Tuesday, 16 October 2018

RED HILL GALLERY SHOWS SIX EXPERIMENTAL ARTISTS

                                                                                  Churchill Ongere's Suspensions

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 16 October 2018)

Red Hill Art Gallery is a trek. But it’s well worth taking a #114 matatu nearly to Limuru. (Then you get off at ‘Posta’ and walk until you reach the ochre Red Hill gate).
It’s worth it first because Hellmuth and Erica Rossler-Musch are such hospitable folks. But as welcoming as they are, it’s the art that Hellmuth’s curated for their current show that makes the trip especially notable.
Hellmuth’s been collecting Kenyan art since the 1990s when he met the late Ruth Schaffner who often exhibited works by young Kenyan artists at Gallery Watatu.
Now Hellmuth does the same, although the local artists that he exhibits aren’t necessarily ‘young’. Nor are they novices. But they are all mainly Kenyan artists who are definitely ‘going places’.
The current exhibition at Red Hill features six artists Hellmuth has given solo shows over the past two years. He has shown other people during that time, but he has a special affinity for these six.
They are Churchill Ongere, David Thuku, Gor Soudan, Kyalo Justus, Onyis Martin and Samuel Githinji. All have distinctive individual styles. All have varied social backgrounds and arts experience. The one thing they all have in common is that each one is experimental and inclined to employ their art to make social statements which are cryptic but invite one to  inquire into their meaning. Their art also tends to be meticulous and created methodically.
The one exception might be Kyalo Justus since his media include mabati (iron sheet), acid and the weather. Both the acid and the weather are unpredictable in their impact on the iron sheet. Only the acrylic paint, which he occasionally applies after the acid, wind, rain and time have left their mark, allows him to have the last word concerning his art.
Gor Soudan’s pieces also reflect an element of unpredictability since his use of ink and color on watercolor paper equally produces delicate surprises in his art.
Gor’s four pieces in the show were created while he was doing artist residencies in Sierra Leone and Japan last year. His work is always innovative so it’s no surprise that the four convey new styles of painting and drawing. But what is fascinating to see is the way each set of works has clearly been influenced by the different atmospheres and artistic terrains in which he was creating.
The remaining four artists all make significant social statements with their art. David Thuku’s exhibition entitled ‘Bar Code, the layers between’, for instance, speaks to issues of consumerism, commodification and ultimately the dehumanization and alienation of human beings.

Onyis Martin’s collages are called ‘Papers of Freedom’ and reflect on the difficult times faced by refugees and asylum seekers.
Churchill Ongere’s works, from his ‘Suspensions’ show, apparently aim to convey a crazy world where everything’s turned up-side-down.

But it’s possibly Samuel Githinji’s whose art has the most explosive message in Red Hill’s current collection. Githinji has the one work on display that’s brand new, not seen in public before.
But newness isn’t the point. Having painted three destitute characters on hessian (‘gunia’) gunny sacks that he’s stitched together into one giant tapestry, Githinji’s central figure looks like he’s wearing a crown of thorns and maybe even a halo. So the artist suggest that ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’ since his impoverished trio all have an enigmatic line drawn across their foreheads.
Whatever the message or messages of the six, there’s still time to check out their art before the show comes down October 30. The Early Works of the Sudanese painter Abusharia opens November 4.

Saturday, 13 October 2018

65th KENYA ORCHID SOCIETY SHOW DEEMED 'SPECTACULAR'

                          
                              At the entrance of the 65th Kenya Orchid Society show themed 'Garden of Eden

AN AWARD-WINNING ORCHID SHOW THAT EXPERTS DEEMED ‘SPECTACULAR’

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 13 October 2018) 
            
What is it about orchids that could cause the former Regional senior partner at Price Waterhouse Cooper, Anne Eriksson, to look forward to retirement so she could grow her own orchids?
  American Orchid Society VP Robert Fuchs awards Kenyan orchid growers





And why would orchids inspire a medical specialist like Dr Janak Gohil to forego her lucrative work as an anesthesiologist for even a day just to arrange her award-winning orchid display at the Exhibition Hall of Sarit Centre where the 23rd Kenya Orchid Society’s annual showcase of both indigenous and exotic plants was on display through last Sunday.

                                                     Dr & Dr Gohil with her award-winning orchids at her exhibit

I’d ask the same question of a well-established lawyer like Alexandra Kontos who’s qualified to practice law in three different countries. Why would she devote so much of her life to not only growing award-winning orchids? She also mentors future judges like the four who helped judge this year Kenya Orchid Society (KOS) show.
                                                                         
“It takes years to qualify to be a judge,” says Alexandra who won many awards this year, both from KOS and from the American Orchid Society, which is by far “the largest and most active orchid society in the world,” according to Ingeborg Gonella, who like Alexandra is a former Chairperson of KOS and a longstanding KOS member who was described to me as being ‘encyclopedic’ when it came to orchids.
 
