Matt Groening, the famous American cartoonist, once said that people go into cartooning because they are shy and angry, yet this cannot even begin to describe the vibe of the six Kenyan cartoonists whose works are currently on display at the Alliance Francaise de Nairobi.
Using the tool they know best, the pencil, the artists colourfully trace US President Barack Obama’s life from his father’s homeland in Kogelo, Siaya County, to his visit to Kenya in 2006 and his recent long awaited visit to Kenya as US President.
That the different artists’ themes intersect with underlying common themes and bitingly funny captions is what keeps art lovers glued to the walls on the first floor art gallery at Alliancea.
A number of themes are explored and the artists manage to show us, albeit tongue-in-cheek, the ridiculousness of some of the traditional stereotypes we hold as a nation. They do so flawlessly, fluidly transcending touchy topics like tribalism and political myopia and brilliantly spreading rays of humour and wit over current world affairs and right into Obama’s Kenyan heritage.
OBSESSION WITH CLINGING TO POWER
The issues highlighted range from African leaders’ obsession with clinging to power, tribalism, America-Kenya-China relationships, the toa kitu kidogo mentality, the strange travel habits of overloading and carrying all belongings upcountry and even the hypocrisy of hiding our dirty side and showing guests our best side.
The showcased works belong to six of Kenya’s best cartoonists — Celeste, Gado, Gammz, Gathara, Maddo and Victor Ndula. It was curated by Patrick Gathara and is supported by Heinrich Boll Stiftung.
One theme explored — African leaders’ habit of clinging on to power — is best illustrated in Victor Ndula’s ‘Africa Advises President Obama,’ where an anonymous African president informs Obama that ‘African’ Presidents always get re-elected, a tongue-in cheek proclamation of rigging.
Another widespread theme explores the relationship between Kenya and America with Ndula suggesting a softening of the relationship after years of not seeing eye to eye. The cartoon captioned ‘Thawing Relations’ shows the ice cubes that hold presidents Uhuru and Obama thawing.
The cartoonists speak a similar language on the China-America-Kenya relationship, turning it into a delightfully funny tale of rivalry and jealousy.
The first is Gado’s cartoon of Obama visit to Africa, which shows Obama getting off Air Force One and being received by Chinese officials. Celeste, however, carries the day with her drawing of an unfaithful Africa arm in arm with a bouquet carrying America but secretly holding China’s hand behind America’s back.
This, maybe a loud statement of how distrustful African nations have become of the West.
It is hard for one to resist bursting into laughter at the biting satire engrained in the artworks dealing with Obama’s Kenyan-ness and our right to receive goodies from ‘our’ son. The artists vividly take on expectations of a country that claims the man as one of its sons.