Monday, 10 April 2017



By margaretta wa gacheru (posted 11 April 2017)

So many group and solo exhibitions of art opened this past week in Nairobi that it was practically impossible to see and appreciate them all.

Among the most impressive group show was one at Delta House curated by Kigen Elsdart featuring a good number of young, up-and-coming local artists, many like Kigen are graduates of Kenyatta University’s fine art department.

Then at Nairobi Museum, the ‘Future Africa Visions in Time’ (FAVT) show is a multifaceted assemblage of everything from photography, installations, performances, videos, soundscapes, roundtable discussions and books. On every day through 18th April, the exhibition is a collaborative effort among Goethe Institute, National Museum, University of Bayreuth in Germany and British Institute of East Africa among others. Among the Kenyans exhibiting in FAVT are James Muriuki, Syowia Kyambi, John Kamicha and Ato Malinda. Others come from Europe and the States as well as a range of Kenyan academics.

The third important group exhibition is entitled ‘Facing the Climate’ featuring cartoonists from Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Sweden. Another collaborative initiative by the Swedish Institute, Swedish Embassy in Kenya and Buni Media, the show was curated by Victor Ndula and features thought-provoking cartoons by our own Gado, Madd, Celeste, Gammz and Victor himself.

At Kuona Trust, there’s a trio of East African artists who’ve been part of ‘Airbrush’, Brush tu Art Studio’s artists residency which ends this week. Lukwago Saad and Kasagga Jude are Ugandan artists who showcased a small fraction of their colorful and captivating paintings produced during their three months working at Brush tu. Tanzanian sculptor Safina Kimbokota is also one of the trio who took part in the residency. Working with metals and fabrics, Safina’s lifesize sculptures are powerful expressions of her views on natural beauty and the African woman.

There are also two shows by dynamic duos. Sebawali Sio and Jazzani Minae’s paintings were up last week at Shifteye Gallery but in a fortnight the two will bring back their work to The Metta at 14 Riverside Drive. And at Lord Erroll, the Art Space is having another Pop-Up exhibition by Kenyatta University Art lecturer Anne Mwiti together with Joe Makeni.

Finally, if that wasn’t enough to keep one busy, there were always the solo exhibitions. One was at Polka dot Gallery by Patrick Kinuthia, another by Wilber Mazemu at the British Institute while Naomi van Rampelberg’s Glass Art is up through April at One Off Gallery as are the installations by Rehema Chachage at Circle Art Gallery.

But the one solo exhibition that intrigued me most opened early this week at Red Hill Gallery. Onyis Martin has been on an intensely experimental artistic journey over the past few years. But of all the shows I’ve seen his artwork in, none has felt more honest, authentic and revealing as this one, entitled ‘be-com-ing’.

The show is made up of paintings on canvas, pen and ink drawings on watercolor paper and an installation including a life-size fiberglass sculpture standing inside what might conceivably be a wrought-iron rod prison cell. But then as one examines the tools surrounding the metal structure, such as the shovel, pick axe, clay tiles and paint can, one must reconsider: is it a jail cell or a construction site?

Seeing it as a construction site with a partially-completed man missing a head, half-attached genital and torso covered in posters advertising plastic surgery and pills to enhance certain body parts, one might even see the fiberglass man as a construction site. Then the installation itself becomes a metaphor for the construction (or social construction) of identity. It’s a process that Onyis has apparently been going through himself. Quite interesting, agreed!          

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