PAN-AFRICAN ARTISTS WORKS INFLUENCED BY KENYA’S ELECTORAL PROCESS
By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted September 25, 2017)
All three of the Pan-African artists who’d been resident at Brush tu Art Studio over the past three months are ‘outsiders looking in’ on the Kenyan condition today.
All three are unapologetic about the fact that their final exhibition of the artworks created at Brush tu reflects on what they’ve seen, heard and felt about this country at this critical moment in time.
That exhibition of the three artists’ works opened last Friday night at Kobo Gallery in Kilimani. (It’s on until October 6th.) Two out of the three have a decidedly political perspective on our local scene in their art. The styles, media and messages of Stacey Okparavero of Nigeria and Timothy Wandula of Rwanda have both been influenced by all they’d garnered about Kenyan politics, including the campaigning and the elections themselves.
Meanwhile, the third artist Lionel Yamadjako of Benin took a broader, more Pan-African perspective in his art. He’s quite the globe trotter, having exhibited all over the continent as well as in Asia and Europe. ‘Yama’ was absent from the opening as he had to be in Congo for another arts event. Nonetheless, he’d left behind a colorful body of works, also on display at Kobo.
It was Stacey’s multimedia contribution to the exhibition that stands out most powerfully. For not only is she a graceful and agile performance artist who created a fascinating video that she calls ‘The Puppeteer”. She’s also created a series of abstract paintings using pen, brush and Indian ink (with a touch of gold flecks) that focuses, like the video, on consciousness and one’s mental capacity to be strong, free from puppeteers’ (including politicians’) mental manipulations and be present in the ‘now’.
Stacey’s video conveys a similar message only it’s more graphic and more symbolic as Stacey herself portrays someone who’s listened to politicians’ hypnotic powers of persuasion and manacled herself with rope that she’s wound around her wrists. But then, she somehow becomes conscious of her own mental capacity to withstand the puppeteer’s manipulative mesmerism and claims her freedom by removing the rope around her wrists by herself.
The video and the paintings go together as a kind of installation. At the same time, Stacey has written philosophic commentaries in miniscule print on each painting. The tiny text ironically compelled one to read each one carefully, only to discover the artist isn’t only a painter and performance artist. She’s also a philosopher with a profound message to share, especially now as Kenyans approach a second election.
Timothy Wandula also was influenced by Kenyan politicians’ campaigning style, especially the posters that he saw plastered all over Eastlands where Brush tu is located. They mostly featured not one but two politicians, which struck him as a little odd. One was running in the local area while the other was a political party big wig.
His series of eight smaller paintings is actually more like four diptychs. Each pair includes two separate portrait-like paintings of anonymous politicians (one atop the other) and linked together like a playing card, be it a king of diamonds or ace of spades.
His three larger paintings also reflected on the election, only now he is looking at wananchi and their approach to voting. Two voters are clear about who their ballot is for while the third stands immobilized by his indecision.
What unifies Wandula’s two sets of paintings, apart from the topic of Kenya’s current election season, are the materials he’d used. The backdrop of all his works is ‘mabati’ corrugated iron sheets that he’s collected from Nairobi streets and alleys. He also uses store-bought metal rods and a bit of paint. On his diptych ‘poster paintings’, he creates a collage effect by adding newspaper clippings of current events and actual playing cards, which suggest that this whole electoral process is a gamble.
All three artists had applied and been accepted to attend the AIR Brush artist residency which was organized by the Brush tu Art Studio with support from the Royal Dutch Embassy. AIR Brush (Artists In Residence) only took off early this year, and it’s so far just a one year project. But it’s been so successful, reaching out to both local and Pan-African artists that all the artists affiliated with the Brush tu Art collective are hopeful they’ll find means to continue the project. The cross referencing across the region and across the country has been beneficial to all.