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GALLERIES: Lessons that give us six of the best

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By FRANK WHALLEY
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East Africa, flowing with milk and sticky with honey … lands people flee to and not from.

South Sudanese, Somalis, Ethiopians, Congolese … they come in search of succour and find it here.

In spite of all the corruption, claims of dodgy elections and occasional outbreaks of mass murder, here are safe havens where people can prosper, bask in the sun, put down roots, and where the corn grows as high as an elephant’s eye etc etc etc.

All the more interesting, then, that so many of our artists find the harrowing journeying of migrants so fascinating.

Perhaps it is a case of, “There but for the grace of God go I,” or just a natural sympathy for those worse off than themselves; the contrast between the migrants and their own comparative stability.

Perhaps too it was brought home in Kenya, for example, by the misery of the 650,000 citizens who became refugees in their own country following the post-election violence of 2007. Whatever the reasons, the subject continues to excite artists and inspire their work.

So pay attention and take a lesson while you look.

Examples to hand include paintings and drawings by three of the six artists currently showing at the Red Hill Art Gallery, some 30 kilometres west of Nairobi off the road to Limuru.

The exhibition called Artists’ Selection presents until mid-October the work of Samuel Githinji, Onys Martin and Churchill Ongere — all of whom number migration among their concerns — plus Justus Kyalo, Gor Soudan and David Thuku.

Githinji’s bold presence is headed by a large wall hanging — 2.2 metres high by 2 metres wide — that remains untitled, so no clues there.

Executed on sugar sacks, it reveals a central figure wearing a stylised crown of thorns, flanked by two others; the eyes of all three obscured by a heavy blood-red bar. The colour of suffering is also in the background and on the loin cloth of the central figure. The composition, the colours and the crown reference the Crucifixion, yet all three figures are standing with their shoulders slumped and arms dangling.

Surely this is an icon of suffering for our inaction, even as we watch migrants being plucked from their capsizing boats, crawling up unwelcoming beaches and stabbing each other in hostile camps.

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The theme is echoed in two single figures by Githinji, their eyes also concealed, on the adjoining wall.

Onys Martin, an unfailingly interesting artist, presents nine largish (75cm by 55cm) mixed media drawings on paper that interrogate aspects of the anguish felt by millions of displaced people trekking from Africa and the Middle and Far East across frontiers in search of peace.

His figures, in black ink, wash, stand, walk and in one case collapse in despair against a background enlivened by photocopies of passports and visas. The fact that they are all excellent life drawings helps to make this statement even more powerful.

Martin is also showing a group of four pen and ink drawings on small sketchbook pages under the general title of Theory of Space.

They show single figures, each partly obscured by finely drawn netting, and work on two levels — firstly as the experiments of an artist playing with the placement of his subject on the picture plane, and secondly as a metaphor for reality, represented by the figures, being promoted or obscured by events, the netting.

Churchill Ongere offers three drawings from his recent exhibition Suspensions in which everyday objects including chairs and open boxes symbolise uncertainty, chaos and violence — the refugees’ predicament.

The boxes are portals of possibilities; anything could come out of them. In white ink, they sashay on a background of other objects (gravel and leaves, for instance) laid on the paper and then spray painted, revealing the imprint of their ghostly presence.

Adding lustre to this excellent show are Kyalo, Soudan and Thuku.

Two abstracts by Justus Kyalo hung on the outside walls of the gallery have the artist continuing his preoccupation with pouring acid onto iron sheets and developing the stain. In one, the acid patterns the sheet without elaboration, while in the other, the marks of its bite are enhanced with oil and acrylic paints in shimmering blues and delicate touches of umber, offset by white.

Wholly abstract, they nonetheless conjured up for me visions of the landscape near Kyalo’s studio in Kitengela.

Four paintings by Soudan are from his Bubbles & Shells series, completed while he was moving between Nairobi, Freetown in Sierra Leone and Tokyo, and are said to explore the social and cultural differences in these cities.

And then we have Thuku’s two mixed media works, seen previously in his exhibition Bar code, in which he assembled layers of cut-out paper to consider our shopping habits and the pursuit of happiness through endless purchasing.

And all the artworks are, of course, for sale…

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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.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

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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