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GALLERIES: An exaltation of the human spirit…

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By FRANK WHALLEY
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Great art inspires great art; fabulous paintings beget others.

The reputation of Francis Bacon owes much to his 45 or so Screaming Popes, painted in the 1950s and early 60s, which were triggered by a fascination with Velasquez’s portrait of Innocent X.

That painting, made in 1650, presents not so much God’s vicar on Earth as a very human man, clothed with pomp on a throne of crimson and gold, yet wary from a lifetime of political infighting, his ageing face rich in character.

And now Peterson Kamwathi has taken the mystic William Blake’s 1795 painting of a secular ruler, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, as the starting point for a drawing that holds the key to his current exhibition.

The Book of Daniel tells us that the king, fearing madness, began to transform into a beast and was restored to humanity only through his Christian faith.

Blake captured Nebuchadnezzar at the height of his torment — on his hands and knees, staring wildly, his limbs ending in fearful claws — before salvation beckoned.

Both the formal qualities of Blake’s painting (composition, the subtle colouring, the quality of drawing with its taut, expressive line) and its narrative appealed greatly to Kamwathi, who perhaps saw in it a benchmark of his own style as well as an elaboration of his personal faith.

His Untitled (after William Blake) is the key that unlocks his exhibition Ebb and Flow, at the One-Off Gallery in Rosslyn to the west of Nairobi until January 20.

For the drawing — highlighting the possibility of deliverance, even for those in extremis — radiates an understanding of the exhibition’s overarching statement; that mass migration, a tragedy that must be remedied, also symbolises our own journey through life as we explore our place in the wider scheme of things.

Where Blake put Nebuchadnezzar bang in the centre of his composition, Kamwathi places the stricken king behind a tilted blue crowd barrier, representing the physical bars that migrants must overcome and the metaphysical bars to our humanity.

Where Blake set his king in an animal’s den, Kamwathi made the background a range of hills that could well be in Kenya…in other words he increased its relevance by tailoring the image to us, now and right here.

Where Blake’s painting was a straight retelling of the Nebuchadnezzar story, Kamwathi’s takes that as a starting point and then points towards the wider issues, both faith-driven and secular, of the search for humanity and an explanation of our lives.

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That becomes even clearer from the drawing’s companion piece, Study for Flow, in which Nebuchadnezzar is replaced by a figure taken from a press photograph of a migrant crawling up a Mediterranean beach.

Small at only 27cm by 30cm, yes, but in these two drawings Kamwathi has distilled the entire exhibition into one concise statement.

There are only 15 drawings in this dazzling exposition; all on paper and made with charcoal, coloured pencils, soft pastels, spray paint and collage.

Kamwathi’s adapted image of the crawling man recurs throughout the show, most notably in a huge triptych called Ebb, in which around 160 such figures struggle towards their deliverance.

Lovers of his earlier charcoal drawings with their typically massed tones and wristy attack will find this aplenty in his figure drawings, albeit on a reduced scale (see Ebb and the diptych The Journey: The Destination with its whirl of people caught in a vortex), yet the delicacy of the colouring that marked his more recent work is even more evident.

The softest blues, the palest blush of pinks, the gentlest greens and creams and a stunning caramel offer drawings as lyrical and subtle as they are pointed, while Kamwathi’s compositions heighten the symbolism of his imagery.

In Passage, some 30 standing men, their backs to us, soar across the thick cartridge paper, some behind a mist of soft white, navigating a pattern of stronger white dots that echoes the well-mapped routes that migrants travel.

It possesses an ethereal beauty that is almost magical.

Another exquisite work is Untitled (Adrift). It shows two boats, a solitary migrant on each and tells of the loneliness of the journeys that define their — and our — lives.

The migrants are sitting up; alert, hopeful. On the hull of one boat are printed offensive slogans from the placards of people protesting at their presence… a burden the migrants carry with them, even at sea.

'Untitled (Adrift)' by Peterson Kamwathi.

‘Untitled (Adrift)’ by Peterson Kamwathi. PHOTO | FRANK WHALLEY | NMG

The wake of the nearest boat is a shimmering plume of many colours, flaring from the surface of the sea.

Ebb and Flow is a small and intense exhibition, easy to enjoy. It reveals, explains, respects and exalts the human spirit.

There is not a dud in it.

I have a feeling it will come to be seen as a landmark, rather like Kamwathi’s Sitting Allowance of 2009, which excoriated election corruption.

But this is far more elegant, more subtle, more mature… it is the work of an artist at the peak of his powers and it would sit comfortably in any gallery anywhere.

It is, quite simply, world class.

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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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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.

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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.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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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

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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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.

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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.

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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.

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