Jackie Karuti, known for her experimental and conceptual work, uses new media to explore themes related to knowledge, death, sexuality and migration. Her mediums include drawings, installations, video and performance pieces.
Her drawings are reminiscent of whimsical storybook illustrations, with the backgrounds of her images having an eerie openness, evoking a similar feeling to a nightmare where you find yourself in a strange, yet familiar setting. The ghosts of Yves Tanguy and Joan Miró’s work appear, however Karuti’s work is a portal to a different dimension.
Karuti also has a fascination with books – the knowledge they contain and their presence as physical objects. She makes her own books, which fold out with intimate content resembling a young girl’s diary entries. Her interest in books comes from her constantly trying to breakdown and reconstruct what is defined as knowledge, and who has access to this knowledge. This unpacking of the value of books and the act of knowledge production presents the possibility for unlearning and reconfiguring. With this foundation, Karuti has put together her own curriculum. “Self-education encourages independent thought and learning as well as critical thinking skills. It eventually becomes a lifelong pursuit of constructive and stimulating thought processes,” Karuti explains in an article for Art Africa. Self-education from Karuti’s point of view offers a pathway to discover alternate universes and to construct one’s future.
This fixation with books and their purpose has resulted in a number of projects, including her series of zines titled ‘Exit’. These zines exhibit larger conversations around migration and queerness through the artist’s sketches and scattered, unfiltered thoughts. An earlier work titled ‘Where Books Go To Die’ treats these physical objects and living organisms. A simulated library with a librarian who demands silence, was exhibited as the graveyard for books. Another installation addressed a follow on question; if libraries are where books go to die, where can they be found alive? A table of books fanned so that the pages tremble, flutter and make a noise are the way in which Karuti presents books being alive. The turning of pages brings books to life.
Karuti’s exhibition ‘There Are Worlds Out There They Never Told You About’ was held at the Goethe Institut in Nairobi. Through the use of various media, she interrogated the current conversations and violent reactions to migration around the world. Included in this is negotiations related to establishing a sense of belonging which is evident in Brexit and the African Union’s consideration of a universal visa for Africa. The exhibition brought together a variety of media to address migration and alternate worlds. These alternate worlds often make reference to the ocean. The potency of this reference comes to light when thinking about how black people were taken across the ocean in slaves ships, and were thrown or jumped overboard, and how the ocean is a carrier of migrants. In defining alternate Karuti expressed that, “Alternatives mean you can choose different options regarding life, death and general existence. I’m most keen on the possibility of alternate worlds, which defy normalcy, dogma and conventional living.”