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Artist of the Month: Joseph Chege

For the month of May, the Africa Matters team had the opportunity to find out more about Nairobi-based creative, Joseph Chege. A passionate photographer, Chege is know for his minimalist approach in depicting both natural and man-made imagery.

-- AMI: Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

JC I am Joseph Chege, a fine art photographer from Nairobi, Kenya and Co-Founder of a local creative advertising agency, Sticks and Stones. My pseudonym “Nabster “ came about when in university as I would create algorithms to test how secure databases and firewalls in my school were against malicious attacks.

AMI: What inspired you to do photography? What is your muse?

JC: My pursuit for photography came from a need to enhance my graphic design by veering away from using generic stock images. I wanted to make images that I felt proud to have on all the items we would make for our clients at Sticks and Stones. By so doing I came to discover minimalism as an art form as well as a lifestyle and I haven’t stopped since

AMI: What do you want people to take from your work?

JC: I try to capture moments of my life in the images that I create. I take things that, for whatever reason -- be it good, bad or sad, have moved me in some way. I represent them up in images that I think are cool and fit what I am trying to verbally express. I try to ride that thin line of combining technology with some heart and I try not to dilute the original intention of the image.

I believe that my work could be a cultural compass, pointing to a more simplistic state of mind, that my collection images would be a history book, rich with elegant compositions, articulate messages, ferocious attitude, boldness and a call for social change

AMI: Would you say your art expresses a positive African narrative? How?

JC: I used to battle with myself on whether my work possesses “Afrikan-ness” when I dived deep into minimalism. Until one day as I was going through one of my notebooks I noticed the phrase “There is no one way to be Afrikan” This is when I realized that I could be creating a New Narrative and that I was responsible for making sure this narrative dignified both my country and continent. I mean Look at all the lines and patterns in our garment, look at the vibrant color of our earth, foliage and skies.

When there was war in Burundi two years ago, I went up to read on the situation there and was immediately presented with all these horrific Images of death and agony. I thought I should make at least one image to show hope to anyone who lived there and followed my work and that is how this image came to exist and has since become a permanent piece at the Burundi Embassy.

AMI: How proud are you to be an African? What do you love about your culture?

JC: I am a proud Afrikan and even more so intrigued by the new cultural experiences every time I travel to a new country within our continent or within my country. I am very passionate about our music as a continent, knowing that we have produced legendary artists like Salif Keita, Cheik Lo, Baaba Maal and that are a huge inspiration in terms of intermarrying traditional culture within urban or new age mediums. This has fueled me to create new narratives; that we are not exactly what the world chooses to view us as. That we can coexist, match and even surpass the rest of the world in terms of creativity and artistic elegance.

AMI: What advice would you give fellow photographers who are afraid but passionate to show their work?

JC: Nayyirah Waheed in her book titled “Salt” opens up and says:

“The thing you are most afraid to write… Write that”

I believe the same applies to photography, recognizing that you have to create from your heart entirely for yourself as the primary consumer before your audience consumes the same. So develop a style or an aesthetic, stick to that and give it your all. Constantly keep creating, your audience will find you.

The “best art” makes the world feel a little less terrifying and makes things feel a little intertwined. So express yourself fully through your images.

AMI: Is there anything you'd like us to share that has not been asked?

JC: I am constantly asked what “gear” I use and although o n most occasions I respond with my camera and lens type. I tell people to never allow your tools to dominate the message. Great imagery emerges when all those things take a back seat and you get the message. So be a photographer who continuously pushes him/herself to learn and grow their craft, a photographer who seeks to make new realities and new narratives from where they are from. Art comes from the heart, not from gear. -- To see more of Chege's work, check out his Instagram page:

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