He’s popular in Romania, big in Germany and treated like a rock star in South Korea.
He is also well liked in Macedonia, and was recently given a 12-month residency in the UK.
And at home in Kenya, two exhibitions at Nairobi’s Village Market saw him sell more than 40 paintings — success by any account.
This enviable artist is on official documents one Joseph Njuguna Kamau, but to you and me he’s that much loved institution, Cartoon Joseph.
One of the First Generation artists, born in 1976, he began his career with the Banana Hill Art Group of self-taught painters that evolved from the Ngecha Artists’ Association. In 2001, he gravitated to the now defunct Watatu Gallery and became a fixture on the East African art scene.
So high was his reputation that a detail from one of his earlier paintings, Rumours in the Kitchen, was used on the cover of the definitive book Contemporary African Art by Sidney Littlefield Kasfir, published in 1999.
To what does he owe his success?
It is, I believe, because his paintings, charming and detailed narratives of village life, resonated with Kenyans while at the same time they were exactly what visitors expected from an African artist — paintings that were colourful, quirky, essentially local and bursting with life.
That is how it started anyway and that, in spite of everything, is how it has stayed.
The everything it is in spite of is a slow but relentless shift of focus from a painterly exposition of the minutiae of village life with its home, church, pub, social hall and chief’s office, to life within the family.
Instead of the wider village and surrounding hills, there is now the strong African mother as the centre of all things. With it has come a change, more of emphasis than style, that it is easy to miss and even easier to ignore, unless you see the earlier works alongside the current offerings.
Curating Cartoon Joseph’s current exhibition at the Red Hill Art Gallery off the Limuru Road from Nairobi, Hellmuth Rossler, who is showing 18 paintings from 2006 to the present, notes: “His artworks have remained virtually unchanged over the years.”
I know exactly what he means. All it amounts to really is that the artist’s longstanding predilection for pattern has now taken over. His paintings, always strongly graphic, are now entirely so. But for me the effect is a shift from Cartoon Heavy to Cartoon Lite.
Buildings no longer sit four-square on hummocky hills; the skies, when there at all, are no longer painterly, and the birds that used to flap across them now perch quietly in corners living on as two-dimensional designs.
Along with a shift in the central subject from village to Mama, he has developed a dazzling preoccupation with the intricate patterns to be found, for instance, on khangas. And for some reason with fish of all sizes, with a meticulous rendition of their scales; symbols of sustenance that swim smiling into many a frame.
In one smallish painting called Faces, some 40cm by 40cm and completed this year, I counted around 30 different patterns in so many colours they nearly made my eyes spin in their sockets.
Nearby, much bigger and dated last year, was Unselfish African Mother, a composition almost overwhelmed by its vivid colours and intricate decoration. The narrative of a caring mother feeding her family before herself could be found, but only after adjusting to the visual noise and interpreting the symbols as tightly interwoven as a tapestry.
Next to it on the wall was Nursing the Child, from 2006, and the difference is clear. In that painting, which also has a mother as the central figure, the organisation of the colours and motifs — calabash, fish, mushrooms, a tree and rows of huts at the top and the bottom — is slightly simpler and more orderly. Yet the painting still has the richness of a quilt and there is plenty to excite the eye. What is missing is the frantic intensity of Unselfish and the paintings made this year.
What have remained constant are the faces, made of areas of different colours and representing the many tribes of Kenya that have melded into one nation.
Is earlier better or worse?
That of course is down to personal preference. Mine is for the earlier works because while colourful and packed with patterns, they are easier to read and the message comes through more strongly.
If your taste runs to deciphering a picture puzzle then the later ones are certainly great fun. You could look at them for hours and still find new things.
Either way, they are Kenyan classics… and with a choice of four from this year’s output at only $250 apiece, they are bargain buys with which to end the year.
So a happy — and prosperous — New Year to you all!
Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard
Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.
However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard
President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow
Drastic life changes affecting mental health
Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.
Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.
Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.
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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.
In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020. It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.
A study by Dr. Habil Otanga, a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.
KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.
Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.
As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.
“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”
Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.
“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.
Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.
“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”
Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.
“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.
Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.
Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.
She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.
Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.
“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added
Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.
“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and also engage in reading that would help expand their knowledge.