Kenyan earns living from sculptures

17:11, July 09, 2010      

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A crocodile lies lazily on a stone relishing the thrills of the morning sunshine as the sun strives to rid the grass the morning dew.

Closely standing near the crocodile is a giraffe nibbling the leaves of a gigantic acacia tree. Surprisingly, the animal seems unperturbed by the presence of the crocodile as it feeds itself.

At a nearby tree, a monkey jumps from one branch to another apparently in a jovial mood. Under the tree, a gazelle struts leisurely towards the crocodile.

Lying at another spot in the habitat is a carcass of a buffalo having met its death in the hands of a poacher. This is not a scene at one of Kenya's renowned game parks but an artist's depiction of life in the jungle.

Normally, these animals do not co-exist. A crocodile will not have a second thought on whether to pounce on a gazelle or a giraffe.

But through the eyes of this artist, such an unnatural relationship can exist in the jungle. Francis Akunda, an artist, uses banana fibres and wires to model sculptures depicting Kenya's diverse wildlife. "When making my sculptors, I make sure that they are as real as possible so that people, especially children can not confuse them. A child may see a leopard and call it a lion. If this happens, as an artist I would have failed," he says.

Through his work also, he addresses issues that threaten wildlife survival, for instance poaching.

Kenya is among countries in Africa where poaching is rampant despite the vice having been outlawed in the country in 1977.

Poachers target especially rhinos and elephants for their tusks and skins, which fetch a lot of money in the black market particularly in Asia.

When modelling the animals, Akunda starts by making outlines using wires. "I pick wires from metal workshops and other places then with a pair of pliers, I twist and turn them into animal shapes. The work requires one to be very keen unless you want to end up with an antelope that resembles a lion," he says.

Once he completes making the frame, Akunda prepares banana fibres that he uses to form the animal bodies. "I clean banana fibres and soak them in water for several hours to make them soft and easier to wind on the frames," he explains.

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