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Afro-Juba: Osborne Macharia On His Kenyan Schoolyard Game-Inspired Photo Series

Nairobi-based photographer Osborne Macharia speaks on his Kenyan schoolyard game-inspired conceptual photo series, 'Afro-Juba.'


BRIKICHO: Hide and Seek, from 'Afro-Juba' by Osborne Macharia

Osborne Macharia is a self-taught advertising and contemporary photographer whose striking images are instantly recognizable due to the mellow hues and dynamic lighting that imbue each of his subjects with an otherworldly glow. Born and raised in Nairobi, Macharia received a degree in architecture, but just a few years ago found that his true passion lay in photography. Since then, he's managed to carve out a niche for himself in the field of commercial photography, while also carrying out personal projects that he says "help him to define and refine [his] work."

Macharia's latest photo project, Afro-Juba, consists of a series of images "inspired and dedicated to the games that defined our childhood, before the era of video games." The conceptual set sees him re-imagine four Kenyan schoolyard games, including Brikicho (hide and seek), Cha-Mama (girls role playing as mothers and wives; sometimes involving boys playing husbands), Duf Mpararo (skinny dipping in tadpole infested water) and Muwindo (hunting for quails and other smaller birds using a slingshot). We recently caught up with Macharia over email to hear more about his imaginative new series and his take on Nairobi's emerging photography scene.

Jen for Okayafrica: Could you tell us about your latest photo series, Afro-Juba? What’s the story behind it?

Osborne Macharia: Afro-Juba came about after meeting up with hair stylists Corrine Muthoni and Richard Kinyua who really wanted to go all out. Even without having a concept in mind, we set a date and began working around having something to execute by that date. I didn’t want it to be another ordinary hair shoot so I had to scout for a good fashion designer who had a unique collection and that's where I linked up with a designer called Charity Namnyak. All that was left was finding a stylist who would mix and match so that the attention wouldn’t move away from the hair but still make the models stand out. That's where Kevin Abraham came in. Now we had a team but still no concept in place. The models I wanted to use had to be dark-skinned and the first model that came to mind is a friend called Anok. When I got in touch with her she had just landed from Juba, South Sudan. The name "Afro-Juba" came to mind. As we began shooting, I noticed a pattern that reminded me of some of the childhood games we used to play and each look had a reference. That's how the project came together.

OKA: What's your photography background?

OM: I discovered photography during my fourth year on campus when I failed a unit and had to sit out for one academic year redoing that one paper. I had a lot of time on my hands. One day I stumbled upon the work of renowned photographer Joey L. and that was the turning point for me. I was good at building architectural models which I did for a couple of architectural firms and I would buy photography gear from that. This went on for almost three years before photography was able to sustain itself while trying to balance between finishing school and establishing my photography business. That's how my journey began.

OKA: How would you describe your current artistic style? Do you think that you’ve settled into a style that reflects your passion? Or do you still discover new things every day?

OM: I honestly have no words to describe my style, it's my audience who have described it for me. Some say it's “a mixture of CGI and photography’ while others say it's "photography with a painted effect bordering on illustration." There was once someone by the name of Jannis Gabrielides who through Facebook described my work as such: "‘the classical painting-like aesthetics with warm and smooth colors, the deep shadows carving out the marks life has left on the model's faces, and most of all the dignity that gives your characters a profound sense of beauty going way beyond that of superficial perfection." That's the best description I have heard of my work. In terms of settling on style, I think I have. Now it's a matter of experimenting more within those lines as well as discovering more subject matter that will best be captured using this style.

OKA: Can you tell us a little bit about the photography and art scene in Nairobi?

OM: Photography in Nairobi is quickly picking up with more and more passionate photographers emerging every day. There are quite a number of Instagram meet-ups happening every month. Corporations are starting to see the need for better photography to push their brands a notch higher as well as couples looking for wedding photographers. I’m also the co-founder of LightFreaks which is a workshop series dedicated to photographers who are getting into lighting especially outdoors. We have had a couple of workshops in Nairobi and its environs and recently had a workshop in Addis, Ethiopia.

OKA: What inspires you to create?

OM: I’m inspired by quite a number of things, from lighting in movies, Illustration magazines, stories from the hood, creative social platforms such as Behance, fantasy and more importantly other photographer’s/artist’s works.

OKA: Are you currently working on any new projects? What's next for you?

OM: I’m always working on a new project. All I can say is follow me on Behance and see whats next.

"CHA_MAMA: Girls role playing as mothers and wives. Sometimes involving boys playing husbands," from 'Afro-Juba' by Osborne Macharia

DUF_MPARARO: Skinny dipping in tadpole infested water, from Afro-Juba by Osborne Macharia

"MUWINDO: Hunting for Quails and other smaller birds using a slingshot," from 'Afro-Juba' by Osborne Macharia

Interview
Courtesy of Osborne Macharia

In Conversation with Osborne Macharia: 'There is no excuse to creating sub-standard work just because it’s from ‘Africa’.'

