Tuesday, 30 January 2018


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted January 30, 2018))

Even before Dr. Rashid Diab’s solo exhibition opened last weekend at One Off Gallery, the award-winning Sudanese artist had set up his personal ‘art studio’ on the ninth floor of the Laico Regency Hotel.

“I can’t go a day without painting,” says the globe-trotting painter who’s just come from Qatar where he’s had a highly successful exhibition at the Al Markhiya Gallery in Doha.
Rashid came to Kenya specifically to attend the opening of ‘One Moment in the Well of Life,’ an array of more than 28 of his luminous semi-abstract paintings. They are works that capture both the magnitude of the desert and the minimal scale of human life symbolized by moving forms, women draped in bright, flowing hijabs that seem to mask secret soulful stories that the artist knows very well.
Rashid tells those stories in any number of genres, including poetry, prose and painting as well as in etchings, sculpture, fashion and furniture design and even landscape gardening. In other words, what one sees at One Off Gallery is an exquisite sampling of his artistic genius. But it’s only a fraction of his abundant array of the artistic expression he says he was born to create.

“You will need to come to my Centre [in Khartoum] to get a clearer idea of my mission,” says Rashid referring to the Rashid Diab Art Centre which he established in 2006, six years after his return to Khartoum after  living abroad for many years.

The Centre is where he’s designed everything from the gardens and villas where artists-in-residence come to work, to the teaching practices that include workshops, art classes for all ages and art talks by world-class artists that he invites to come speak and inspire young Sudanese artists.
Rashid with Carol Lees of One Off Gallery and Sophie Walboeffe at Sankara Hotel 2015

The Centre also has a gallery, but it’s filled with up-and-coming artists’ works. His own art is rarely shown there. More often, it’s on exhibition in museums and art centres in places as wide ranging as Spain (where he studied and taught for years), Scandinavia, South Korea and Syria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq and Washington, DC, Kuwait, Khartoum, France and New York City.

Rashid’s capacity to create such a vast array of artworks relates directly to the mission he says began as a child’s dream. “That dream was to fill my world with art even though the dream wasn’t supported by [local] institutions or even my people’s awareness of the value of art.”
The dream evolved into a mission, to create a cultural revolution in his country. “That is why I finally returned to Sudan after living abroad for 20 years.” Rashid received all his four university degrees, including a Ph.D, in Spain. It’s also where he wrote ‘The Philosophy of Sudanese Art’ aiming to answer questions that no one was even asking before he committed himself to revolutionizing the world’s view of Sudanese and also African art.

His decision to return home wasn’t an easy one to make. “I was teaching [nine years in Spain] and enjoying a good life. But all the years I was away, I was thinking of my country,” says the artist in an exclusive interview with BD Life.

“I wanted to come home and develop a culture that reflected a new vision, one that blended the Arab and the African,” he adds, pointing to the filigreed borders on his turban and galabia which he says are his original design.

                             Rashid at work in his make-shift art studio at the Laico Regency Hotel, Nairobi, 1.29.18
As a child Rashid got little or no encourage to be creative. Yet he says he never wanted to do anything else. Being the last born of 14 offspring, his family felt he’d never make a living as an artist. And yet currently, his art sells on the global art market for millions of shillings. Indeed, at One Off his exhibition includes several stunning paintings that are selling in the millions.

“I can’t really sell them for less since those are the prices they go for on the world [art] market,” he adds.

But there’s little doubt that Rashid has worked hard to achieve his success. He’s been single-minded all his life, which is why he sets up his personal art ‘studio’ in every hotel he visits while his works are being displayed.

“I’d like to devote all my time to my art,” he says. It’s a sentiment that implicitly explains why he travels with mounted papers, boxes of oil pastel (crayons), water color and acrylic paints and charcoal wherever he goes.

He’s an artist ever-prepared to devote every moment to his mission, to being and doing fine art.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted from Wilmette, Illinois, US January 24, 2018)

Wangechi Mutu’s art has been exhibited literally all over the world. The award-winning multi-media artist who is unquestionably the best known Kenyan creative anywhere has had exhibitions everywhere from London, Moscow and Johannesburg to Paris, New Haven (where she got a Masters of Fine Art from Yale) and New York where her 2014 one-woman show entitled ‘Wangechi Mutu: An Fantastic Journey’ at the Brooklyn Museum of Art proved to be one of many watershed moments in her extensive artistic career.

And yet, Wangechi has never had a one-woman exhibition in Kenya. One has to wonder why since I’m told she moved back to -- or at least in between – Nairobi and Brooklyn some time ago.

What’s more, she was born and raised in Nairobi, attended Loreto Convent Msongari and didn’t leave for university studies until her late teens. She was also here in time to witness the Mothers of Political Prisoners protests in the early 1990s which she has referenced in interviews as having had a profound impact on her art.

