Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Global junk artist Begona Lund exhibite at The Hub

By margaretta wa Gacheru (

Begona Lund is a phenomenon, a visual artist who fits right into the Kenyan art scene where countless local artists share her passion for recycling junk and transforming it into gorgeous works of art.
She’s also a poet who creates her multimedia paintings, sculptures, and unique neck jewelry  with ‘found objects’ from all over the world which she uses to symbolize concepts mainly associated with ‘women, earth and water’ which is also the English title of her recent exhibition at The Hub, which in Spanish reads ‘Agua, Tierra, Mujer’.
The global character of Begona’s art has a lot to do with her family’s lifestyle which has involved their traveling and working everywhere from Spain (her original home), Portugal and France to Costa Rica, Honduras and the Caribbean to Morocco, Cameroon and now Kenya. And in all those places, she’s collected anything she could envisage as one day becoming an essential element in one of her works of art.

“Those things just call me,” she told Business Daily, adding that she finds odds and ends in antique shops, open markets, or just lying on the street, like the car gear she used to create the sculpture ‘Hugging Eternity’.
Collecting other people’s junk, be it scrap metal, iron blocks, French porcelain, mother of pearl, scraps of leather, cotton, lace or silk thread, is not unlike the work that many Kenya visual artists do. But what’s slightly different is her extravagant way of mixing and blending disparate elements, often using a polyurethane cohesive to fuse them altogether.

For instance, she has several three dimensional semi-abstract paintings of fish, one designed completely out of black silk thread, the others made with a mixture of beads, scrap metal, silicon, stones and bone. For her, fish have a correlation with woman since they both have an affinity for water which for Begona is a source and mainstay of life.

But fish are just one of the images she uses to convey her appreciation for women, especially those she’s met on her travels. She’s created nine papier mache sculptures of women, all of which present symbolic rather than literal embodiments of the female. All are shaped in a whimsical, playful style: one with a sophisticated Ascot-type cravat, others with torsos shaped like a Valentine heart.

Much of Begona’s art at The Hub reflected the retrospective aspect of her show. That included her nine madams and her wildly original neck sculptures made with everything from coral, agate and mother of pearl and to hippo teeth, silicon, aluminum and wood.

But a portion of her show, including her poetry, has been created since she’s been in Kenya. That includes sculptures like ‘Street Children’ and ‘Help!’ both inspired by her work teaching art to street kids in Pangani and Mlango Kubwa (with the NGO Alfajirii), and her semi-abstract Maasai paintings which reflect her concern for that community and what the future holds for its changing culture. 

A few of works address gender issues and relationships -- some good, like the life-size wire sculpture of a happy couple standing at the entrance next door of Picazzo’s café; others not so good, like the sculpture expressive of some sort of estrangement between woman and man (symbolized by a hot-tempered cock).

Personally, my favorite piece in Begona’s show is her sculpture of a cosmopolitan lady, fashionable dressed in a sheer wire-mesh gown looking regally and statuesque as she stood in the far corner of that spacious exhibition hall looking like she was in charge of the whole show.

Noting that she’s worked with children, (primarily the underprivileged) everywhere she’s lived, Begona says the most gratifying aspect of her exhibition was that several thousand children (mostly students) came to see her show and were clearly intrigued and inspired by her eclectic approach to art.

Monday, 28 November 2016



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (margaretta.gacheru
In the visual arts, there are various techniques: from painting, drawing and sculpting to print-making, photography and even photo-transferring; but I’d never associated ‘imprinting’ with fine art.

It took Gor Soudan’s current solo exhibition at Red Hill Gallery entitled ‘Imprints’ to show me more about this versatile technique which Gor has been experimenting with for some time. His ‘imprints’ are the outcome of those ingenious experiments.

This is not the first time Gor’s devised inventive ways of creating his art. A while back, he was creating enchanting ‘see through’ sculptures made out of metal wires that he’d collected off the street.

In both cases, his art derives from a sensitivity to his environment and a passion for transforming the ordinary (be in a tree branch, a door, window grill or spare part) into an extraordinary work of art.

Interestingly, Gor never went to art school. Instead he studied philosophy and sociology, two subjects that possibly enhanced him iconoclastic approach to the arts.