The AOS had sent almost 30 representatives to attend this year’s multi-colored, multi-flowered displays of orchids, according to KOS’s current Chairperson Salima Tejani. Nine of them also served as judges of the show. Their leader, Robert Fuchs, who’s Vice President of AOS, described the KOS show, after making the rounds of all 24 orchid exhibits, as one of the most “spectacular” he had seen in years.
                              KOS Chairperson Kalima Tejani with mother and dad Anwer who's also has a green thumb

“And I have attended many orchid shows in my day,” said the AOS VP as he gave Alexandra several awards, including one for having the Best Exhibit in the entire show.
                               Alexandra Kontos accepting her 'Best Exhibit' award from AOS VP Robert Fuchs

Alexandra accepted all her awards (from both KOS and AOS) with humility on the opening night of the show, the theme of which was the ‘Garden of Eden’. But it was clear that she has worked hard to cultivate the quality of orchids that could meet the high international standards conveyed by the AOS.

“But when I was given my first orchid plant, I took it home and it soon died,” she confessed. “My mistake was watering it only once a week.”

                                           Alexandra Kontos's Best Exhibit featured over 60 orchid plants

After that, her friend, Roger Danahy, brought her 15 more plants. By then, she’d read up on techniques of growing healthy orchids such that she’s now been able to grow so many exquisite orchids that she enjoys returning hundreds of them to natural habitats like those found in Karura Forest, Nairobi National Park and Brackenhurst Ecology Centre.

“In future, I want to do more with orchid conservation and education,” says Alexandra who played a key role in training the four new ‘junior judges’ who helped to judge this year’s competition.

She attained the rank of judge back in 1989, which was no small feat since it requires passing a challenging test set by an international body of botanists and orchid experts.
“It required a lot of reading, but since I am an avid reader, I qualified after two years,” says Alexandra who was initially invited to become a judge in 1987.

“Normally it takes between four and five years to become a judge, but we have one [aspirant] who’s taken ten years and still hasn’t qualified,” says Ingaborg Gonella who co-taught the brand new set of ‘junior judges’ with Alexandra.

The four were introduced last Wednesday night at the KOS opening awards ceremony. They include this year’s KOS Chairperson of Kalima Tejani, Anant Savani, Helena Rame and Kerini Mhajan.

All four were among the seven judges of this year’s winning displays. The other three were Alexandra, Ingeborg and Heather Campbell who at 90 is the oldest KOS member.
Alexandra with the hand painted silk scarf given her by the four junior judges that she and Ingeborg trained
“But our judging was enhanced this year with the input of the nine AOS judges,” says Ingeborg who notes that the American team had scheduled their safari to Maasai Mara to coincide with the KOS showcase.

The Americans also gave out AOS awards which are held in special standing internationally. For instance, Ingeborg received an award for growing the ‘Best Primary Hybrid’ which is named after its creator Ria Meyer, who gave Ingeborg the plant 20 years ago.
                                Orchid plant named after Ria Meyer, wife of the master orchid judge Herman Meyer

“When Ria gave it to me it was quite small, but it’s grown tremendously since then.” Ingeborg also received a Certificate of Merit from AOS which entitles her to give her bright yellow orchid an official name.

“I named it Christine in memory of my sister who passed on last year,” she says.

Like Alexandra, Ingeborg killed off her first orchid plants by not knowing how easily they can die if watered too much (as she did) or too little (as did Alexandra
 
“They can also be smothered to death in soil,” says Ingeborg who explains that orchids are “not terrestrial” meaning they do not grow in soil. They are ‘epiphytes’, meaning plants that grow on trees.

“What I tell people is that orchids are not difficult to grow; they are just different!” she says as she begins to unravel exactly why people can be so passionate about growing orchids.
                                     'Orchids are not difficult, they are just different', says Ingeborg
“It’s because they are not only beautiful; they are also so diverse. You can find some that smell heavenly and others that stink; some as small as a pin-head and others as large as a dinner plate,” she adds.

“You can never get tired of orchids because they are so varied. They come in all colors, including some which are almost black. And to find that it’s the biggest flowering family in the world (with over 30,000 natural species) is extraordinary in itself,” she says.

Nonetheless, orchids are among the species sighted by CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species since orchid species are finite and as their natural eco-systems are being destroyed, so the species disappear unless protected and preserved.
But Ingeborg notes that the situation with orchids has rapidly changed in recent years, due to both hybridization which is the crossbreeding of different species to produce a hybrid plant, and the cloning of orchids which has brought down the prices of orchids so they are now far more affordable.

