MUTHONI’S MURALS AT TWO RIVERS MALL.
By Margaretta wa Gacheru (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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.”