One can also see his unconventional approach to art in the eclectic assortment of materials he employs to make his Imprints. For one thing, his works are all on Japanese rice paper, not canvas or linen (a medium he apparently discovered while doing an artist’s residency in Tokyo). Neither does he work with oil paints or acrylics, only inks of assorted colors, mainly black but also turquoise blue and pastel pink, which he meticulously applies with fine-point pens.

And then there are the door hinges, nails and tacks as well as the hammer and screw driver that he uses specifically when creating his sculptures, of which there are just two in this unusual show.

One is part of an impressive installation that covers a whole wall at Red Hill. It started when a friend gave him a three-meter long tree branch and recommended he do something with it.

Fortunately, rice paper comes in thick roles which enabled him to literally wrap his branch in one long swath of the delicate yet durable paper and then rub it using granite and charcoal to produce the initial imprint.

After that, Gor explained at last Sunday’s opening, he unwrapped the branch and proceeded to accentuate the impressions the branch’s bark had made using a fine-point pen and black ink to create geometric designs the contours of which derive exclusively from his friend’s branch.

As if that process wasn’t sufficient to prove Gor’s ingenuity, he then decided to cover the branch in rows of door hinges. Then, the final challenge was installing both imprinted elements, both the hinge-skinned branch and the finely designed rice paper, which now stands out as one of the high points in Gor’s show.

His other sculpture is quite different although it too began a random piece of wood which Gor transformed, this time using nails and tacks to amplify the contours of what somehow looks like a living, crawling creature.

As for Gor’s other imprints, one of the most exquisite of them derives from his rubbing of the relief carvings that he found in Lamu on their famous Swahili doors. Again, Japanese rice paper serves as his format for outlining the initial imprints to accentuate the beauty of the door carvings. But what’s equally engaging about his Lamu Door study is again the delicate geometry of squares, and triangles that he’s painstakingly drawn with a refined attention to detail.

Gor also has a sculpture over at Circle Art Gallery, part of a fascinating group show assembled around the theme of Three Dimensional art.

But in addition to Red Hill and Circle galleries having openings this last week which will run through the end of the month at least, last week also witnessed art opening of exhibitions Patrick Kinuthia at The Art Space, Elaine Kehew at Lord Erroll’s restaurant, ‘Recent Works’ by One Off artists, including Beatrice Njoroge, Richard Kimathi, James Mbuthia, Timothy Brooke, Florence Wangui, Ehoodi Kichapi, Peterson Kamwathi and Peter Ngugi who finally saw his 12 meter spoon and scrap metal tree installed at The Hub.

The Hub in Karen has also been the site of the Spanish artist Begona Lund’s multi-media exhibition that embraced sculpture, painting, jewelry and poetry. Begona, along with Peter Ngugi and Patrick Mukabi have confirmed with the Hub’s interest in making their new mall a venue for practicing artist like Mukabi who with fellow artists from Dust Depo studio conduct hands-on children’s art classes every weekend.

One last footnote about Art Space, the current hanging of Kinuthia’s work does not do justice to the artist. Neither did the previous hanging of Joel Lukhavi’s photography treat his work fairly.

Thursday, 24 November 2016



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (

Possibly the best evidence of the vitality and vibrancy of the contemporary Kenyan art scene is the fact that so many of the country’s best and brightest artists are crossing borders anD increasingly exhibiting both within the region and overseas.
                                             Mutua Matheka's Milky Way over Lake Natron

In South Africa alone, two of the leading Kenyan artists are currently having solo exhibition in Cape Town. Peter Ngugi’s paintings is at the Nini Gallery and Ehoodi Kichapi’s are also with Nini but at another venue. A number of other Kenyans – Dennis Muraguri, Jackie Karuti, Ato Malinda, and Paul Onditi – also had their art on show at this year’s Johannesburg Art Fair. And at least one Kenyan sculptor, Cyrus Kabiru with his C-Stunner eye-ware art, is being represented at all three of Smak Gallery’s centres, two in Capetown and one in Johannesburg.
                                                                      Mia Collis' Grevy's Zebras