Nonetheless, a single orchid can still cost several thousand shillings. That was the going price for the ones sold during the Orchid Show. They’d been imported from nurseries in Taiwan, the Philippines and Indonesia as well as from Holland and Germany.
“We would have loved to import African orchids from Africa, but there are very few exporters in the region,” Ingeborg says, noting there are nurseries overseas that export African orchids but not vice versa.

Curious about what I would do if I bought one of the orchids on sale at the Orchid Show, Ingeborg says I could take it home and “tie it to a tree” and let it attach itself to the bark. “Orchids are not parasites, however. They do not steal nutrients from trees. Instead, they simply attach themselves to trees and then grow naturally.”

                                                                                   Ingeborg's exhibit of orchids

It may sound strange at first, but as the transplanted German lady (Ingeborg) has said, orchid are not difficult; they are simply different. In fact, she says they are very sturdy plants and prefer to grow out of doors in the open air.

But orchid advocates are very strict about one important point. That is to never pick an orchid plant from its natural habitat. It’s actually against international law. “We only get our orchids from registered nurseries,” says Ingeborg.
But then, when Anne Eriksson traveled to Borneo and saw orchids in their natural habitat, it was breathtaking, she says. “But I would never think of removing an orchid from its natural environment,” she adds. That’s how protective orchid lovers feel about the plant.

It’s a lesson well learned whether one’s a member of the Kenya Orchid Society or not. Nonetheless, membership entails attending ten monthly meetings which sound like mini-tutorials filled with practical information and colorful tales about orchids which are found all over the world.
“We have a bit less than 200 members of the Society which is small by comparison to the American society which has more than 9000 active members. But the activists among us work hard to make our annual orchid show spectacular,” says Ingebord. Which indeed it was this year.
 
'Orchids are not difficult, they are just different,' says Ingeborg Gonella

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

LAST MAN STANDING, BIKOZULU & BECAUSE U SAID SO ALL ORIGINALS

ORIGINAL NEW SHOWS FILLING THE KENYAN STAGE
By Margaretta wa Gacheru
Heartstrings Entertainment’s latest comedy, ‘Last Man Standing’, which was staged last weekend at Alliance Francaise, is a patriarchal fantasy in which Nick Kwach doesn’t just play the ‘last man’. He’s the ‘first and last’ man standing named Joe. He puts on a brilliantly blistering performance as a head-of-household who gets his authority challenged by his wife (Tasha Wanjiru Maina).
At first glance, one can see why he explodes at her after listening to her nag and nag over petty things like a phone call from a female workmate, the misplacing of his wedding ring. He tries to calm her fears as he seems to understand they stem from her insecurities.
But finally, he erupts, volcanic-like in his emotive outburst, telling her his truthful feelings about all things he’s never told her before. In this regard, he’s being honest, but the truth about everything – from her horrible cooking to how much his mother detests her – stuns and shuts her up.
In no time, she’s gone and he resorts to his best friend’s (Cyprian Osoro) employment bureau to hire not one but three women to replace the one wife to do all the domestic chores.
Apparently, the woman is that replaceable. The man in this patriarchal society of ours can easily go and shop for replacements, even if he needs three or more.
His friend and his wife (Mackrine Andala), who’d been best couple at their wedding, tried to reconcile them at the outset of the tiff. They lamely explained in euphemistic terms that marriage is a ‘journey’ and there are ‘punctures’ along the way. But they can always be repaired.
Ultimately, that’s the message of the show since maids one (Adelyne Nimo) and two (Kavathe Muasya) arrived on the scene and made life hell for Joe. When maid number three turns out to be his wife, he explodes once more, but this time it’s to cast out the two maids.
Then there’s a return to the status quo. Only now, the wife has been tamed as she just lost her job and with it the financial leverage she once had.
I am always a fan of Heartstrings and feel Nick’s performance was a tour de force. But I also see why feminists claim Heartstrings is biased. And certainly, Last Man Standing reveals the kind of power men can wield, even when they’re not presidents or kings. They still feel totally entitled. And when a woman, even a spouse questions their authority, they can either give them the boot or a beating, which I find abhorrent.
Nonetheless, I have seen many strong female actors come up through Heartstrings and I applaud Sammy Mwangi for encouraging women to shine onstage. And even though Nick didn’t give Tasha ‘the boot’ Tasha, since she left of her own accord, still it wouldn’t be bad to see a bit more gender equity in future in Heartstrings shows.

