Monday, 1 May 2017


BY margaretta wa gacheru

Villa Rosa Kempinski hotel can be applauded for partnering with Kenyan artists invited via Kuona Trust to spend a working week at their place, painting everywhere from the front lobby and Lucca restaurant to the K-Lounge Gardens and the Balcony Bar.

Transforming the notion of ‘public art’ from being static statues and monuments into performance art, it was the artists themselves who were ‘performing’ as the public (including hotel guests and staff) witnessed the process of Kenyans creating fresh new artworks in the course of five days.

Wasanii Jukwali Edition 2 (WJ2) had a whole new crop of artists compared to the commendable crew who took part in last year’s WJ1. The big difference between the two events is that 2017 is when Kempinski Hotels are celebrating 120 years since the global group was founded by Berthold Kempinski in Berlin back in 1897. Thus, anniversary celebrations became the central theme suggested to the 14 artists invited to be part in WJ2.  

Last Saturday night’s exhibition, held in the Hotel’s Grand Ballroom, was a beautiful illustration of the wealth of Kenyan artists’ originality and imagination. For in a sense, they were constrained by the Kempinski concept unlike last year which was open ended. But the artists made the most of the theme, each treating the topic in their own individual way.

For instance, Hunnington Gwanzu’s “Transition” highlighted the historical notion of time-travel, from 1897 up to 2017. Waweru Gichuhi’s ‘Beginning of a Dream’ depicted the physical process of the Hotel’s construction; while Anthony Maina offered a bird’s eye view of the luxurious trappings of Kenpinski’s elegant tented camp in Maasai Mara.

Then there was David Thuku whose fascination with hotel uniforms were graphically depicted in paper cuts, Anne Mwariri who painted a 19th century gaslight and Brian Nyabuti who drew regal hotel furnishings from the Victorian era..

There were three of the 14 who focused on Berthold Kempinski, Ian Njenga, Tabitha wa Thuku and Elijah Mutua. Of the three it was Ian Njenga’s charcoal drawing of Mr Kempinski riding in his fashionable Model T Ford that grabbed public attention on Saturday night. Tabitha’s portrait was also super-realistic and Elijah’s was set against a colorful backdrop that also showed how the man’s influence has transcended time and space.

But the 17 year old artist who’d been expelled from school for drawing what his headmaster believed was ‘demonic art’ was the star of the night! Ian’s drawing didn’t suggest he was a teen as his talent was apparent in his skillful rendering of Kempinski’s facial features as well as his girth.

There were several artists who didn’t feel compelled to stick with the anniversary theme. Nadia Wamuyu, Mike Kyalo, Nayianoi Sitonik and Michael Musyoka all had their minds set on following their own artistic design which frankly added interest and contrast to the overall exhibition.

The one disappointment of the night was the omission of the Art Auction which had been advertised in advance and which could have taken place if someone hadn’t insisted that nobody ‘local’ could conduct an art auction. Apparently, they believed only an imported expat professional auctioneer could do the job, which was not true. To make up for the disappointment, Kempinski’s Marketing Manager Mwingirwa Kithure has promised the hotel will exhibit all the artworks in the hotel for the entire month of May.

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