As the Civil Servants bus rolls its way through Buru Buru Phase 1, one can easily pass by house #279 without taking note of the big bold number plate on the brick wall next to the front door.
One wouldn’t guess that inside are five of Kenya’s most inquisitive young artists – four painters and one sculptor who are busy brewing new ideas and reinventing themselves regularly.
Boniface Kimani, a former Principal of Buru Buru Institute of Art and sculptor, is the anomaly of the Brush tu Art Studio (a.k.a. #279) since the collective’s name originally derived from their all being painters.
The group got started with David Thuku (who’s now a Brush tu Art alum, having moved recently to Kuona Trust) calling his former BIFA buddy Michael Musyoka to come help him paint theatre backdrops for schools entering the Kenya Schools Drama Festival.
Soon after, Boniface Maina came on board followed by Waweru Gichuhi; and then sometime later, Elias Mong’ora showed up fresh from Nyeri, having heard that this group of guys was open-minded, gifted and happy to share their skills and a bit of studio space besides.
Several aspiring young artists have passed through the Studio since then, doing ad hoc ‘internships’ to gain artistic insight and inspiration from this generous crew of creatives.
It was around this time that the quartet accepted the fact that their first Phase 1 place was too small.
“We spoke to our landlord and he found [#279] for us,” said Maina whose crew recently celebrated their first anniversary in their new space.
“The landlord also approved of our making minor changes to the house,” Maina added, noting most of their neighbors were families.
Right now, the studio is adding a set of partitions to enable them to accommodate not just the five core artists, but others who will be part of ‘Project Air Brush’ in 2017.
“It’s an artists-in-residency program that we’ve been thinking about for some time, but then when the possibility of designing an international artists program opened up through the Danish Embassy, we went straight to work designing Project Air Brush,” said Maina, adding that Ciku Gichuhi will help administer the program.
It’s only a twelve-month project, but it will enable the studio to run two three-month residencies. “Then in between the two [residencies] we’ll run Workshops on everything from print-making and photography to sculpting and of course, painting.
However, Maina noted the workshops won’t simply rely on the expertise of the current core five. “Instead we’ll be inviting professionals to come in and run some of the workshops,” he added.
Nonetheless, Brush tu Art will continue to serve as a sort of ‘incubator’ for aspiring artists to gain inspiration and grow creatively.
The Studio is by no means the only art centre in Nairobi that’s offering opportunities to young artists, especially those who haven’t had extensive training like the quartet (Maina having graduated from the YMCA Craft Training Centre, Waweru coming from the Technical University of Kenya and Elias a so-called self-taught painter who’s been honing his artistic skills since childhood. Meanwhile, Musyoka came from BIFA as did Kimani who chose to shift from being a BIFA administrator to pursuing his first love, sculpture).
Most notably, Patrick Mukabi has been a source of inspiration and ad hoc arts training to a huge range of local art aspirants. Mukabi began by welcoming young Kenyans to his studio at the Go Down Art Centre, and now, he’s continued that practice at his own Dust Depo Studio next to Kenya Railways Museum. But Mukabi has had both the generosity and the gift to be an excellent art tutor, filling the vacuum left by the Kenya Government’s exclusion of Art from being an ‘examinable’ subject in the national curriculum.
Project Air Brush will combine a similar ‘incubator’ component during those months when the artists-in-residence won’t be the top priority.
The first two non-Kenyan artists in Project Air Brush will arrive in a few days since their three month tenure at the Studio is set to begin in mid-January. Neither are strangers to the Nairobi art scene since we’ve seen their art at sites like Village Market, Banana Hill Gallery and even the Art Space. But Ugandan artists Saad Lukwago and Jude Kasangga will undoubtedly contribute a great deal to the Studio while they are here.
In the meantime, Maina and Gichuhi will be joining Mukabi as well as Nduta Kariuki and Nadia Wamunyu early next month in Lamu at Herbert Menzer’s Painters Festival in Lamu.