Still on the issue of comedy, tomorrow afternoon (from 4pm) until late, Kenya’s first ever ‘improv (not improve) comedy show’ will stage its 26th edition at the Carnivore show ground.
‘Because You Said So’ is a brilliant team of professional artists who meet and perform stand-up comedy every other month at assorted venues.
‘Improv’ is short for improvisational theatre, meaning actors perform without scripts and in order to keep their rapport fresh and their act alive and inspired, they also don’t rehearse. This means they must be super sharp and quick on their mental feet.
And that’s the case for all seven in BYSS, starting with Jason Runo who is the producer and MC of the company. The remaining six are renowned entertainers, including Mugambi Nthiga, June Gachui and Patricia Kihoro as well as Yafesi Musoke, Kevin Kimani and Justin Karunguru.
Because You Said So is also interactive so if one wants a truly entertaining day with the stars, head to the Carnivore tomorrow and have some fun.

Finally, Back to Basics brings us ‘Breathe: Stories by Jackson Biko’ next weekend, 19th-21st October at Alliance Francaise.
It won’t be the first time a theatre troupe picked up on an exceptional Kenyan blog and transformed it into an amazing performance.  Too Early for Birds did it first with their adapting historical tales lifted off the blog of Owaahh!
And now Mbeki Mwalimu and her B2B cast are doing something similar with the Bikozulu blog.
Blending blog-stuff and theatre has been described as a new ‘sub-genre’ of art. But whatever it’s called, it’s a tribute to Biko and should be a fascinating new approach to Kenyan theatre.


Tuesday, 9 October 2018

PAA YA PAA’S SILENT AUCTION A SUCCESS


 

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 9 october 2018)

Paa ya Paa’s first Silent Art Auction took place successfully last Sunday afternoon, 7 October.
“It was a giant experiment since we had never held a silent auction before,” says Phillda Njau, curator of the art auction. “But we learned a lot and it gave us an opportunity to invite local art lovers back to Paa ya Paa.”
                                                     Phillda Njau, curator of Paa ya Paa's first Silent art Auction

The auction consisted of more than 50 works of art, some of which had been painted back as long ago as the 1980s. Works by Sudanese artists such as Ahmed Abusharia, Ammar Salah and Yassir Ali were painted in the 1990s. That was when a slew of young men who were mostly graduates of the fine art school in Khartoum arrived in Kenya and only knew of one place to go and that was Paa ya Paa.
And there were works by artists who painted in the new millennium, from 2000 onward. They include artists like Uhuru Brown, Esther Mukuhi, Patrick Kariuki and Evans Maina Ngure.

Coincidentally with the art auction is something that Phillda has named ‘Project Facelift.” It will include a number of graffiti artists who have been working to spray paint artworks on some of the gallery’s mabati walls and fences for several years. They will be led by Swift Elegwa (aka Swift9).
But last Sunday was focused on sharing the artworks that all had a peculiar history. “All of the artworks in the auction have been with us for quite some time.  Most of them were part of exhibitions that the artists left behind and didn’t come to collect,” says Phillda.
They had been kept in storage at the gallery for years. It was only when PYP started getting interns majoring in fine art from Kenyatta University and USIU that the situation changed.

“We were then able to bring all of that art out of storage, clean it up and hang it in the gallery until it was suggested that we have a silent auction,” recalls Phillda.
Noting that she had notified the artists more than once over the years (PYP was actually founded in 1965 and Phillda came in 1970) “But only two of the artists came to collect their works,” she says.
Nonetheless, whatever art was sold at the auction, she says the artists would receive 50 percent of the sales.
The final tally on sales has not yet been made, but Phillda is already contacting artists whose works were sold to tell them to come collect their 50 percent. Among those whose works sold are Yassir Ali, Caroline Mbirua, Uhuru Brown, Lionel Njuguna and Daniel Wanjau among others.



PETER NGUGI: ‘WEAPONIZING’ ART WITH PATTERNS OF TRUTH



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 9 October 2018)

Peter Ngugi’s current exhibition at One Off Gallery, entitled ‘Fanta Orange na Mkate Nusu’ might sound cryptic or even esoteric to viewers who visit the Rosslyn Lone Tree gallery and not know much Kiswahili or much about the ways of ordinary Kenyan working folk.

