"Black & White" Essays In Visual Journalism

Volume 14, Issue 3  | 
Published 01/02/2018
Elimo Njau

An East African Christian Artist (Painter, Sculptor) and Educator. He is Founder-Director of Paa Ya Paa Arts Centre started in Nairobi in 1965, and of Kibo Art Gallery in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

By Terry Hirst

Terry Hirst was trained at Brighton College of Art and Design where he took his National Diploma in Design (Graphics) 1955 and later his Art Teachers Diploma (London University) 1956. He travelled to

Spain in 1951 on a scholarship and in 1955 he had another travelling scholarship which took him to Paris. He spent his National Service in the infantry regiment and in the Royal Army Education Corps - teaching current affairs, etc., when he was appointed Art Therapist to the Army Psychiatric Hospital, Royal Victoria, Netley in 1957.

From 1958 to 1965 he taught art in a grammar school, a secondary modern in Crawley Newton, and was head of department in one of the largest comprehensive schools in the Midlands. During this period he also lectured for Nottingham University Extra Mural Department, W.E.A., and taught Basic Design at Nottingham College of Art and Design.

He has exhibited in mixed exhibitions since 1955, and his work has appeared in many English and American publications including, The Times Educational Supplement, Twentieth Century, New Scientist, The Week, Voice, etc. In 1 965 he was invited to exhibit 30 works in an exhibition of International Editorial Cartoonists held at the University of Victoria, Canada. He has worked as a Designer for the University of London Press, and for four years as editorial cartoonist and educational correspondent for the London Tribune.

He was married in 1955 to a teacher and they now have three daughters “to argue with" He is now teaching art at the Kenya High School. He arrived in Kenya in 1965.

He was surprised to find that most of the paintings on display in Nairobi reflected only the Kenya landscape, which is indeed beautiful; the abundant game, which is exciting, and the paintings of people seen as picturesque or typical of a certain stage of development. But nothing was evident of the rich complexity of happiness and tension, of problems and solutions that life in a rapidly expanding city like Nairobi represents.

He says, "I set out to work on a series of drawings that are concerned with NOW, not consciously involved with the subjective fashions and cycles of art, but concerned with the humour and sadness, the strength and delicacy, the ordinariness and uniqueness of people involved in building a new society".

The artist calls his work a sort of Visual Journalism. I t was perhaps in the 17th century that one really begins to notice the beginnings of a truely robust sense of humour introduced in the British visual arts by the  painter Hogarth when he painted and engraved satires on the depraved life of high-society. But although Hogarth's paintings seemed somewhat overcrowded and tended to sermonise, one comes across the birth of visual journalism or cartoon in his work.

At the beginning of the 20th Century the so- called "Degenerate Art" by the German Expressionists lent its full weight to the Graphic Arts and particularly in the art of making cartoons. The German expres- sionism was labelled as "Degenerate Art" by the government officials of Hitler's time because they could not understand the distortions and the psychology behind this new art. Therefore in 1937 an order was signed by Reichsminister Goebbels which empowered the President of the Chamber of Fine Arts, in Munich "to select and confiscate for exhibition purposes all works of German degenerate art". It is amusing to think that the Germen government would want to exhibit what she considered insane art. But we learn from history that the government wanted to sell these works to get money.

The largest exhibition of "Degenerate Art" was opened in Munich in 1937 by a certain Professor Zeigler. Pointing to the works of Beckmann, Nolde, Kirchner, Rolfs, Marc, Barlach, Dix, Gross, Heckle, Kokoschka, Kollwitz, Lehmbruck, Hufer and others he said, "What you see here are abortions of insanity, impudence, incompetence, and degeneration". But today the works of the above-named artists are reproduced in many beautiful calendars approved and sponsored by the modern Democratic German Government. One hopes that the world continues to learn from mistakes such as this end encourage a more open- minded outlook towards ~lle arts, in order to allow them to develop in diverse and rich artistic forms particularly in the newly independent nations where "visual journalism" is not yet known. That is one of the reasons why Terry Hirst's exhibition is so important to Nairobi. Throughout his wok, it has not been his intention to moralise or to presume to offer solutions, but simply to record a fragment, to give form to a glimpse of reality of a much larger kaleidoscope of what it is like to be living in Nairobi in 1966.

By his sharp observation, his incisive drawing and as a cartoonist he gives us a frank and poetic insight into the city people, the painful colonial change-over, the big social halls, and the night clubs where "Black and White" dance a staccato rhythm to the music and movement of sensuous good-time girls. Here also are the tourists with their cameras and a puzzled look on their faces as if to question, "Is this Africa?" Yes, it is the new East Africa painfully trying to urbanise in a foreign idiom. I t all started with Dr. Livingstone crossing an African river. Now it seems "Black and White" are painfully trying to cross the river between them. Indeed here is an artist who gives each one of us something to think and talk about.

His forty drawings and pen and ink washes are sincere essays in visual journalism. Make no mistake, Terry Hirst as an artist .s not just a mirror of the passing show. He delves deep into life and leaves us laughing, talking, thinking and wondering about the pathos of life as seen in the flesh.

This is a show that might set an artistic revolution in town. The local artist cannot now escape the challenge of the city as part of Africa. Those artists who live in town will have to face the city instead of playing hide-and-seek in the villages, country landscape, behind fat elephants, the Masai and the innocent antelopes. Let us face it, it is painful to be open-minded, alert, observant and involved in the life of the city and its people. I t is so much easier to play safe and cash in on the innocent tourist who is hurriedly searching for what is "typical".

Paa-ya-Paa feels proud of this exhibition, for the "Here and Now" of Terry Hirst's work confirms one of our main aims, that is to make Nairobi, Kenya and East Africa real to us by what we can do now with our hands and humble means.

Paa- Ya-Paa.

June 1966.

E.P. Njau.

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