Jua Kali: Celebrating the junkyard genius of Nairobi’s informal workers – in pictures

by Tahir Carl Karmali, Tlaxcala, March 23, 2016.

Tahir Carl Karmali 
Tahir Carl Karmali’s intricate collages are a tribute to the city’s scrap entrepreneurs and ‘reclamation artists’

Kenya has one of the largest numbers of informal workers in Africa. Jua kali are often regarded as recycling craftsmen who are able to create everyday commodities and works of art from almost any found object

Inspired by their inventions and creativity, artist Tahir Carl Karmali has created photomontages to portray the craftsmen and women

Each image portrays someone who has found a place for themselves in the city. The portraits depict many different informal professions – from fashion designers to welders

Technical components, computer circuit boards and mechanical parts are interwoven with the portraits of the workers. Karmali took pictures of rubbish to create his collages, combining them with photos of the crafters, replicating the cut-and-mix jua kali style

Karmali was born and raised in Nairobi but now lives in Brooklyn. He began his career as an ink painter. He later turned to photography and began mixing the two mediums after working at a studio in the Kuona Trust in Nairobi
Tahir chose not to name or identify his subjects. He says he prefers for them to remain anonymous, allowing the viewer to create their own ideas of who they’re seeing
Each part of the portraits carries symbolic significance. For example, the motherboards and e-waste are ‘to depict Nairobi’s growing IT sector and shift into the digital age – where many people are self-taught developers and programmers,’ says Karmali
Jua Kali is on show at United Photo Industries in Dumbo, Brooklyn until March 26
 All images: Tahir Carl Karmali