Stemming from the practice of curating one’s life experiences to generate a perceived self-image, JUA KALI is inspired by the informal sector that breathes character into Nairobi’s economy. The Jua Kali workforce is built from the opportunistic personality and perseverance of Jua Kali workers, who use locally available recycled or found objects to develop their creations. This practice of reclamation, common to Nairobi, informs both the composition of these works and the proudly defined sense of self unmistakably present in the Jua Kali philosophy.
Each portrait visits a personality who has carved a surreal identity for themselves within the Jua Kali world. The images intimate the idea of found objects as personal adornment, creating a synergy of circuits and flesh that elevate the subject to superhuman status.
JUA KALI is Swahili for “Fierce Sun” – an old phrase referring to the laborers that worked under scorching daytime conditions. Its contemporary use has broadened to mean people that work in the informal economy, yet the stigma that such a life is substandard remains. In reality, it is the Jua Kali sector that fuels the city of Nairobi: with thrift, earnestness, passion, and creativity.