili and English to the exceeding use of the language. He seemed particularly miffed at the fact that the media and politicians seem to ‘encourage’ Sheng usage as a normal thing. As a matter of fact ever since Raphael Tuju announced his bid for presidency in Sheng all I heard was curses, hissing and cringing from every corner and especially in the literary world. Most of whom were embarrassed on his behalf because according to them he is a political elite who is ‘trying too hard’ to be ‘ordinary people”. Continue reading
I live beyond, yet still within
I refuse to be bound by that
which is set for me.
I move before, yet still in time
I diffuse those old myths that,
Furrow my infinite path.
I love because, and still in spite of,
I choose not to be deterred by,
those lovers foregone
I make belief, yet still am grounded
I infuse my spirit with that which heaven
I lose myself,
To surpass the edge to the unknown
For I live beyond and yet still within.