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GALLERIES: Living mementos of death, mori or less

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By FRANK WHALLEY
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As the Country and Western singer Hank Williams put it, “I’ll never get out of this world alive.”

Intimations of mortality… an old theme and a rich seam mined by artists to this day.

Their preoccupation with death comes in many forms, one of the most popular being works that contained memento mori, literally, “remember that you must die.”

Skulls were a popular prop in portraits, as were hourglasses and burning candles that showed the passage of time, while dead birds and animals invited us to contemplate the ephemeral nature of our own lives too.

Clocks were decorated with skeletons to remind us that each passing second tick-tocked us closer to death, while prayer beads, chapels decorated with human bones and pictures of the Grim Reaper all warned of our inevitable fate.

And the idea of reminding us of the fragility of our brief existence is, er, still alive and well.

Proving the point is Moira Bushkimani, aged just 27 and in excellent health but determined to show us that nothing lasts forever.

Her construction A Dog’s Death cleverly rearranges a dog’s jawbone and skull and surmounts them with a human head and torso fashioned from a mesh of wires to present an emblem of society in its final throes. For although we strive to own as much as possible, the artist explained, we all die like dogs — alone and with nothing.

Exemplifying the Dadaist principle of adapting found objects, it is a well-considered piece with a timeless message. At only 26cm high, its simplicity and power make it the finest thing in a current three-handed exhibition called Void, curated by Willem Kevenaar at his Attic Art Space in Nairobi.

Balancing this is her similar sized construction 21st Man, a seated figure made of bent wire, silver foil and blue and red cords for veins and arteries, that is driving headlong towards the abyss. So go we all.

Greeting us at the ground floor entrance is The Perch, another construction by Bushkimani that shows a twisted wire figure seated on a swing, made from an old coat hanger, suspended within a simple black wooden frame dangling from the ceiling. Its energy is enhanced by a spotlight that creates a rhythm between it, the figure and its moving shadow.

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Bushkimani’s contribution to the exhibition continues on the way up to the first floor gallery, where seven rectangular picture stretchers cascade above the stairwell, hung on almost invisible fishing line.

This is reminiscent of David Thuku’s installation of painted picture frames at the Villa Rosa in Nairobi but on a smaller scale, and in this domestic setting rather more intimate and accessible.

Bushkimani has been a full-time artist for some five years. Based at the Brush Tu collective in Buruburu, she is an exciting find and must surely be ready for a first solo show anytime soon.

Exhibiting with her in Void are Janice Iche and Peteros Ndunde, both of whom were shown recently in Thom Ogonga’s visual essay Line, at the One-Off Gallery in Rosslyn.

Iche is an interesting young performance and visual artist committed to protesting at the objectification of women and their supposed role in society.

Her ideas for paintings seem to come so quickly that she barely has time to finesse her canvases. In several of her acrylics, her line tends to be ragged and the paint rather roughly applied.

One untitled painting that shows a woman kneeling with four disembodied bright red hands reaching for her crotch, painted gold, is as gaudy as a pizza, somewhat obvious and rather crudely worked, although it certainly commands attention.

A group of three of her paintings hung downstairs together called Always Flailing, You Know, You Know were more carefully made, and although each was only 40cm by 40cm they had an impact equal to that of the larger works upstairs.

Ndunde makes intricate drawings of faces and figures in ballpoint, that he says focus on the impact of the internal and external forces on people. His stylised figures hint at an interest in Cubism but I was unable to see how they substantiated his thesis, although I imagine the obvious effort that went into their creation could appeal.

From Always Flailing, by Janice Iche. PHOTO |

From Always Flailing, by Janice Iche. PHOTO | FRANK WHALLEY | NMG

They would have worked better as etchings where their density of line and the bite of the plate would have given them greater depth.

The Attic Art Space specialises in emerging artists; a courageous idea worthy of support. The gallery is in the grounds of a private house on Ibis Crescent in Nyari Estate to the west of Nairobi — so go there and see this show before you die.

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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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