Kenyan contemporary art is still not widely recognized on the global art scene. Not long ago, scholars who studied African art had little to say about Kenyan art, apart from taking note that local venders still sell wooden figurines to tourists which these pundits called ‘airport art’ or souvenir art. Otherwise, it was West Africa that was most widely recognized for having ‘African art’. After all, it was Westerners like Picasso and Matisse who’d confirmed something aesthetically incredible was happening on the Western side of the continent. Independent South Africa was said to be coming up fast, but in the East, little was understood to be happening at all.
                        Ehoodi Kichapi's art was exhibited at the Nini Gallery in 2016 in Capetown

Such stereotypes still persist today, although the situation in East Africa, particularly in Kenya, is changing so rapidly and also growing by leaps and bounds, that few people in the media (leave alone the scholars) have had time (or inclination) to check out all the changes. Recently, Financial Times ran a story about one rising Kenyan star, Paul Onditi who’s one among several artists who’s showcased their work either in New York or London. Names like Peterson Kamwathi, Beatrice Wanjiku and Michael Soi are also names that are increasingly coming into wider conversations about what’s percolating in Kenyan contemporary art.
                                                                 Patrick Mukabi's The Journey

Yet not even FT picked up on the fact that Kenyan artists are also exhibiting in Yokohama, Barcelona, Paris and Luanda, leave alone in Cape Town right now. In fact, so much is going on in the Kenyan art world that it can make one’s head spin if you try to keep track of which artists are doing what and where.
                                                        Paul Onditi's Smokey hits the road

 To meet the demand for spaces where artists can showcase (and ideally sell) their artwork, new galleries and art centers have been opening up practically every other week. The latest one is the Polka Dot Gallery which opened in late September with a generous mix of both indigenous Kenyan and Kenya-based expatriate art. Before that The Art Space opened, preceded by the Fundii Art Centre, Shifteye Gallery, The Little Gallery and so many more.
                                  Samuel Githui's Safarini is on the CEO's wall at Safaricom House

But today, Kenya’s up and coming artists are impatient to be placed on art centers’ waiting lists. So they are increasingly finding spaces other than the conventional galleries to exhibit their art. Some exhibit in five-star hotels (like the Dusit D2, the Sankara and The Tribe). Others ask for wall space in up-market restaurants (like the Talisman and Osteria) or coffee houses (like the Java). Meanwhile, others take their art to showcase in any one of Nairobi’s newest shopping malls, such as Two Rivers where MaryAnn Muthoni is currently covering the main entrance with literally hundreds of meters of mosaic tile murals; the Garden City mall, where Maggie Otieno’s and Peterson Kamwathi’s award-winning sculptures stand tall at the entrance and The Hub where Peter Ngugi is about to install his five meter metallic Coffee Tree.
                               Peterson Kamwathi from his Constellations and Sediment series

The slightly older art galleries like the One Off, Circle Art, Red Hill and Banana Hill art galleries all are keeping busy with exhibitions running regularly every month. The same is true for the foreign art centers like the Alliance Francaise, Goethe Institute and Italian Institute of Culture, all of which are sought after as sites that typically have a lot of CBD (central business district) traffic in local art lovers.  And even the Russian Embassy is a place that periodically mounts exhibitions in Kenyan art.

Surprisingly, the Nairobi National Museum, which came into being as a natural history museum, now has a thriving ‘Creativity Gallery’ where a multitude of newcomers dare to ask for exhibition space, which they often get. The other way the Museum supports up-and-coming artists is to host an annual ‘affordable art’ show where artists are compelled to undervalue their art, but the trade-off is that the artwork sells.  
                                                                     Evans Ngure's Self-Portrait

In fact, many foreigners who come to Kenya visit the National Museum thinking it’s something like a national art gallery comparable to the ones found in London, Harare, Lagos and Capetown. But sadly and in spite of the fact that back in 1963, Kenya’s first Minister of Foreign Affairs who subsequently became its second Vice President, the late Joseph Murumbi, proposed at the dawn of his country’s Independence that a National Art Gallery be established, no such gallery exists up to now.

