The expression jua kali derives from a Swahili term, which literally translated means “fierce sun”. The term was originally associated with the idea of travelling pedlars and artisans sitting in the scorching sun, and has evolved to mean the contemporary informal sector in Kenya. In a pejorative sense, it also stands for products of inferior quality.
Nevertheless, jua kali craftsmen are regarded as true recycling artists who, with an enormous spirit of invention and feeling for material, are able to create an everyday commodity or even a small artwork from almost any piece of trash. Inspired by such fundamental creativity and aware that this sector represents a significant portion of the Kenyan economy, photographer and artist Tahir Carl Karmali uses surreal photomontages to portray jua kali craftsmen. Each image shows an individual who has found a little niche for himself in the everyday struggle for survival, developing his own fruitful identity in the jua kali cosmos by trial and error. Technical components, computer circuit boards and mechanical parts are interwoven with the heads of the portrayed to form an anatomic unit, standing for the innermost world of thought. Karmali took pictures of garbage pieces to create his collages, and combined them spontaneously with photos of the crafstmen, in true jua kali style: making something new and valuable from something worthless.