Jua Kali Portraits by Tahir Carl Karmali

Jua Kali Portraits by Tahir Carl Karmali

Kenyan artist, Tahir Carl Karmali is currently exhibiting his work at at United Photo Industries in DUMBO, Brooklyn, ending March 26, 2016. Here are some of examples of his digital portraits as well as an explanation of his work.

The expression “jua kali” derives from Swahili, which literally translated means “fierce sun”. The term was originally coined to identify the class of travelling peddlers and artisans that worked through the heat of daytime, and has since evolved to mean people that work in the informal economy.  In a pejorative sense, it also stands for products of inferior quality.

To me, Jua Kali means: creativity, innovation, adaptation and growth. It’s a sort of resilience, a kind of ever evolving term. However it’s always been associated with manual labour and improvised working conditions. It has become a term that refers to the informal – moreover informal economic sector of Kenya. This series of work is basically looking at this concept of improvisation to illustrate a kind of resilient creativity to make ends meet. If you look carefully at the pieces it looks like it should not function – but it does and it’s tough to describe why.

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