But for locals who frequent public spaces around the lunch hour, they will know that many Nairobians take a soda (preferably a Fanta) and a half loaf of bread and call it lunch, or at least sufficient to fill the tummy until they reach home and have a proper hot meal.
                                                                          London Maisha,Tilapia na Tusker



But one need not know the eating habits of ordinary Kenyans to appreciate Ngugi’s beautiful show at One Off. It helps if it allows one to see how closely Ngugi observes the activities of his fellow Kenyans. For while a number of local artists are veering more towards abstraction in their art, Ngugi features figurative images of wananchi, practically documenting everything from their current hair styles and colorful frocks to the latest selection of official uniforms, be they military or judicial or that of the baseball-capped man on the street.
One thing that is always fascinating about Ngugi’s art is that it’s multi-layered and infused with meaning. Yet while this show specifically features a series of works related to the political problem of leadership and corruption, one can love his art purely for its aesthetic value –the rich array of colors, designs, local fashions, balanced composition and even the animated gestures that many of his oil paintings portray.
All the paintings in this show are composed of groupings, be they 2s, 3s or 4s with one work (filling an entire wall) having a dozen standing figures, all of whom seem to be waiting for someone or something.
                                                                              Accomplice by Peter Ngugi

Ngugi’s quandary and the issue he explores in this show is the question of why Kenyans continue electing politicians who they know are corrupt, self-serving and disinterested in truly serving their constituents. This is not the first time the artist explores political issues in his art; nor is it the first time his outrage at Kenya’s political scene is exquisitely concealed. It’s tucked away in symbols, such as the fish design that serves as a black and white backdrop to a number of paintings.
For instance, his ‘Pesa Maua, Tilapia na Coke’ is a painting that’s got a threesome standing, apparently waiting for more to come. They’ve already received a crate of Coca Cola, but the filigreed fish backdrop suggests that the air itself is suffused with sweet treats the people are waiting for from those so-called leaders they’re meant to elect.
The same concept and visual construction is apparent in “Maisha London, Tilapia na Tusker’, only now the two men look like they’ll be satisfied with beer rather than Coke.
The works that reveal Ngugi’s disappointment, not simply with greedy politicians but with ordinary Kenyans, are all called ‘Accomplice’. The meaning is clear. Kenyans who knowingly elect crooked pols are complicit in the crime of corruption. There are no coke crates or fish in these paintings. Only ordinary wananchi eagerly awaiting the Big Man who’ll come to give them a tip, a treat, bag of unga flour, crate of beer or soda.
Ngugi’s subtle sarcasm bespeaks his sadness that fellow Kenyans can sell their votes so cheaply, making democracy (or one person one vote) a tragic joke. He spares no one since he sees corruption has become like an invisible vapor that Kenyans seem to live, breathe and enact themselves.

                              Strawberry Yoghurt na Gunia ya Pesa (with Kafura, the salon attendant of Waiguru, Ann)

Nonetheless, Ngugi’s exhibition reveals just how art can be ‘weaponized’ to expose the ugly realities of everyday life.
Ngugi's art is in private collections in Kenya, UK, US, South Korea, UAE, South Africa, Germany and Australia. He's exhibited locally mainly with One Off Gallery but also with MaMoMa, Kuona Trust and at various embassies in Nairobi. His public works include 'Under the Kahawa Tree' an interactive sculpture at The Hub (mall) in Karen, Nairobi, other public sculptures at Gertrude's Garden, Crown Plaza, Commercial Bank of Africa and the Royal Netherlands Embassy.



Monday, 8 October 2018

SPIES IN A POST-9/11 WORLD

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (8 October 2018)


The genre of the action political thriller may not be everybody’s ‘cup of tea’. But if you have even a slight taste for spy tales, then there are several series that have come out recently that I’d recommend.
There’s ‘Berlin Station’, ‘Jack Ryan’ and ‘Condor’ all of which are gripping political thrillers filled with suspense and intrigue.  
The latest one to come out is ‘Condon’. But I also like Tom Clancy’s ‘Jack Ryan’ and the two series have much in common. In fact, both are about an Analyst working at the CIA. Both Jack Ryan (John Krasinski) and Joseph Turner (Max Irons) in Condor are comfortable working at desk jobs, analyzing numbers and looking for patterns that might indicate some sinister sort of ‘enemy activity.’
In the case of both Clancy and Condor’s original novelist, James Grady who wrote ‘Six Days of the Condor’ (which was the basis for the 1975 film ‘Three Days of the Condor’), the original enemies were the Communists. But in 2018, the enemies are more mysterious, less easily identified which is why analysts like Jack and Joe play such pivotal roles.
Both characters operate out of clandestine offices in Washington, DC. Both identify anomalous patterns that raise red flags. And both had ‘followed the money’ to some mysterious point that is bound to lead to the ‘yet to be identified’ enemy that the series is going to expose.
In Jack’s case, he sees the implications of his discovery before his bosses do. So he has to struggle to get them to take him seriously.  Some film critics found Jack’s impassioned pushiness preposterous. But I think they didn’t have the patience to find out the underlying motive for why Jack feels so strongly about stopping foreign terrorists. By the time his superiors listen to him, hundreds of people have already died from breathing chemical toxins.
Jack figures out who the terrorists are but doesn’t know where they plan to target next or why? The series is seriously suspenseful as Jack’s identity as well as his motives come out gradually, adding increasing tension as the series unfolds.
This Jack isn’t a ‘Jack Bauer’ of the inimitable ‘24’ series with Kiefer Sutherland. But John Krasinski’s Jack is equally hard core and surprisingly fit to battle an enemy he follows through Europe and the Middle East.
One good thing about this series is that while the ‘terrorists’ are Middle Eastern, they are not simply cardboard stereotypical bad guys.  Instead, their leader Mousa Bin Suleiman (Ali Suliman) is a father who loves his family but terrifies his wife (Dina Shihabi) once she realizes he is up to no good. She flees with two of their three kids and her journey becomes part of Jack’s race to find her husband before he manages to use his chemical weapon to destroy even larger urban populations.
Jack has a reason for what seems like an obsession, but in typically American ‘Rambo’ style, he’s ‘the one guy’ capable of saving the world.



