Wired art: Exhibit shows artists as cyborgs

for Brooklyn Paper
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He can rebuild them!

A Bushwick photographer depicts Nairobi artists as superhuman cyborgs in a new exhibit opening in Dumbo on Feb. 4. The Kenyan-born creator of the “Jua Kali” exhibit says that his fanciful images provide a view of his home country that stands in contrast to many media portrayals.

“I’ve always wanted to depict Nairobi as this fantastic place with characters that can achieve anything — and moreover, depict my country differently from what you see in the media,” said Tahir Karmali. “Nairobi is a growing metropolis that has created revolutionary technology and solutions for the African continent.”

The show takes its title and inspiration from the Kenyan capital’s informal economy of laborers who provide goods from reclaimed waste material — much of it electronic waste from the United States. The words “Jua Kali” — Swahili for “fierce sun” — refers to the scorching daytime conditions under which they work.

The 29-year-old photographer scoured through Nairobi junk yards and trash heaps to select items that resonate with his theme, such as spark plugs, electrical wiring and hard drives. He immediately photographed each bit of refuse against a sheet of white paper.

He also photographed members of city’s creative class, including dancers, painters, entrepreneurs, and musicians, applying a tribal face paint to them before the shoot. He then combined the photos digitally, adorning his subjects with gears, wires, and circuit boards.

The resulting mix of human and machine results in “characters that are somewhat superhuman,” he said, reflecting the heroic challenges the artists face in Nairobi.

“Through their talents they overcome obstacles presented to them economically. For me it symbolizes perseverance and resilience that the Jua Kali workers embody,” he said.

The enormous final images, each three feet tall, have a rich color that almost looks painted.

Karmail, who is pursuing a Masters degree in photography at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, plans to return to Kenya after graduation.

“Jua Kali” at United Photo Industries Gallery [16 Main St. at Water Street in Dumbo, (718) 801–8099,]. Opening reception Feb. 4 at 6 pm. Exhibit runs until March 26.

Updated 11:33 am, February 2, 2016
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