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globe logo     Caravan: Newsletter of the Alliance for a Responsible and United World
Number 3 May 1999

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Artist of the Issue: John Kariru (Kenya)
The Artwork

photo of John Kariru
Prof. J. Kariru
Professor John Kariru teaches Art at Kenyatta University in Nairobi, Kenya. He was born and brought up in a small village called Kangemi on the outskirts of Nairobi. The village has over the years turned into a major city slum. Although there were no proper records of his date of birth, Prof. Kariru believes he was born around 1948 and for sentimental reasons uses 21st May as his official birthday.

Prof. Kariru was educated in Nairobi (University of Nairobi) and Canada between 1967 and 1976 before joining Kenyatta University in 1977. He has been in the University administration for many years having headed the department of Fine Art for ten years between 1981 and 1991 and currently the chairman of the University Co-operative Society. He is also Chairman, Secretary and ordinary member in many professional and social organisations.

Prof. Kariru an all-round artist with special interest in painting, design and sculpture has held many joint and one man art exhibitions in Kenya, Canada and Germany. He has also carried out many art projects for both local and international organizations including the design of the vestments worn by Pope John Paul II and his team of Cardinals and Bishops during his visit to Kenya and Africa in 1995.

Currently he is assisting the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Church in Kenya especially with the design of the annual Lenten campaign posters among others. He is also researching on inculturation with the hope of finding a viable way of Africanizing the Church in Kenya through art.

The Artwork
About The Artist

«Reconstructing the world» by John Kariru (Kenya)
Pencils on paper, 11.5x15.5 inches, April 99

The basic theme of the main artwork for Caravan N°3, "Reconstructing the world" is a comprehensive color prototype of an on-going/continuous painting of the artists impression of the Alliance for a Responsible and United world.

The main artwork is in three levels: a middle level depicting the map of the world behind curved bands of colored light; a bottom level depicting a huge mass of water in which people, animals and other objects have sunk while others are in the process of sinking; and a third (top) level depicting a landscape with animals, distant cities and trees. The lower level is split in the middle by an upward movement of five hands each holding an identical object towards a smaller and incomplete map of the world.

The symbolism here is that the middle level represents the present world with its many problems most of which are man made e.g. wars, industrial waste and pollution, deforestation, diseases, drug abuse etc. The world which is itself quite heavily crackled is already beginning to drown into the deep blue sea as is evident from the various continental landmarks and other national symbols from across the world.

The upward thrust of the five hands from the water symbolizes the coming together of concerned individuals from the continents in determination to pick up the pieces from the drowning world in an effort to reconstruct a more responsible and united world. The rudiments of that effort are already beginning to show through the half constructed map of the world which seems to be emerging from the blue waters like a big sun of hope in a bright morning. The whole action tends to remind us of the fact that goodness like hot air or oil in water will always find its way to the top. The beautiful rays from the emerging sun continue to camouflage the hopelessly dilapidated world whose ragged outline and those of accompanying tools of destruction can just barely be seen underneath. The emerging sun and its beautiful rays of light also seem to create a natural path between African and the Americas of the sinking world on its way up towards a new and more beautiful world where nature and modernity seem to comfortably and peacefully live together. In this new world, a similarly new and beautiful sun also seems to manifest itself from the top right hand corner of the picture. This sun which is the systematic arrangement of small triangular shapes stands for "unity-in-diversity" which could also comfortably pass for the alliance motto. The symbolism here is that those triangles that face outward represent diversity while those facing inward are meant to represent unity. When the two opposing triangles are brought together, they form one beautiful and united object in form of "A Responsible and United World".

The semblance between the triangular shapes of the new sun and the African pattern at the bottom of the picture suggest that answers to a good number of problems of our modern world could among others be found in aspects of our traditional life much of which many of us have forgotten or are in the process of the forgetting.

Finally the idea of picking up the pieces from the ocean water has a cleansing connotation where the pieces are presumed much cleaner having been washed in the salty water of the ocean. The ocean is here also used because of its natural uniting potential. Since most rivers of the world pour their contents into one of the world oceans, metaphorically it follows then that ocean water is one of the best instruments of bringing the diverse nations of the world together.

Prof J. Kariru (Kenya)

© 2000 Alliance for a Responsible and United World. All rights reserved. Last updated January 30, 2000.