Friday, 5 October 2018

NADIA KISSELEVA'S BACK PAINTING TRONIES AT NATIONAL MUSEUM



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 5 October 2018)

Terms like portraiture, expressionism, impressionism, abstract and landscape painting  are words that the layman may be familiar with. But tronie? Who’s ever heard of a ‘tronie’?
Well, just ask Nadia Kisseleva what a tronie is and she could easily suggest you come see her one woman exhibition at the Nairobi National Museum to find out what a tronie is first-hand.

The Russian-born artist who spent a big chunk of her life working and raising a son right here in Nairobi (between 1980 and 1996) is back for the month-long duration of her show which she entitled ‘The Other Kind of Beauty’. In the process, she says she’s happy to share this old genre of painting which was popularized by 17th century Dutch painters like Vermeer, Rembrandt and Frans Hals.
Described as ‘defunct’ by some art scholars, meaning an art form or genre that’s disappeared over the centuries, Nadia found herself painting a tronie after passing through an emotional time in her life.
“I had been travelling for a month, and hadn’t had a chance to paint. So when I finally settled, I picked up a brush and painted the piece I now call ‘Red Dress,” she says. She only realized after the work was done that it met the criteria of a tronie.

For one thing, it wasn’t a portrait although it was a painting of a young woman. It was a woman Nadia says expressed the feelings she had at the time of its creation. “Tronies are studies of emotions. The girl in the ‘red dress’ could have been me since she express more of my emotions than any specific person,” she adds.
A tronie (meaning ‘face’ in Dutch) is said to normally represent a type of person who’s of humble origins. And unlike the sort of portraits that were painted in Vermeer’s day, they don’t represent a certain class or measure of wealth or power.
Nadia, who has formal training in fine art schools in the former Soviet Union as well as in UK and Austria, says the tronie went into decline as the popularity of portrait painting rose. Nonetheless, she loves the genre and more than half the works in her show in the Museum are devoted to the tronie.
“I also realized in painting the ‘red dress’ without even thinking about it, that I have a deep affinity for women. That’s why I chose to devote this exhibition to ‘The Other Kind of Beauty’. It refers to the inner beauty that I see in many women, especially many African women.”

Yet her women come in all different hues. Most are different shades of dark chocolate. But Nadia has a marvelous way of blending colors so that her women’s faces occasionally have more red or more white or even a touch of green.
“What I wanted to convey was the quality of the relationships that many women have with other women. They are supportive of one another, which is a trait I don’t always see among women in other parts of the world,” she adds.
The main reason Nadia says she likes the genre of the tronie is the freedom it can unlock for the artist since one no longer needs to be confined to the realism of a portrait. “I love the way tronies can reflect one’s feeling. They allow the artist to be expressive of herself as well as to be brave and free.”

But she admits, one thing led to another and she realized she could feel free about painting her family. There are several works in the show that look autobiographical. The main one is entitled ‘Family’ and the people in the piece are her Kenyan family including her mother who had come that year to visit. The work is a cornerstone of the show despite it not really being a tronie. Nor is the one featuring her Kenyan spouse and their son. Nor is the image of five women lined up in a row with the conspicuous white woman standing out as the ‘Visitor’.

During the 16 years that Nadia lived in Kenya, she not only taught art at Loreto Msongari and the Nairobi School of Fine Art. She also had exhibitions at the now defunct Gallery Watatu and RoMoMa as well as at One Off Gallery and the French, British and German cultural centres. Then when she was back in Kenya last year, she also exhibited twice at Circle Art Gallery.



