23 January 2013

Kenya: Cartoon Exhibition - Angelique's Witty World

Democracy. Good Governance. Peaceful Elections. Three concepts that have come to mean a lot more to Kenyans in retrospect to the disputed 2007 elections and the violence. Also in light of the current party nominations marred by disputes.

Cartoon exhibition held last week at the Swiss ambassador's residence in Nairobi brought together the works published in leading daily newspapers.

It could not have been more appropriate in its timing. Gado, Maddo, Kham, Gammz and the Star's Victor Ndula and Ozone were among the cartoonists honoured at the event organised by Angelique Pitteloud and her husband the Swiss ambassador Jacques Pitteloud.

A self-proclaimed fan of 'the arts' and of (cartoon) drawings in particular, Angelique said, "You can imagine my excitement when we were posted to Kenya! I've always believed humour is a powerful weapon in social and political change. This exhibition is therefore a chance to meet face to face with the witty, talented and courageous cartoonists we interact with daily in the newspapers through their works."

The exhibited works spoke volumes. There were the obviously funny ones like Lands minister James Orengo infamous Sh500,000 suit. The Daily Nation's Gado poked fun at by suggesting that at the price suggesting the suit should have come fitted with blue-tooth and shoulder pads operated by a voice command and which can do a lot of work for the wearer.

Kham in which he depicts an MP's refusal to pay tax on account of his 'car loans, mortgages, two wives, 10 children and three mistresses'.

Kham also satirises the millions misappropriated by MPs who then claim that the 'missing' funds were used in building ramshackle public toilets.

By the Star's Victor Ndula, a depiction of William Ruto and Uhuru Kenyatta 'running Kenya' from their prison cell abroad by remote control pads synonymous with video games seems quite hilarious at a glance but profound in its meaning.

Ozone's depiction of bias in the supreme court seems right on the mark. The Lady Justice's robes are lifted to expose hairy legs and masculine shoes, the implication being bias against female judges.

Ten cartoonists participated in the exhibition and the Standard's Kham aka James Kamawira helped Angelique organise the event. Of the ten, only one is female and that is Celeste Wamiru of People Media.

"Democracy, good governance and peaceful elections are the main areas of focus for this exhibition and these issues affect everyone regardless of their sex or political affiliations," says Celeste.

As such, one of her cartoons depicts a child crushed under the pressure of the 8-4-4 system. Another one of her cartoons shows a baby with a '2013' sash around the body and feeding from a large bottle labelled 'Peaceful Elections' with 'Kenya' as the parent presumably feeding this baby.

"The country is at the moment going through an exciting time," Kham said. "Cartoonists have the responsibility of reflecting the spirit of the times by showcasing some of the issues affecting Kenyans."

"There has always been a build of activity around election time with a lot of politicians trading insults around this time as well", said Paul Kelemba, better known as Maddo. "As cartoonists, we are often part of that build up. I'm not saying that we fuel the build up but we certainly participate in it."

He adds: "For me, this exhibition means an opportunity to show people that a peaceful election is possible. Cartoonists are certainly critics but we also get criticised and often by those we criticise."

Still on the subject of critics and criticism, Godfrey Mwampembwa (Gado) says, "Criticism comes with the territory because cartooning is a confrontational art. You find that more often than not it involves lampooning a person or an issue and that doesn't always go down well with everyone. But it's a job and somebody has to do it." He adds: "And as far as cartoon exhibitions go in this country we need more private ones like these in addition to the public ones we organize for more positive outcomes in democracy and good governance."

Gado is among the pioneers in cartooning and the Star's Victor Ndula credits him as having played a pivotal role in shaping his career. "These guys were already drawing when I was still in high school!" Ndula says of Gado, Maddo and Kham.

"Gado is my biggest mentor. He's taught me a lot and raised me in terms of cartoons so for me this exhibition is in honour of the pioneers like him as well as an opportunity for upcoming cartoonists to showcase their work."

Eric "Gammz" Ngamau, Finlay and Peter Ngare were also among the cartoonists who exhibited their works at the event.

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