The Kenyan photographer talks about his Afrofuturistic photoshoot for Africa's biggest horse racing and fashion event—the Durban July.

Osborne Macharia is a Kenyan visual artist and fine art photographer with an exquisite eye that is committed to capturing the unique and endless creative realities of the African continent. Back in 2016, Macharia created NYANYE, a stunningly refreshing editorial that photographed badass grannies "who were once corporate and government leaders in the 1970s but are now retired" and are now a part of Kenya's League of Extravagant Grannies, according to Macharia.

A few months later, he followed that body of work with a collective entitled Kabangu which captured eccentric hip-hop grandpas. Then last year, Marvel commissioned Macharia to create exclusive artwork for Black Panther wherein he introduced the world to the three "Blind Elders of Wakanda".

This year, Macharia is back with an Afrofuturistic photoshoot with Vodacom Red and South African designers Laduma Ngxokolo, Sindiso Khumalo and Rina Chunga Kutuma for this year's Durban July—South Africa (and Africa's) biggest annual horse racing and fashion extravaganza. The Durban July is currently underway and this year's theme is "Once Upon an African Future". The photoshoot seeks to create materials that personify Afrofuturism through combining historical elements, the present culture as well as the future aspirations of people of color whilst simultaneously creating universes that one wouldn't normally see.

We caught up with the visual artist to find out what Afrofuturism means to him as well as how he and his collaborators hope to shake the space up at this year's Durban July.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Image courtesy of Osborne Macharia

Osborne Macharia Introduces the 3 Blind Elders of Wakanda In Exclusive 'Black Panther' Artwork

The Kenyan visual artist was commissioned by Marvel to create original artwork for the film.

Kenyan artist and fine art photographer, Osborne Macharia, is a master at creating alternate black universes. Macharia envisions a world where Kenyan women freedom fighters with opulent hair and hip-hop grannies reign supreme. That's perhaps, why the folks at Marvel, commissioned the artist to create original artwork for their afrofuturistic masterpiece, Black Panther.

"When I was approached by Marvel to create an exclusive art piece for Black Panther, I was excited at the fact that finally the world is seeing what we are doing in Kenya and Africa in general," the artist tells OkayAfrica.

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Photo courtesy of CSA Global.

In Conversation with Congolese NBA Player Emmanuel Mudiay: 'I want more African players in the NBA.'

The Utah Jazz player talks about being African in the NBA, supporting basketball in the DRC and how 'everybody knows about Burna Boy'.

Inspired by his basketball-playing older brothers, by second grade, Emmanuel Mudiay already knew that he wanted to play in the American National Basketball Association. Then in 2001 his family, fleeing the war in Democratic Republic of Congo, sought asylum in the United States.

In America, Mudiay saw basketball as a way for him to improve his situation. After impressive high school and college careers, he moved to China to play pro ball. Picked 7th overall in the 2015 NBA draft, the now 23-year-old guard has made a name for himself this season coming off the bench for the Utah Jazz.

Mudiay attests to the sport having changed not only his life but that of his siblings. Basketball gave them all a chance at a good education and the opportunity to dream without conditions. Now he wants to see other talented African players make it too.

We caught up with him to talk about his experience as an African player in the NBA, his hopes for basketball on the African continent and who he and his teammates jam out to in their locker rooms.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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University lecturer and activist Doctor Stella Nyanzi (L) reacts in court as she attends a trial to face charges for cyber-harassment and offensives communication, in Kampala, on April 10, 2017. (Photo by GAEL GRILHOT/AFP via Getty Images)

Jailed Ugandan Activist, Stella Nyanzi, Wins PEN Prize for Freedom of Expression

The outspoken activist, who is currently serving a prison sentence for a poem she wrote about the president's mother's vagina, won for her resistance "in front of a regime that is trying to suppress her."

Stella Nyanzi, the Ugandan academic, activist, and vocal critic of President Yoweri Museveni has been awarded the 2020 Oxfam Novib/PEN International award for freedom of expression, given to writers who "continue to work for freedom of expression in the face of persecution."

Nyanzi is currently serving a 15 month sentence for "cyber harassment" after she published a poem in which she wrote that she wished "the acidic pus flooding Esiteri's (the president's mother) vaginal canal had burn up your unborn fetus. Burn you up as badly as you have corroded all morality and professionalism out of our public institutions in Uganda."

According to the director of PEN International, Carles Torner, her unfiltered outspokenness around the issues facing her country is what earned her the award. "For her, writing is a permanent form of resistance in front of a regime that is trying to suppress her," said Torner at the award ceremony.

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