D

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

NAIIROBI THEATRE THROBBING AS NEW COMPANIES CREATE FIRST-CLASS SHOWS


                                              Scene from The Money that made Him Poor by TTT Productions

By margaretta wa gacheru (3 October 2018)

It’s not only the film world that is bearing witness to the artistic talents of young Kenyans. Even the theatre realm is veritably exploding as new companies are proliferating in ways we haven’t seen for quite some time.
Gratefully, we count on Heartstrings Entertainment for regularly bringing us invigorating plays like their current comedy, ‘Last Man Standing’ on at Alliance Francaise through Sunday.
Heartstrings are renowned for inciting laughs even as they provide a heavy punch of perceptive insight into the Kenyan psyche and the cultural quirks that are troubling most wananchi right now.
The other consistent theatre troupe that re-opens in ‘Necessary Madness’ the following Monday, 8th October for two days, is Hearts of Art. ‘Madness’ had to come back after filling Braeburn Theatre last month, leaving local theatre goers clamoring to see more performances.
I was one of those who plagued Walter Sitati, the ‘Madness’ playwright and founder of HOA. The play has such a powerful and relevant message that I felt everyone ought to see corrupt traffic cops being exposed on stage.
It’s a play that has some qualities in common with Heartstrings in that it blends humor and tragic fact. But Sitati additionally combines eloquence and social satire in a way that makes us marvel at how he keeps coming out with ingenious new scripts.
The other troupe that is relatively new but which is already coming out consistently with incredible shows is Mbeki Mwalimu’s Back to the Basics. Mbeki will stage ‘Breathe: stories by Jackson Biko’ from October 19 at Alliance Francaise.
But it’s the number of new troupes taking off that I am most enthused about. We just saw Sanifu Productions successfully staged ‘night, Mother’ a fortnight ago. Justin Miriichi and Mildred Sakina are the co-founders of this brand new theatre troupe. They both have heaps of theatrical experience, so when they say they want to produce shows that have the sort of social impact that can affect positive change, we believe they will.
Meanwhile, Joe Kinyua and Samson Psenjin were back on stage in ‘Prisoner in Us’ last month. They both had been ‘prisoners’ of TV and film productions. But they’ve recommitted themselves to the stage, having also just formed a new theatre company called Behind the Scenes Productions.
“Expect to see our first show this coming November,” says Kinyua who gave a marvelously mad performance as Mel in The Friends Ensemble show. Psenjin played his older brother who’d always lived in Mel’s shadow. But in real life, they are two of Nairobi’s favorite actors who were often seen on stage at the old Phoenix Theatre.
The other new theatre company is TTT (Tony Tini Tone) Productions which actually started a couple of years back, but didn’t concentrate on plays until last weekend when they staged ‘The Money that Made Him Poor’ by Tina Nduba-Banja at the Louis Leakey Auditorium.
Nduba-Banja is an award-winning Kenyan playwright who also wrote The Groove Theory. In ‘The Money that made him poor,’ we saw another story about the corrupting power of money (which is also a theme of ‘Necessary Madness).
However, what makes this well-crafted play so intriguing is the way we see the insidious means by which a good man (Noah Kovola) is seduced. Even more than that, we see how, once he lets down his guard and falls into the seductress’s (Anne Mwaura) trap, he’s now sadly capable of doing any dastardly thing.

Nduba-Banja both wrote and directed her play which ensured she got the best out of her cast. For me, her script was a psychological thriller since it wasn’t clear initially that the young man, Wilberforce, was going to be seduced by Sofia. We knew he was na├»ve and relatively new to the ways of the world. What’s more, his uncle (Benson Ochungo) who had taken him under his wing after his father died, was an ethical businessman who could have served as Will’s role model.
But Sofia is a wily, sophisticated crook who’s experienced in using and then dumping men. Her mistake is apparently starting to seriously care about the guy. The play’s message is plain: follow corruption and you’ll eventually have to pay.
Finally, Aperture Africa is busy rehearsing yet another one of their dazzling musical fantasies. ‘Cinderella’ will be staged the weekend of October 26th. More details to follow but for now, just know Amar and Jinita Desai don’t joke when it comes to creating theatrical extravaganzas that are colorful, beautifully choreographed and well cast.

SUPA MODA GOING TO HOLLYWOOD


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 3 October 2018)

