Terry Hirst – a unique fusion of prose and visual art

Volume 14, Issue 3  | 
Published 01/02/2018
Davinder Lamba

Director of the Mazingira Institute, Nairobi

The story of the professional career of Terry Hirst and his collaboration with individuals and organizations can be told in three periods of his life.

First is the period of art education in and artist in UK and Kenya. This is up to 1970. Second is the period of editorial cartooning and the Joe Magazine. This is up to 1982. Third is the period of Pichahdithi comic books for children (retelling African folk tales) and development communication. This is 1982 onward.

It is the last period that marks the collaboration on development communication between Terry Hirst and myself and Mazingira Institute.

A variety of unique works emerged over two decades from 1982, addressing diverse areas of development to reach out to a broad scatter of audiences. Terry’s mastery of communication through the fusion of prose and visual art was unique. He was in a class by himself and the only one of his kind.

You can have a glimpse of his mastery by looking at creations such as ‘The Struggle for Nairobi’, a documentary comic book published in 1994. Through illustration, Hirst documents the tale of the city's residents continued struggle for the human right to live in an urban environment with security of tenure, safe and sufficient water supplies, healthy waste disposal and adequate living conditions. The author successfully uses the personalities of different characters to illustrate the diverse interests influencing the outcome of Nairobi's environment. The book emphasizes the importance of citizen's participation in shaping of their communities.

There is a Better Way was published in 2003. This is a documentary comic-book for people, who are completing their studies and are about to enter the arena of public life to earn a living. It is an introduction to the ideas of Amartya Sen, the celebrated economist, who earned the Nobel Prize for Economic Science in 1998, and who has spent a lifetime urging for a change of focus in what has come to be called 'the development process', that we are all experiencing. In 1999, Sen gathered all his arguments together in a landmark book called, Development as Freedom. Even the title was a revelation to the development planners at the World Bank and IMF, to whom these arguments were originally addressed. Sen's new approach has since changed development thinking profoundly, for both rich and poor, in the twenty-first century. It is a challenge to us all to make a difference. Sen's ideas are presented in this comic-book in a fast-moving illustrated dialogue - giving a broad overview of what it is that he is driving at - in the hope that more people will be attracted to read his book in more detail, to discuss it, and understand its important message to us all.


Prof. Amartya Sen, then the Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, wrote: ‘The art of communication can be very exacting especially when the content is complex. The authors of this book of cartoons have done a superb job in reaching out without losing the basic features of seeing development as freedom.’

There were numerous other projects including girls’ education in Maths and Science and on Minds Across Africa for school kids. Even a poster for kids on climate change back in 1992 and the ‘The Kenya Pocket Directory of Trees and Shrubs’ and ‘Agroforestry for Dryland Africa’ for ICRAF! And of course, civic education on how to change the constitution, later in the nineties.

Together with Terry, we were always ahead of the game. Goodbye our friend and collaborator from all of us from Mazingira, and especially from me, Diana and Shermit.

I know I'll never see you again.

But the time together

Through all the years,

Will take away these tears.

It's OK now - Goodbye my friend.

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