That is to say, the visual art scene in Kenya has virtually no support from the government. A brief history lesson can effectively illustrate government attitudes towards the arts. For back in 1979, the retired Joseph Murumbi sold his mansion and his priceless Pan African art collection ‘for a song’ to the Kenya Government on condition that they secure the collection and establish a Joseph Murumbi Institute of African Art at his former home. The Institute was meant to be the next best thing to a national art gallery as well as a research Centre where scholars and researchers could come from all over the world to learn about both contemporary and traditional African art.
                                                 Beatrice Wanjiku, from her Strait Jacket series

But not long after the completion of the sale, relatives of the then Kenyan president, Daniel arap Moi, not only ransacked the collection. They also demolition the Murumbi mansion which had been built on some of the most expensive real estate in the country. According to Murumbi’s business partner and co-founder with Murumbi of the African Heritage Pan African Gallery, Alan Donovan, they tore the house down with the plan to put up high rise flats. The former VP was still alive at the time, but once he saw how the government had reneged on its agreement, he didn’t live long after that.
                                               Dennis Muraguri's Aliens from who knows where

Today, the Kenya government has yet to see the value of the visual arts. A few politicians and billionaire businessmen have begun to collect Kenyan art However, more often than not, they do so after hearing how local artists are starting to make hundreds of thousands – or even millions of Kenyan shillings for the sale of a painting or sculpture. So those few are starting to see the investment potential of purchasing works by local artists.

Nonetheless, the artists are no longer holding their breath, hoping for support from the politicians. But we are seeing signs that gradually, local people are visiting the galleries, attending exhibition openings and even buying works by artists.  
                                                     Richard Onyango with his fiancée Drosie

One of the most positive signs on the horizon for the Kenyan art world is the emergence of artists’ ‘incubators’ where aspiring artists come to work within communal spaces where they are exposed and even mentored by the more established artists working there. That trend began many years ago when Kenya’s first indigenous African art center, Paa ya Paa was established in the mid-1960. And since then, spaces like Kuona Trust and The GoDown art Centre have communal studio spaces where young and older artists work side by side. The latest artists’ collectives are Maasai Mbili which operates out of one Kenya’s biggest slum in Kibera, the Dust Depo where most artists come to work with one of the country’s leading artists, Patrick Mukabi and Brush tu Art, a group of five practicing artists who have opened their studio to share their passion as well as their painterly practices with newcomers.
                          Joseph Bertiers Mbatia with his scrap metal sculpture, Domestic Vioence 

All of these developments are contributing to the burgeoning Kenyan art scene. But perhaps the one Kenyan phenomenon that’s captured lots of local and international media attention is the East African Art Auction, launched by Circle Art Gallery and playing a central role in pushing up the value of Kenyan and other East African artists’ work. But there’s no one factor that’s played the most transformative role in making the Kenyan art scene as vibrant as it is today. It’s the convergence of all these factors that has caused the qualitative shift from souvenir art to what’s emerging and energizing art in Kenya today.

 Samuel Githui's Nairobi, a gift to the African Union in Addis Ababa from President Uhuru Kenyatta



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (

Out of all the many malls coming up in Kenya today, there’s only one that will feature literally hundreds of meters of mosaic tile murals by Mary Ann Muthoni.

Only Two Rivers (out Limuru Road) commissioned Muthoni to make the murals them. And that was after she went through a rigorous review process that involved more than a dozen local artists presenting their concept proposals and draft designs. Muthoni’s got shortlisted and then, finally, hers were ones selected towards the end of 2015.

So since early this year, she and her team have been busy with the practical business of making her monumental mosaic murals a reality at the entrance of the Mall.

One thing that may have influenced the Two Rivers committee to commission Muthoni for the task is the fact that she had recently created a beautiful, child-friendly multi-story mosaic tile mural in another Nairobi Mall. 

Her Lavington Mal mural is smaller than the TR project, but it was no less ambitious and challenging. The only major difference between the two (apart from the scale) is the theme.

“The [TR] murals are right at the [Limuru Road] entrance of the Mall, so the idea was to create murals that would mirror the sorts of leisure activities that someone will find inside the Mall,” says Muthoni, who’s been working night and day at Two Rivers for the past eight months.

That’s why one will see references to everything from music (both live and recorded) to movies and shopping on the four long walls [approximately 200 meters each] that lead to and from the main Mall. There are also two short intersecting walls linking the four long murals and covered in billowing waves of sparking water made out of mirrors and ceramic tiles. 

“The waves are meant to remind us that the mall itself is literally situated between two rivers,” she adds.

When we met up with Muthoni a fortnight ago, her team of artisans were still putting finishing touches on the murals. “All together we’ve worked regularly with a dozen fundis,” says Baxon ‘Karis’ Kariuki, Muthoni’s production assistant.