In fact, once one is able to unravel some of the intricacies and symbols in her art, (which some see as beautiful, others note is fantastically (and consciously) grotesque, but which I would describe as magical, surreal and ingenious), one can appreciate that she has explored a wide range of political, social, cultural and even anthropological themes in her work.

One art critic simply said she explores ‘life, death and femininity’ in her art, which is true but also a simplification. She also explores everything from the effects of colonialism, war and sexism in her art.

The one focus that’s been consistent in her work is her fascination with the female figure which she sometimes fabricates with animal, machine, human and plant-like features.

I was fortunate to see one of Wangechi’s collage paintings (relatively) up close recently at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. ‘That’s my death mask you’re wearing’ which she create in 2004, made me wish I had been in Brooklyn for her major ‘Fantastic Journey’ show.

But as much as I would have loved to see her previous exhibition and would especially want to see her work displayed in Kenya, I understand that this 40-something year old artist has been busy since she (like Lupita Nyong’o) completed her studies at Yale.

She’s also been very blessed, having had wonderfully-well received exhibitions everywhere she’s shown her art.

For instance, she was named ‘Artist of the Year’ by the Brooklyn Museum where her ‘Fantastic Journey’ not only featured more than 50 of her incredible works, aptly described as ‘feminine and futuristic’. It included one monumental multi-media mural as well as her brilliantly animated video, ‘The End of Eating Everything’ which she collaborated on with another feminist artist Santigold.

 She was also described as a ‘super woman’ and ‘feminist sculptor’ by one arts critic who noted that Wangechi may be primarily known for her ‘wild collage’ paintings (a term coined by Teju Cole in the Guardian). But she is also a sculptor and performance artist as well as a photographer, painter and filmmaker.

That reporter also described Wangechi as a ‘homegrown feminist’ since the artist herself has said she grew up in a matriarchal household (in Nyeri) and never doubted that equality among women and men was the norm.

That message, that feminism needs to be recognized as normative, is one that both women and men in Kenya need to hear and understand more clearly. I suggest it could best revealed and explored more fully through a solo exhibition in Kenya by Wangechi. That way, we would have the opportunity to see her art up close and personal.

After all, her art has gone all over the world. Perhaps now it is time for it to be shown back home, especially now that the contemporary art scene in Kenya has been radically transformed since she left in the early 1990s.

Welcome home Wangechi!




By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted from Wilmette, USA January 24, 2018)

Lupita Nyong’o couldn’t have picked a better time to be in Hollywood.

Since her award-winning performance in ’12 Years a Slave,’ she’s had the chance to be in a slew of remarkable films and made an impact in every single one of them. From her amazing presence in the Star Trek franchise (in ‘the Last Jedi’ film and TV series) to The Jungle Book and the Queen of Katwe, they have all been leading up to her co-starring in the much-anticipated Marvel comic make-over movie, Black Panther which is opening worldwide on February 16th.

Lupita was clearly meant to be Nakia in the very first Black super-hero film, based on the first black super-hero comic book character created by the inimitable creative Stan Lee.

But Lupita is by no means the only woman of color who is making waves in Hollywood. Indeed, this would seem to be the hour not just of the Hollywood women who’ve been spearheading the ‘Me Too’ and ‘Time’s Up’ movements that took off once celebrity women started pointing fingers at sexual predators like the media mogul Harvey Weinstein.

Lupita wasn’t nominated for anything special this year, but a number of other black women were. For instance, Octavia Spencer, (who last year won awards for ‘Hidden Figures’ along with Ta... Henson) is up for best supporting actress for her role in ‘The Shape of Water,’ which just received the most Oscar nominations including Best Picture.

The R&B singer Mary J. Blige was nominated in two Oscar categories for her role as Florence Jackson in ‘Mudbound.’ One was for Best Supporting Actress (which would also constitute the first time in the history of the Academy Awards that two women of color were up for the same Oscar). The other for composing and singing the Best Original Song.

Then too, the screenwriter for Mudbound is Dee Rees, another African-American woman, and she has been nominated in the category of Best Adapted Screenplay.

But even beyond the Academy Awards, Black women in Hollywood are making their creative capacities known. The most exciting film of this kind (apart from Black Panther which also features Angela Bassett and a number of new faces like Florence Kasumba, Letitia Wright and Sydelle Noel) is another upcoming film directed by the African-American filmmaker Ava DuVernay, the award-winning sci-fi fantasy ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ in which Oprah Winfrey will co-star as Mrs Which.

DuVernay choice to direct this classic children’s fantasy by Madeleine L’Engle is a far-cry from her previous films. She’s best known for her directing of ‘Selma’ about the historic civil rights march led by Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960s.

