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Digital artist takes Maa people to space

When you look at Jacque Njeri’s work you have to blink twice to make sure your mind is not playing tricks. Her surreal images fuse Maasai culture with outer space

The Maasai people in Kenya are known for the ability to uphold their authentic culture and maintain an undiluted traditional way of life. A Kenyan digital artist, Jacque Njeri, offers a contrasting futuristic representation of the Maasai in her surreal photography collection. She has found an ingenious way to teleport Maa people to space by fusing their cultural aspects such as their traditional dressing with the modern concept of space exploration.

The project named MaaSci derived from Maasai and Science fiction depict the inherently nomadic tribe in various science fiction settings. Njeri drew the inspiration to create the project from the word MaaSci that is pronounced the same way as the tribe’s name.

The portrayal of Africans in science fiction was meant to fill an existing gap. “Very few Africans are featured in movies of this genre. Those casted only play minor roles,” notes Njeri. MaaSci is also partly inspired by Star Wars, a famous film series with a celestial setting. “I have had an interest in watching Star Wars for the longest time and this year I decided to take the leap,” reveals Njeri.

The artist applies an afro-futuristic concept in her images and draws her inspiration from Tattoine, a fictional African city that appears in Star Wars. Before embarking on her creative journey early this year, she came across TED talks presentations of African designers who all had one underscoring message; the need for more African designers to draw inspiration from their surroundings.

She heeded the call by incorporating African themes in her digital design work. A self-proclaimed fruit junkie, Njeri always had an interest in art from a young age. Getting to see creative works of one of her elder brothers who was pursuing art in high school spurred her interest in the field.

“As a young girl, I would go through his books and get excited about what he studied in school,” says the last born in a family of five. It was no surprise, therefore, that she pursued a degree in arts and design from the University of Nairobi and graduated in 2013. She started off by redesigning old postal stamps.

“I would collect stamps, re-imagine them to come with an animated finish with an African touch,” she says. Later, she ventured into MaaSci project. What initially started as a hobby has attracted a huge interest from audiences across the world. Njeri, who has a day job as a digital designer in a local firm, works on the images during the weekend and her free time.

“I feel that I owe it to my audience to consistently come up with quality content,” she says. Her creativity has earned her an invitation to exhibit her work in Amsterdam, Netherlands next year during an event called ‘Other Futures’.

She mainly showcases her work on her Instagram page. “The maa community helps identify Kenyans because of how they have held on to their culture. By basing my art on them, I give a true picture of what it means to be truly African,” quips Njeri.

Elements of the Maasai culture such as their jewellery and colourful clothing also have significant aesthetic appeal to advance a spectrum of science fiction themes. She is also using her work to address other themes such as women in leadership.

During the campaign period preceding the August General Election, Njeri created a series of photos to depict a futuristic world for women. “I felt that women are presently shortchanged in terms of political leadership and even in workplaces. By creating images that show women on the lead, it gives hope that we are soon headed there,” notes Njeri.

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