Tahir Karmali is a visual artist who pairs materials and portraiture to define personal narratives through the mixed mediums of photography, paper-making, and installation. His interest in outlier communities whose identities are shaped by economic, political and social systems is transcribed into narratives describing the wide-ranging reality of the human experience.
Currently, he combines digital photography and portraiture with papermaking. This allows him to deal directly with material to craft concepts around the process and abstract how the portrait is presented. He uses this method to explore his Kenyan-Indian heritage.
My work stems from the informality of curating one’s life experiences to generate a perceived self-image. I am inspired by the informal sector that breathes character into Nairobi’s economy. The Jua Kali* sector is built from the opportunistic personality and perseverance of the Jua Kali worker who often uses locally available recycled or found objects to develop their creations. I use this characteristic of Nairobi to describe one’s perceived self-image created from the idea of the Jua Kali philosophy. Each portrait describes a personality that has created a surreal self-image to fit in Nairobi’s Jua Kali world. The images are created to look as if the subjects adorned themselves with found object, which somehow work together to make them superhuman.
*JUA KALI is Swahili for “Fierce Sun” – referring to the informal labourers that worked under the hot sun. Now it is a term used for people that work in any informal way and is used to describe work that is substandard. I want to change this perception because in reality it is the Jua Kali sector that fuels the city of Nairobi.