Art as Social Commentary: Satire and Symbolism in Joseph Mbatia’s Art

  • Mwaniki E. Wacuka University of Nairobi
  • Francisca Odundo, Dr. University of Nairobi
Keywords: Socio-political, social commentary, censorship


From novelists to political cartoonists, artists have long brought a unique perspective to important public discussions of social and political issues. Yet, fury and debate over the role of the artist has resulted in blacklisting, banning, and symbolically burning artists who use their work as a means of social critique and social change. Problem: Art as social commentary has not been appreciated in the East African region. This has led many artists to rely on the western and European markets. Furthermore many artists focusing on socio-political issues have experienced censorship, threats and destruction of their works. Objective: This paper aims to explore the work of contemporary East African visual artist, establish the aspects of their work that distinguish it as social commentary and investigate the challenges that artists focusing on socio-political issues face. Design: Using desktop research this paper will determine and analyse findings on East African social commentary artists. Subject: Joseph Mbatia Njoroge began his career as a sign writer in the slums of Nairobi but his inventive spirit and sharp intellect compelled him to begin producing amusing paintings full of social commentary on issues relating to the chaos and corruption in Kenya. Bertiers’ artwork now focuses on the socio-political paradoxes infused with humor and parody that exist in Kenya and globally. Results: This study shows that satire and symbolism are very effective methods of passing a serious social or political issue present in a community and facilitate discussions on the matter displayed. Conclusion: Art as social commentary in East Africa plays a very key role in highlighting the social and political issues within the region.