• No categories
  • Essays

    Fossils (or the movement of an image across a field of memory)

    by Jonathan Gathaara Sölanke Fraser






    an illustration of time.




    My late aunt and uncle’s house is a bungalow with a wide base. A low and wide house in whose living room I listened to Coldplay’s Speed of Sound for the first time as a young boy. It is a very vivid memory that has made itself at home in a portion of my personal history. The rising first two seconds of the song are like the sound of a gong played in reverse, a gradual focusing of sound that becomes a repeated melody carried throughout the song. Then follows a ray of light splayed across the ceiling from the windscreen of a car outside. The light is adamant about maintaining a non-shape but I can see the edges of a spider’s messy web in there and as it moves from one end to another, it becomes the migratory routes of some animal, a mass of scar tissue, a tangle of cells beneath a microscope’s lens, water. And then it is gone.


    Memory is subjective and so exists outside of time. The concept of time within the confines of memory is much more pliable and so the two seconds of condensing sound is stretched to absurd limits and the momentary glance of light on the ceiling lasts a lifetime.


    a far away house in the bundus1


    I am on my way through dirt and distance to visit the artist Jackie Karuti. She has been living at Neo Musangi’s2 home on the periphery of the Nairobi National Park for what will become two months as a sort of artist residency. Karuti makes work around the idea of the alternative, the imagined-made-real and the inhabitants of many worlds.



    The world arrived in books: Part two

    Collective Magic: session #1
    Jackie Karuti


    [1]When Thiga was a baby his mother took him and ran away from his father who was a gluttonous misogynist piece of shit. She managed to relocate them in another land far away from him. I think the husband was a kind of giant. Many years passed in bliss and the mother thrived as Thiga grew up to become one of the most handsome and strongest men in the village. He is described as having had many girlfriends. One day his mother took him up the hill near their hut and showed him a massive stone that was wedged firmly into the earth. The stone seemed to have been there for a very long time because its exterior was weathered greatly and had turned some parts of the rock shiny and smooth.


    Thiga’s mother then proceeded to ask him to move the stone and bring her what lay underneath it. Thiga loved his mother more than anything. She’d been the one constant person in his life and he’d have done anything for her. So he went, stretched, placed his hands on the stone and planted his feet firmly on the ground.  The stone did not even budge. He tried again and again and again. Nothing. Days passed with no success but still he persisted. He soon realized that as strong as he was, he was just not strong enough to move the stone. So he started training and challenging all the lads in the village to sword fights and wrestling matches. (He never challenged any women). He beat them all, grew more stronger but still he could not move the stone. When no one else was challenging him anymore, he went into the forest and fought with wild animals. First with a weapon, then without a weapon. (show me fragile masculinity). He still couldn’t move the stone. Years had passed at this point and his mother was getting older and loosing hope until one day… More…


    The world arrived in books: Part one

    Collective Magic: session #1
    Jackie Karuti


    A gathering of dust announces that the process of making a new creation is underway. Gathering dust is the accumulation of filth to make magic. A sorcerer’s task. A gathering of dust is also the act of collecting this filth and discarding it elsewhere. Dust from different books mix creating a strange kind of science. Histories mesh. Facts are distorted. Futures re-imagined. Languages mix.




    The library is loud with the dead weight of time. The city has been passing through everyday claiming space, leaving traces and settling in. Specks of dust illuminated by the slanted afternoon light rest over the shelves but I have to be very still and focus my eyes to see this. Dust is gathered, transferred as I my body cuts across the space. My fingers are sooty.


    Black on your fingertips. [1] More…


    What have you done during this emergency?

    Collective Magic: session #1
    Jackie Karuti


    In one of the interviews recorded inA Path Not Taken, Murumbi narrates how once during his days as the Foreign Minister he told off an Under-secretary in his office. It was regarding an incident where an old friend of Murumbi, fresh out of detention had showed up at his office looking like shit. Murumbi took it upon himself to help him including dispatching a call to the then president, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, because the man had been a true patriot. When Murumbi asked his secretary to find a job for his friend, his secretary proceeded to ask the man what kind of job he could do. This infuriated Murumbi so much that he turned to his secretary and snapped, “Don’t ask this man what kind of job he can do. [1]What have you done during this emergency?”


    Murumbi’s statement is charged. A revolutionary call. More…


    What else can a photograph be?

    by Jackie Karuti


    In a conversation with Bob Nickas for Interview magazine, Nikas comments on Wolfgang Tillmans’s work by saying that it seeks to answer the basic question, [1]What else can a photograph be? This question also describes the thoughts I had when I first encountered Tillmans’s work. Taking it as a starting point, I will first frame it by referencing work by several Kenyan artists whose approach towards working through lens-based media seeks to address this question.


    In his series [2]Undefined Constructions, James Muriuki observes a city whose architectural landscape is rapidly changing. Buildings under construction soar while swathed in brown tarp and multi-level scaffolding. The increase in seemingly misplaced high-rise buildings in Nairobi interrupts a skyline that is also scarred with brutalist, colonial era and Kikuyu-Gothic[3] architecture. In this regard, Muriukis work presents a reading of the city by questioning how sites of construction were determined and what purposes they might have served in the past. More…