Rarely are female editorial cartoonists at the forefront of political discussion in Kenya, but Celeste Wamiru is proving that a woman’s voice can be just as powerful as any man’s.
Celeste, as she is commonly known, is an artist and cartoonist whose illustrations tackle challenging political issues head-on and spark meaningful conversations about justice and human rights. She began her career in 2011, contributing to the People Daily, a Kenyan newspaper. Through her visuals, Celeste’s cartoons raise awareness about injustices in Kenya and provide an outlet for discussion about social change.
For a long time, cartoonists have played a vital role in our society. They capture complex issues creatively and humorously and use art as a form of expression to discuss topics that society likes to avoid. Celeste is a prime example of this, using her artwork to tackle various political issues in Kenya.
Speaking to Journalists For Justice during an interview, Celeste commented on the crucial role cartoonists play by providing a platform to discuss important matters.
“A cartoonist plays a vital role in society by providing entertainment through humour and using visual satire to interrogate social and political issues that affect everyday people,” she said. “They provoke discussion among the people, thereby shaping public opinion, exerting pressure for justice and a positive social impact in our communities.”
It is this potential power that motivated Celeste to draw editorial cartoons. The positive impact of cartoons, particularly in conveying sensitive messages, encourages her to continue tackling critical social issues such as justice and human rights.
“But it is all about the timing. One must be aware of current affairs and burning issues in the community. Therefore, my choice of topics is usually based on relevance. I also like to look at issues from a woman’s point of view and present an angle that my male counterparts may not be able to show in their work,” Celeste explained her approach to work.
She said she is driven by the African concept of “ubuntu”, the belief in the collective strength of a society and that we are all interconnected. She believes that no matter how diverse people are, we are one. In her cartoons, no issue is taboo, no public figure is untouchable, and no individual is too small where justice is concerned.
To drive the point home, the artist blends humour with serious messages to make it easy for everyone to swallow and digest tough or rarely broached topics.
“Humour allows us to laugh at our flaws without losing sight of the need to spring into action, to change and improve,” said Celeste.
While she has found a perfect balance in blending humour with complex topics, editorial cartooning isn’t without its challenges. Her biggest problem, she notes, is misinterpretation. A cartoon is usually open to interpretation, and it is possible to have wildly divergent viewpoints on the same piece of art.
“This challenge is often hard to overcome. I may have intended to convey one thing, but it could be interpreted differently,” she said. “There’s no denying that a cartoon will often ruffle a few feathers, but I always remind critics, respectfully, that freedom of speech is a fundamental right enjoyed by all of us. They are entitled to their opinion, just as much as I am to mine. Therefore, it is important to respect differing views and opinions.”
For this reason, Celeste stresses the importance of educating communities on how to read a press cartoon and decipher metaphoric meanings.
Over the years, her work has had a positive reception. She notes that some of her editorial cartoons that resonated with the people have been shared widely on social media platforms. She has also received positive feedback about her art’s impact and inspiration on different communities. It has often come as a surprise to many people that a woman drew the cartoons they enjoy.
Celeste hopes her cartoons will continue to set the stage for meaningful conversations about ongoing social and political issues and inspire people to take action. She encourages aspiring cartoonists to focus on producing work that speaks to specific social challenges. As she puts it, an exhibition of such works would springboard them to gainful collaborations with interested stakeholders.
“Having a collection of meaningful art that speaks a great deal on justice can be a great reminder for citizens about past fights for justice, present wars, and potential future victories in similar struggles. Such exhibitions will undoubtedly ignite commitment to fight for rights and propel people towards promoting social reform and progressivism.”