“Then when we’ve needed painters, we’ve brought in five more men. And when we add Muthoni, who’s with us every day, our team has sometimes had as many as 14 people working on the walls at the same time,” he adds.

Confirming the numbers, Muthoni says she personally assembled the team which includes mainly art students and graduates from Kenyatta and other universities as well as several casual laborers when, as now, they’ve needed to meet a pressing deadline.

“The idea is that we work as a team,” explains Muthoni who describes the way she’s been hands-on with her workers throughout the process.

“I like to encourage a team spirit among us,” she says who admits she had to let one worker go who didn’t seem to have that kind of cooperative attitude. Nonetheless, she has no regrets since it’s been that ‘team spirit’ which has paid off in the end. She says she’s gotten maximum cooperation from the workers that she’s been meeting every morning on the site at 7:30am.

Explaining how the construction of the murals has been a labor-intensive affair, Muthoni explains that she’s cut all the tiles herself and carefully specified their placement to ensure they achieve the effect that she’s desired.

For instance, one of the silver shopping bags that a trendy-looking young woman is carrying (featured on one of the long wall leading down from the main road towards the Mall) has parallel lines of combined mirrors and tiles so that the shopping bag shimmers and shines when it’s hit dazzling rays of sunshine.

Ultimately, Muthoni says she’d like the murals to have a relaxing effect on everyone that sees them. Already, she’s seen passersby stop and study them, after which they tend to tell each other stories about what they think the people on the walls are probably doing.

“I love listening to their stories and speculations about who is doing what with whom among the people pictured on the walls,” says Muthoni whose characters include happy shoppers as well as musicians, movie goers and music lovers, all of whom will in the near future be ideally visiting the Mall.

Noting that she’s the one who manages the day-to-day operations of the project, Muthoni adds that she even been looking after the 24 hour security of entire mural-making process.

‘For instance, I had to hire security guards to look after the scaffolding that we borrowed from the main Two Rivers contractor,” she says.

Muthoni and her team have a few more days work to go to complete the murals, but she says, they’re on track to meet their deadline.

“The [TR] committee tells us we’re one of the best contractors they’ve had on this site. That’s because we keep them informed and we meet deadlines. Also, they don’t see me as an artist. To them I’m a qualified contractor, which I take as a complement,” says Muthoni who adds she has her own registered company is called Kueneza Arts.

“Kueneza means ‘to spread’ because I want the company to spread the arts in public spaces so that even people who don’t know much about art will come to appreciate it through our work.”


Wednesday, 23 November 2016



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (
Clavers Odhiambo with his Michelangelo-like painting "The Chosen One' but in place of God and man, he painted Hitler & Trump. All photos by Margaretta

Making the best of a sad situation, the Kenya Art Fair went forward this past weekend irrespective of the shadow that is currently still being cast over the original organizing body of the fair, Kuona Trust.

Planning for the Art Fair began many months before the Trust’s Board of Trustees closed Kuona offices in order to have an official audit conducted, since big money (an incalculable amount running into the multiple millions) had gone missing and the Board as well as some donors wanted to get to the bottom of tragic quagmire that has left Kuona artists in limbo and friends of Kuona confused. ‘How could this have happened?’
David Thuku with his art at the winning Brush tu Art booth with Red Hill Gallery's Hellmuth Rossler-Musch and Sandeep Desai.

But Kuona artists are strong and smart so they not only conducted a successful fundraiser, Kuona Reloaded, this past week (which is still ongoing although discounts are less than previousy). They also sustained the Kenya Art Fair with support from The Sarit Centre and the Textbook Centre as well as the German Embassy, Goethe Institute, Safaricom, and Uber among others.
       Waweru Gichuhi with his painting at the Brush tu Art booth. His painting captured the public imagination and many took photos of the guy looking contemplative, like Waweru

What’s more, both Kenyan and Ugandan art centres came out in full force this year. There were more than 20 that rented space, signaling just how vibrant and resilient an art scene we have in Kenya. The hub of it is of course in Nairobi; but galleries from the Coast (Diani Beach) and Kisumu (The Little Gallery) as well as Kampala (Fek Fek, Njovu, Karibu and Umoja) were also represented.
My favorite painting at the Kenya Art Fair was by Michael Soi: Make America Regret (not Great) Again, a parody of the Trump slogan and a perfect image of the backward thinking President-elect

