How SVA Lectures on iTunes U Inspired a Photographer in Kenya

March 21, 2014

SVA’s online/summer residency MPS in Digital Photography was among the country’s first of its kind, so it’s no surprise the program also produces a popular series of photography lectures on iTunesU (and more recently, YouTube). Organized by department chair Katrin Eismann, the i3: Images, Ideas, Inspiration series, as it’s called, features photography luminaries like Lois Greenfield, Richard Renaldi and Brad Smith, whose talks supplement courses taught by leading industry professionals and fine artists.

One “avid follower” of the i3 series on iTunesU is Kenya-based photographer and digital and mixed media artist Tahir Karmali. Kamali recently contacted Eismann

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about how he was motivated to turn his lens to male sex workers and explore how art can inspire dialogue through photography.

tahir1In his first solo exhibition “Value. Through the Eyes of Someone Else” (which took place recently at Kuona Trust in Nairobi), Karmali displayed 15 photographs of male sex workers holding an object of sentimental value. “After the Westgate [shopping mall] attacks in Nairobi, I began to contemplate how people value another life and how they value their own,” Karmali told SVA Close Up. “I chose to photograph male sex workers because they must assign a monetary value to their bodies everyday.”

tahir2Photographing the men with an object of their choosing provided viewers an opportunity to think about how they perceive value as well. “I wanted the audience to question if their own perception of value would be different than someone from a marginalized minority group. I also wanted to see if viewers would fixate on sex work or homosexuality—both of which are illegal in Kenya,” he said.

tahir3Karmali’s images of Nairobi-based male sex workers serve as useful tools for untangling conflicting messages society gives about beauty and value. As his exhibition proved, art can encourage understanding and compassion for those in society many people overlook, revile or ignore.

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