Monday, 16 January 2017

IMMORTALITY REVEALED BY FIVE KENYAN ARTISTS AT BANANA HILL


FIVE ‘INSPIRED’ KENYAN ARTISTS’ WORKS AT BANANA HILL

BY Margaretta wa Gacheru (margaretta.gacheru@gmail.com)

Banana Hill Art Gallery is currently hosting a fascinating exhibition of works by five Kenyan artists entitled ‘Nairobi Inspirations’.

It may not matter that three are living and two are not. What’s moreimportant is that all five have already assured their immortal status simply by having creating stunning works of art which are putting Kenyan art on the global map in the international art world.

Michael Soi, Patrick Mukabi and Thom Ogonga as well as the late Ashif Malamba and Omosh Kindeh all are Kenyan artists of import, artists who each have a body of inspired works that merits both local and global attention.

Nonetheless, the assembling of these five in one exhibition seemed somewhat anomalous to me. It’s wonderful for any commemoration of Omosh and Ashif, two artists whose originality inspired many young artists before their demise in 2015. To lose them both within the period of months was a big blow to the Kenyan art scene. So whenever there’s an opportunity to remember Omosh who’d been part of the Kuona artists community for many years, and Ashif who was also a cornerstone in the Maasai Mbili artists collective, I feel it’s a privilege to pause and bear witness to their art which continues to delight and deepen our appreciation of their creative genius.

Certainly, the other three living artists whose works are on show at Banana Hill are equally gifted and equal in artistic stature to Ashif and Omosh. But as a local lady, I associate Mukabi with his Dust Depo Art Studio. And I tend to think of Thom and Soi as ex-Kuona colleagues who’ve had several stellar exhibitions at the recent past based on the satirical theme of ‘Sex in the City’.

So how were the five assembled on the same platform? What was the unifying factor that could explain these specific artists having their works shown together? To get clarity on this issue, I asked the Gallery’s managing director Shine Tani to help me understand how he came up with this interesting ensemble of artists.

Shine quickly introduced me to Mugo Mutothori who’s not only the curator of ‘Nairobi Inspirations’; he’s also the founder of Afro Art East Africa, an online platform that he launched several years back when he was still affiliated with University of California at Berkeley.

Mugo couldn’t have come at a more propitious moment to make his curatorial mark on the local scene, since he and his website effectively illustrate the media concept of convergence. That is to say he’s not only starting to curate art exhibitions; he’s also writing about East African artists (albeit mainly Kenyans). And he’s also doing video interviews of them, thus offering local artists global exposure over the internet and through social media.

So Mugo and his Afro Art East Africa is essentially why this otherwise surprising combination of Kenyan artists are cohabiting the gallery. Mugo has a vantage point that doesn’t necessarily situate artists at this studio site or that. As such, the five are his ‘take’ on what constitutes ‘Nairobi Inspirations’ right now.

For me what’s also special about this show is that a number of the works haven’t been exhibited locally before despite their not being brand new.

For instance, Michael Soi noted that the monumental painting of his that people see first as they enter the Gallery was painted back in 2013.

Speaking with BD Life on the evening of the show’s opening, Soi added that this one and several others of his had never been exhibited publicly in Kenya before. Soi said he’d shared them with Mugo around that same time so that Afro Art East Africa could exhibit (and potentially sell) them while he was still in the States.

Fortunately, Mugo brought these pieces with him when he returned from the US, which meant Soi was reunited with works he hadn’t seen for several years.

“I’ll be happy to take them home with me after the exhibition,” said Soi clearly pleased that his artistic offspring will be back in his studio very soon.

Several of Thom Ogonga’s paintings were also being exhibited for the first time in Kenya, including one beautiful work of a woman dressed only in pantaloons. I believe it was nearly shown here once before, but someone somewhere deemed it ‘pornographic’ which I believe it is not.

The Mukabi paintings are classics, as are the works by Omosh and Ashif. So it’s well worth seeing the exhibition which runs up to February 2nd.

Meanwhile, Yony Waite’s charming ‘Controlled Accidents’ exhibition opened Wednesday at Polkadot Gallery, to be reviewed next week.


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