When the news broke this past weekend that ‘Supa Modo’ not ‘Rafiki’ would represent Kenya at the upcoming 91st Academy Awards, Kenyans had to be elated for Likarion Wainaina and his ‘Supa Modo’ cast and crew.
But many of us also wish that the Kenya Film Commission’s Oscar Selection Committee could have submitted two, not just one outstanding film in the category of ‘Best Foreign Language Film’. That’s because we loved ‘Rafiki’ and hoped its seven-day screening would ensure it was going all the way to Tinsel town.
It may seem a small consolation that Rafiki broke box office records during the past week when it was shown not just in Nairobi as was the original plan. But due to popular demand, it was also screened in Kisumu and Mombasa. In all it showed in six cinemas.
But what’s most gratifying to see is the way filmmakers Wanuri and Likarion have praised and congratulated one another. Each has confirmed their feeling of unity as Kenyans and both want the best for their films.
Their spirit of unity as award-winning Kenyan filmmakers stands in sharp contrast to Ezekiel Mutua’s glee expressed on his Facebook page over ‘Rafiki’s not being the pick of the Oscar Selection Committee - Kenya.
The irony of Dr. Mutua’s caustic comments is that social media has been actively contending that September 26th was his last day as Kenya Film Classification Board’s CEO. That is to say his three year contract is to have expired then. The story is unconfirmed, but Kenyans know ‘where there’s smoke there is fire.’
In any case, Kenyans should be thrilled that they have another opportunity to see ‘Supa Modo’ from today, October 5th through next Thursday, October 11th when the multiple award-winning film will be shown every day at Prestige Plaza.
The film which Likarion says has currently won 21 film awards across 30 film festivals thus far, is a must-see for all Kenyans. Supa Modo is an enchanting story about a mom (Marrianne Nungo) who wants to do her best for her child (Stycie Waweru) who’s got a terminal disease.
Brilliantly made, the film allows one to laugh and weep at the same time. It’s a tear-jerker but it’s also infused with so much childlike joy and innocence that you can’t help falling for this marvelous movie.
Both Supa Modo and Rafiki confirm Kenya’s got a great future in film.                                                              



Tuesday, 2 October 2018

GRAFFITI ART WALL AT DUST DEPO



                                               Patrick Mutabi, artist, mentor and founder of Dust Depo by Sawe

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 3 October 2018)
                                                                         Art Crimes graffiti by Msale of BSQ

Dust Depo Art Studio at the Kenya Railway Museum is one space in Nairobi that doesn’t just fill one hallowed hall. It actually extends from the Museum gate all the way down and around a long dirt road (possible a quarter of a mile) until you finally reach the entrance to the art studio started by Patrick Mukabi three years ago.
What’s adjacent to that long road is a seven foot brick wall that is filled with graffiti art by Kenyan artists who either currently work at the studio alongside Mukabi or they have passed through Dust Depo and left their mark.
                                                                                     Maneaters of Tsavo by Kirosh

That graffiti mark may not be indelible however, since the number of artists coming to Dust Depo specifically to work and/or study with Mukabi seems to be an endless stream. Aspiring artists like John Musyimi and Meschak Kidiavai came to the Museum’s art gallery specifically to find Mukabi who’s a specialist in sharing his artistic skills with young men and women who want more than anything to become practicing artists.
Those who come to Mukabi’s space are a special breed in their own right since they tend to be extremely focused and attentive to the Master’s artsy instruction.
Mukabi tends to start everybody off with charcoal and everything moves from there. Indeed, countless Kenyan artists have studied with Mukabi and then, when they feel they’re able to paint, draw and stand on their own two feet artistically move on to establish studios of their own.

That includes artists like Mike Chalo, Naitiemu Nyamjom, Nadia Wamunyu, Andrew Otieno, Joan Otieno, Alex Mbevo and many more. But then there are also a slew of artists who stay close to Dust Depo and work with Mukabi on a myriad of projects that he gets enlisted in. Those include everything from teaching children’s art at The Hub to creating a recycled ‘junk art’ sculpture which they recently delivered to the United Nations Habitat headquarters in Gigiri.
“We stayed up nearly all night to prepare the sculpture to take the next day to UN Habitat,” says Michael Nyerere Odhiambo, one of Mukabi’s close associates.
But the most visible manifestation of the kind of creative expression that one finds in abundance at Dust Depo is the graffiti art that covers the brown brick wall. But what’s remarkable about the wall is not just its extended length and the fact that nearly every inch (or centimeter) of it is covered with colorful spray paint.


What’s even more unprecedented about it is that every six- or seven-foot panel of the wall, is painted by just one artist. That means that anyone making their way down that dusty dirt road can see a wide variety of artistic expression out on the wall in the open air.
There are several artists who have contributed more than one artwork on the wall. There is also the graffiti art trio of BSQ who have worked on the wall both in solo style and as a triad of talented artists.
The only problem with the Dust Depo wall is that so many young painters come to the studio hoping for a chance to make their mark on the Museum wall. Thus, some of the most interesting graffiti artworks are now history, having been painted over for the sake of the up-and-coming artists and the need to give everyone an opportunity to learn the art of graffiti spray painting.
So there’s no question, but that Dust Depo and its wall-full of graffiti is an artistic phenomenon that deserves to be seen by anyone who wants to know just how industrious and artistically gifted Kenyans can be.