Sunday, 7 February 2016

POSTSCRIPT TO AFRICAN POETRY

DICKSON KALOKI'S 'LETTERS FROM THE OTHER SIDE'

I've just been to see the fine new winter exhibitions at Plas Glyn y Weddw in North Wales.  One of the artists is Dickson Kaloki.  He was born in 1985 in the impoverished area of Kitui in Kenya.  Thanks to the charity, Anno's Africa, he has been able to develop his artistic career.  His paintings of Kenyan slums are very striking and unashamed - this is how we live, they seem to say.  He often uses tones of one or two colours, great slabs of colour, and then draws over them with charcoal.

I am struck by one painting of red brown shanty town huts with cctv cameras on a pole, tower blocks rising up in the background.  In the foreground is a seated figure, her torso concealed behind the newspaper she is reading.  There is a coke bottle on the shelf by her, and underneath it a Union flag.  But as I look at the picture I notice that the woman's knickers are down round her knees.  Why?  With a shock I realise she's sitting on an open air toilet, no privacy at all.  The knickers are blue and decorated with a little design - the design of the United Nations logo.

In contrast to this overtly political 'Letter from home' there is a painting of a London scene with bright yellows and greens and two 'Letters from Wales'.  The latter consist of a picture of Caernarfon Castle (vivid  blues and contrasting sand colours) and a view of Porth Dinllaen in unusually soft shades.

Kaloki speaks of "Paint as a memory box, expressing a certain time, place and situation in life". Change the first word and that could be a poet's manifesto too.

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