People always ask why my paintings are so colourful. Especially the lions. Why are such powerful and majestic creatures drawn with splashes of bright blue and red?
I paint what I see. To me, the lion is not something to be feared. It is neither a predator to us, nor is it prey. It is our friend — an animal that helps us to understand our place both in nature and our own society.
I can paint it no other way after I saw its blood smeared over the colourful Maasai. It was when I lived with them, in Kenya, that I realised how this cat can become part of our own identity.
For their initiation ceremony, young boys have to go into the wild and kill a lion on their own. They don’t hunt it for sport or trophy hunting, but to demonstrate their bravery and worthiness. They need to prove themselves, because when they’re older they will work in groups to chase the animal away and steal its food.
If you go to Kenya now as a tourist, you can see the boys leaving to start their journey. But you can never follow them.
Because I lived with them, I saw the whole process. I saw men come back and cover themselves with the blood of Africa’s greatest carnivore.
The crimson on their skin was a symbol of the Maasai’s love for colour. To them, bright, bold tones are everything. Jewellery, clothing and hair — everything about you must speak loudly.
This is the lens through which I see the lion: a creature we must respect, one we should hold in awe, but an animal that is never to be feared.
And if you’re not afraid of such a dangerous predator, is there anything you should really be scared of? That’s how I see life; that’s why I paint such colour. — Rose Kamoto, a South African artist at the Rosebank Market in Johannesburg, as told to Luke Feltham