I have spent the past three years living in Mombasa – You could call it Kenya’s premier coastal town? However, the culture here is a stark contrast from that in the capital city. Despite urbanisation and its inherent need for individualism, a sense of community still strongly permeates here and it’s always been a marvel. It’s in the way they say hello on the phone. It’s in the way they’re grateful for the little things. The things that matter. Always armed with a smile despite the harsh realities of life. Shukran, which means thank you, has quickly become one of my favourite words here because of the ease with which it rolls off the tongue and the sincerity it conveys. Heart-warming stuff, really. So, in the past couple of weeks, the downward shift in the communal conviviality was palpable. An unsettling feeling took hold as I listened to my neighbour trying to make sense of the new reality post COVID-19. “Bro, hii mambo ya corona imeleta vurugu bana. Mambo yamegeuka kabisa” . The anxiety in his voice was unmistakable as he explained how things in his life took a dramatic turn. Vurugu.
Vurugu is a Swahili word that loosely translates to chaos – chaos defined by the unprecedented threat humanity faces in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic. This unusual period has been marked by a sharp spike in mentions of anxiety like that from my neighbour. I believe this is a feeling that is shared across the general population right now and one I tried to capture with this piece. Working on this piece offered me a chance to be introspective and question all these fragile systems that society is currently built upon. It gave me yet another chance to acknowledge my privilege and to do better in helping to build a more inclusive society in whatever way.
This particular piece employs both dark and solemn colours as well as colours that contrast this. Over time, I have been able to better understand the role colour plays in conveying emotions and in this particular case, colour works to bring out the duality of a sombre reality and that of a hopeful future, a future borne out of this downtime everyone has been forced into – a future that prioritizes humanity.
The fragmented face depicts the overwhelming nature of the voluminous amount of news we are currently being subjected to, a big percentage of which isn’t verified, but is still quite effective in inducing borderline mass hysteria. In an age of misinformation and disinformation, the need then arises for more objective sources of information backed by unbiased science and most importantly, the ways it is disseminated to the general population.
Over time, science has shown us how people evolved to become social creatures which explains the warmth and safety that comes with a sense of community. This pandemic, however, has further threatened this now almost sacred feeling to some degree, with increased periods of no physical touch from our families and friends which greatly adds on to the mental distress. Even then, we are fortunate enough to live in an age of advanced technology to help alleviate the adverse effects of this rift in physical connection.
This has been a period of self-reflection for myself – to try and understand what kind of world I’d like to live in, to deeply value and treasure the already beautiful and meaningful connections I have managed to build with people I care for and finally, to always hope.