There were also many independent, unaffiliated artists represented at the Fair, a number of whom were newcomers who exhibited under the Wasanii (aka Kuona) umbrella, such as Philip Micah, Thibite Kamau, Brian Mandere and Lucinda Ochieng among others.
      Newcomer to the Kenya Art Fair, Lucinda Ochieng exhibited in the Wasanii Hall at Sarit Centre
In addition, there were more than a dozen individual artists that had rented booths of their own. Among them were Patrick Kinuthia, Cyrus Kabiru, Geraldine Robarts, Kamal Shah, and Michael Soi (aka The Bag Factory), the latter two coming up ‘tied’ in a public contest held in the last hours of the Fair in which both of their booths were ‘runners up’ behind the ‘winning booth’ based on votes that elected Brush Tu Art Studio, the five-man space based in Buru Buru.

Some cynics suggested that Brush Tu had an advantage since the five artists, namely Boniface Maina, David Thuku, Michael Musyoka, Waweru Gachuhi and Elias Mungora, were able to enlist all their friends in voting; but I for one agree with the public that voted and gave the winning prize to Brush Tu Art.

Mego Kimani's Children. Below, Moses N's Paying Dowry

The other competition established well before Kuona’s financial queries arose was for the best Graffiti art. That award went to the trio of artists calling themselves BSQ, the acronym for Bebeto Ochieng, Eric ‘Stickky’ Muriithi and Kennedy Ochieng with the runner-up being Elija ‘Eljay’ Mutua.

In fact, the Art Fair got mixed reviews this year. Some felt the ‘shadow’ of Kuona’s yet- to-be unraveled financial mess led some of Kenya’s best visual artists to stay away, and that could be true.

But our local art world is dynamic and ever-changing with young artists emerging on the scene regularly. So that while a gallery like One Off was conspicuous for its absence (meaning more than a dozen of Kenya’s top-drawer artists were invisible this year), nonetheless, art centres like Dust Depo, Wajukuu Art Project, Railway Gallery and Wasanii all presented artworks by young artists who are coming up fast. They include painters like Lee Gitahi, Kibet Kirui and Soloman Luvai.Moses                                    
The other factor that effectively countered complaints that this, the 3rd Kenya Art Fair was weaker than in years past, was in the positive impact that artists from around the region had, such as Baharaddin Mohammed and Magdi Adam from Sudan and Jjuuko Hoods, Jude Kasagga, and Saad Lukwago from Uganda as well as Elaine Kehew from the US whose installation inspired by a recent incident of violence against a young university student elicited much discussion from slightly diminished numbers who attended the Fair this year.
William Ndwega of Little Art Galery, Rose Jepkorir, independent curator & James Muriuki, curator-photographer at Curators' Workshop at the Art Fair

Meanwhile, no less than eight solo exhibitions – and two group shows -- are up and running right now in Nairobi. They include works by Jim Chuchu (The Bones Remember) at Goethe Institute, Collins Sekajugo at The Art Space, Magdi Adam at British Institute of East Africa, Timothy Brooke at One Off Gallery, Anne Mwiti at Polka dot Gallery, Boniface Mwangi at Alliance Francaise, Richard Njogu with Cleophas Ondula at Fundii Centre for the Arts and Begona Lund at The Hub’s Gallery in Karen. Plus, Kuona Reloaded continues as does Red Hill’s Woodcut Prints Exhibition.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

British Council Kenya awards 8 of 11 collaborative art projects to Kenyan Creative


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (

British Council Kenya has given a big boost to the East African arts scene with its recent selection of awardees who responded to BC’s July 2016 open call to take part in its ‘new Art new Audiences’ project.

The call was extended specifically to artists and art organization across East Africa, including Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Ethiopia as well as across the UK.

The goal of the project, according to Sandra Chege, BC’s new Arts and Communications Manager, “is to facilitate new art and innovative collaborations between artists and audiences in the UK and in the region.”

Out of 217 applications received, only 11 were selected projects were selected. And of those 11, eight came from Kenya in collaboration with other artists and/or arts organizations from East Africa and the UK. In all, more than 30 East African and UK artists and art organizations will be participating in the project. Among the winners are fashion designers, dancers, musicians, filmmakers, photographers, poets, thespians, curators and visual artists, writers, hair stylists and digital artists.

