ART CHECK

Ninth Jahazi a lesson in artistic resilience

The journal interprets the pandemic from the perspective of the arts

In Summary

• The year 2021 carries on its young shoulders the Covid-19 world of 2020

• In this issue, the arts offer shock absorbers to the perils of the pandemic

Editorial team at the Jahazi launch in Alliance
Editorial team at the Jahazi launch in Alliance
Image: JUSTUS MAKOKHA

Each year is like a blank page on a laptop. It waits with patience for mankind to register upon it the meaningful deeds and words that will make it stand out. Perhaps this is the spirit of the world that leads us to spontaneous fireworks celebration whenever a new year dawns upon the earth.

Imagine a year that starts out without the promise of being blank and awaiting fulfilment? Imagine a year with baggage from the previous one?

Well, 2021 is one such odd year. It carries on its young shoulders the world of 2020. It is in last year that a global pandemic hit the world from Wuhan to the four corners of the earth. 2020 spoke to history with dead tongues and almost went down in records as a dead year. It is in the wake of this pandemonium caused by the the coronavirus pandemic that 2021 was born.

It has demonstrated in the first two months that hope exists for a better turnaround of fortunes. The release and spread of vaccines meant to counter the viral whirlwinds of corona has lifted spirits up from the Global North to the Global South.

Nowhere is the hope of 2021 captured in livid lines as in the pages of the arts. Poetry anthologies have been published even here in Kenya to archive the momentous times of mortal peril we exist in. Novelists continue to quest for the correct grammar to narrate the imaginaries of this viral cataclysm.

In fact, it is interesting that two international entities have crowned the year 2021 as one for the arts. The United Nations recognises it as the International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development. The African Union is celebrating 2021 as the Theme Year of Arts, Culture and Heritage.

The creative economies of the world have always offered the shock absorbers whenever the machinery of history has sojourned upon perilous paths. With the inimitable spirit of creative imagination, woes of mankind across time have been made speakable. The incredible has become scribable times through creative arts, for example, genocides, wars, natural calamities, dictatorships and pandemics alike.

It is with such a backdrop of faith in the wake of a raging pandemic that the ninth issue of the Jahazi Journal launched on February 24 at the Alliance Française in downtown Nairobi. Jahazi is the ace journal of the arts and art criticism in the country at the moment.

The brand new issue aptly focusses on the theme of ‘Arts and culture in the time of Covid-19’. It is the product of laborious devotion by a team of editors, led by the distinguished performing arts guru Dr Caroline Mose of Technical University of Kenya. The others include Mueni Lundi, Irene Cege, Faith Oneya of Nation Media Group and myself. 

In this issue, the editors worked with well-known scholars and practitioners from across the country to provide interpretations to the pandemic from perspectives of the arts. The end result is an eloquent edition congregating various standpoints from Kenya’s vibrant creative economy to comment, reflect and alert in equal measure.

Jahazi 9 is published by Twaweza Trust, which is headed by the venerable Prof Kimani Njogu. The issue testifies to the resilience of the arts and their champions in the face of great adversity. The fact that work on its compilation was primarily organised via online communication is noteworthy. Boardroom editorial liaison occurred via Zoom all the while in the midst of the deadly pandemic last year.

Even the launch at the Alliance was a small event graced by the editors and a few contributors and media personnel. The principle of physical and social distancing was invoked.

Joyce Nyairo has an article on entertainment and culture in the times of the pandemic from the perspective of its toll on live performances. This is one sector that received a major blow in the wake of the government strategies for containing the spread of the virus through shutdowns.

The opening article by Prof Austin Bukenya, a veteran critic from Makerere University, takes stock of the art-oriented challenges and the opportunities of Covid-19. Others like Jill Namatsi and George Gachara accentuate his views with focus on different angles of the same theme.

Economic insights of how the pandemic has affected the arts are offered by Kiprop Lagat and Roy Gitahi in must-read articles. Many other magnetic articles exist in this issue, for instance, testimonial interviews done with affected artistes, such as Elkana Ongesa, Arafa Hamadi and Biko Wekesa.

What this ninth edition of Jahazi does for our country is threefold. It emblematically celebrates the resilience and vitality of the creative spirit of Kenya amidst a global pandemic. Also it celebrates voices of the arts, like the carto0nist Gado, helping us comprehend Covid’s impact on our daily lives.

Finally, the issue verifies that creative economies articulate hope and despair wrought by Kenyan institutional responses to the pandemic. Though practical, most have raised major questions about our disaster-preparedness as a nation. This highly informative Jahazi 9 issue is available online under open access here: https://jahazi.co.ke/?p=219

Dr Makokha teaches Literature and Theatre at Kenyatta University