Making the announcement last Friday of the specific grant awardees, the British Council Kenya Country Director, Tony Reilly explained the rational for BC’s developing the ‘new Art new Audiences’ project.

“Arts are a cornerstone of the British Council’s work to create friendly knowledge and understanding between the people of the UK and the wider world.”

And speaking directly to the awardees who’d come to BC’s High Ridge offices to be notified in person of their success, he added: “We are looking forward to witnessing the dynamic new art that [will be] created and shown to audiences in the UK and East Africa.”

Only four of the eight projects were represented last Friday. They included The Textile Print Project, represented by fashion designer Diana Opoti who will be working with Ugandan, Rwandese and UK  designers to create new textiles inspired by traditional African fabric designs; the Jalada Mobile Literary Festival and Literary Bus Tour designed by Jalada’s Moses Kilolo and Richard Oduor in collaboration with artists and translators from Rwanda and the UK; Meet me Outside, represented by Eugene Lowell who will develop a ‘film trilogy’ devised with film, music and photography by Eugene and other artists from Tanzania and UK; and M-Brace, an outdoor dance project created by the Pamoja Dance troupe together with disabled and non-disabled dancers from Uganda and UK, and represented by Joseph Muriithi.

The other four projects in which Kenya is collaborating include the Future Friends Portal which will engage curators from the UK together with artists, designers, musicians and ‘thinkers’ from Kenya and Ethiopia; the Trans Luo Express which will be involved in the collection and production of ‘transnational’ Luo music from Uganda, Kenya and UK; Man the Unfree, based on the essay (of the same name) by the late Ugandan writer and literary giant, Okot p’Bitek, featuring dance, poetry, performance and a digital art installation involving artists and art institutions from Kenya, Rwanda and UK; and finally, Components, which will feature a set of collaborative DJ-led performances involving Rwandese, Kenyan and British musicians and music producers together with Kenyan DJ Gregg Tendwa and East African promoters who will stage shows all across Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and the UK.

The other three projects are Salooni, which will address issues related to the politics of hair (be it straightened, braided, woven or bewigged) and     engage hair stylists, thespians, filmmakers and photographers from Uganda, Rwanda, Ghana and the UK; Out of the Blue, a digital collaboration between artists from Kampala, Kigali and Bristol, UK that will address issues affecting youth using interactive social media; and finally, the ZineFutures East Africa, involving online animators and storytellers in the creation, viewing and discussion of illustrated storytelling through the ‘easy-to-produce’ art (maga)zines and books made by Ugandan and Rwandese artists and showcased in London.

According to BC’s Head of Art East Africa, Rocca Gutteridge, these multimedia collaborations are bound to create “connections between contemporary East African and British culture [which] is the core BC’ East African Arts programme.”



        Kenya Art Fair to open despite Kuona Trust offices closed while forensic audit underway

By Magaretta wa Gacheru (

Paul Njihia and Fred Abuya, both Kuona-based artists draw caricatures of guests at Kuona Reloaded as part of fundraising initiative by artists. All photos by Margaretta 

Even though Kuona Trust’s Board of Trustees shut down the Trust offices last September so that one of its major donors could conduct a special audit of Kuona’s accounts, all the studio artists based there have vowed to do everything in their power to keep their precious art center alive and strong.

That power was dramatically manifest this past weekend when the artists organized a multifaceted event entitled ‘Kuona Reloaded’.
The Russian Ambassador bought Rosemary Ohoro's "Mother and Child" during Kuona Reloaded. the Ambassador is a keen supporter of the Kenya contemporary arts

Part art fair, fund-raiser and live music concert, what was ‘reloaded’ at Kilimani-based art center was clearly the artists’ spirit, recharged after being demoralized by all the rumors circulating that “Kuona was dead.”

“Just because the offices are closed doesn’t mean Kuona is dead,” said Meshak Oiro, one of the 35 artists based at the Trust who was quick to debunk the talk of the Kuona’s demise.
Deaf jewelry designer and painter Wilson Mwangi having fun with artist Nadia Wamunyu at Kuona Reloaded. His necklaces, pendants, wall hangings and rings were displayed during Kuona Reloaded and are also sold at the Kuona shop

Ironically, the current crisis the center is facing (given that multi-millions are missing and some donor-funded projects stalled since the cash they require is ‘gone’) has galvanized the artists to work in solidarity to give the center all they’ve got.

Working collectively, they created a central committee made up of five (namely Gakunju Kaigwa, their chosen Chairman, Thom Ogonga, Dennis Muraguri, Alex Njoroge and Kevin Oduor). After that, the immediate issue was raising funds to meet the minimum requirements to keep the Trust afloat.

The most conspicuous fundraiser opened last Saturday morning after almost all the artists donated one or two works for sale (at a ridiculously low price) to the opening day art sale of Kuona Reloaded.

Starting from 10am, friends of the Trust floated into the gallery and within the first hour, artworks by everyone from Dennis Muraguri, Patti Endo, David Thuku and Onyis Martin to John Siver, Jessica Atieno, Longinos Nagila and Rosemary Ahoro had red ‘sold’ stickers under them.

By the end of that first day, practically everything on the gallery walls was sold. There are still some paintings and sculptures on sale there through this weekend. Plus a myriad more are available in Kuona’s shop together with jewelry, gift cards, hand-painted bags and t-shirts.

Another sign of artists solidary is that all their studios are open and the public encouraged to come, see and buy art at prices set by each creative; then, a percentage of each sale goes towards saving one of Kenya’s leading art centers.
Gor Soudan, his wife and newborn child had a delightful time at Kuona Reloaded

“We’ve already covered this month’s rent,” said Wangari Murugu, one of the four trustees. The other three are Chairman Chris Ngovi, Rahab Nderu and Maggie Otieno who on Saturday presided over a raffle of artworks by both Kuona artists and alumni like Michael Soi who contributed one of his popular hand-painted bags to the cause.

Above: Art by Aron Boruya (above Gor), painting by Stickky Muriithi, Jewelry by Cindimillie and photo of Photographer Joel Add to dictionary in his studio at Kuona Trust..

The committee also opened their spacious grounds for artisanal vendors like Cindimini Jewelers to rent space and sell their hand-made crafts and clothes.

A local reggae band also performed throughout the afternoon and into the night. Tunedom Reggae was so good a band that many people couldn’t resist jumping up on the grass and getting their reggae moves in gear.
Tunedom Reggae perfrmed at Kuona Readed

                 Tunedom Reggae performed live most of the Opening day of Kuona Reloaded.
By now the special audit has been completed. Commissioned by the Swedish NGO, Forum Syd, its results will soon be shared with the artists and other interested parties involved in financially supporting the Trust.

That includes Kenya’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs which actually commissioned sculptor Kevin Oduor (the artist responsible for creating the Dedan Kimathi statue) to create a life-sized sculpture of the late Nobel laureate Professor Wangari Maathai.

Kevin has yet to complete the work since he never received the funds required to buy all the art materials. The Ministry is concerned because they already paid USD10,000 directly to Kuona Trust by cheque, yet Kevin didn’t receive a spec of that money until the Ministry queried Kuona’s former Director Sylvia Gachia as to why funds hadn’t been released to the artist.
Alex Njoroge's Gazelle was one of the Kuona artists' works selling at rock-bottom prices so that funds could be raised to save Kuona Trust

After that, Kevin received a fraction of the funds he needed, but then, the questions started to fly and he hasn’t seen his money nor Sylvia since the offices were shut.

Meanwhile, the Kenya Art Fair opens officially today through this weekend at Sarit Centre. Originally organized by Kuona, the Art Fair was on its way to becoming one of the most anticipated art shows of the year. But that was before the current cash crisis came to light and most Kuona artists have distanced themselves from the Fair until the current scandal gets resolved.

Bags painted by Kenyan artists like Michael Soi, John Kamicha and Dennis Muraguri are selling at Kuona Trust, The GoDown and elsewhere.

That resolution is bound to come soon since not only the artists, but the donors and the Kenya Government are keen to get to the bottom of the ‘missing millions’ at Kuona Trust.

Above, Thom Ogongo was selling his woodblock prints during Kuona Reloaded while David Thuku's Bottle top Clock was not for sale in his studio 

In the meantime, Kuona Reloaded runs through this weekend as the artists continue working in their studios.