Oprah was also in that film and proved her full range, not just as a Talk Show icon but also as a serious actor with broad theatrical power. The first and only African American female billionaire also recently won the Cecil B. DeMille Life Time Achievement Award in January at the Golden Globes in Hollywood, additionally making her the first Black woman to receive that award.

Ava also made the controversial documentary film ‘13th’ about race, injustice, the 13th amendment of the US Constitution, and the mass incarceration of men of color in the US. So for her to scoop the directorial role of this $100 million Disney film project is rather extraordinary. But ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ also has a number of women of color in the cast, including Storm Reid and Gugu Mbatha-Raw among others.

Yet there are other films starring women of color this season which haven’t done quite as well as others. But it was exciting to see ‘Proud Mary’ starring Taraji P. Henson (who costarred with Octavia Spencer in ‘Hidden Figures’ and also costars with Terence Howard in the TV series ‘Empire’) break out into new territory. It might be termed ‘terrible’ terrain since she plays a gun-happy hit woman who develops a conscience which of course complicates her life in a big way.

Taraji is just as ‘good’ a hit woman as Charlize Theron in ‘Atomic Blond’, if not better! But the film had a rather sappy, to-be-expected (albeit touching) ending that may not be attuned to the tenor of these ‘black women rising’ times. All the same, Taraji is one of a constellation of outstanding Black women actors. Some are African American, a few British Black and some like Lupita African. Lupita is sometimes billed as Mexican or Mexican-African. But we Kenyans know Lupita is pure African and proud of it



Tuesday, 16 January 2018



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted January 16, 2018)

Many eyes popped in disbelief when Jean-Michel Basquiat’s ‘Untitled’ skull painting broke art auction price records last year.
It sold for USD110.5 million at Sotheby’s art auction, making it the sixth most expensive artwork ever sold at auction at the time. It went to a Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa who is making news now because he’s putting Basquiat’s 1982 work on display at the Brooklyn Museum later this month.
The painting is expected to attract large crowds, but not just because the late African-American artist of Caribbean descent has a significant fan-base. Nor will it be because people understand the emotive power of the piece or the artist’s explosive use of color, line and design.
It will partly be because Basquiat’s painting joined what The New York Times described as ‘the rarefied $100 million-plus club’.
Apparently only ten other artworks have broken that $100 million mark. That puts Basquiat in the same league with world class artists like Pablo Picasso and the British painter Francis Bacon.
The ‘Untitled’ skull painting is not the first work by Basquiat that Mr. Maezawa owns. The 41-year-old founder of Japan’s large online fashion mall, Zozotown bid and won the artist’s large Horned Devil at an art auction held the previous year at Christie’s. For that piece, he only paid $57.3 million.
But Mr. Maezawa, who is also founder of the Contemporary Art Foundation, doesn’t plan to simply keep his Basquits on walls back in his hometown of Chiba, Japan. He has told the media he intends to one day establish an art museum in Chiba. But first, he apparently feels he has a higher calling which is to expose the world to the artist’s works. Both were painted in 1982 using oil sticks and spray paint. But for more than 30 years, he’s said the works were ‘unseen’.
Back in 2016 when he obtained the Horned Devil, he was already intent on loaning (for a fee) that first Basquiat to institutions around the world. But having won the bid on the “Untitled’ Skull and clearly having generated even more of a buzz in the art world over it, Mr Maezawa chose to premier Basquiat’s Skull over his Devil in New York in this new year.
Why all this news may be of some interest to Kenyans is not necessarily because they appreciate the colorful artistry of this African-American painter who started his career as a self-taught graffiti painter.
Nor is it because they have seen art by the Kenyan painter Ehoodi Kichapi which bears some resemblance to Basquiat’s million dollar work. (In 2017 Kichapi had successful exhibitions at One Off Gallery and at The Attic.)
I am told that many Kenyans are more keen on making money than making art. Not many believe that making art can be a way of also making money. But Mr. Maezawa has illustrated how not only the artist but the owner of the art can make money from the creative process.
Sadly, Basquit died of a drug overdose at age 27 in 1988, so he is not around to enjoy the dollars that his art earned him. Nonetheless, the public can at least see the incredible potential the creative process has if only parents would encourage their children to express their imaginative powers freely.
In the past, Kenyans have been told that buying a work of art need not be only to hang on their walls or stand in their gardens or at their front doors. They have been encouraged to see the purchase of art as an ‘investment’. That is to look at a painting or a sculpture like a stock that can rise or fall in the art market which in Kenya is rapidly developing now that Nairobi has its own annual art auction launched several years ago by the Circle Art Gallery.
But in Mr Maezawa’s actions, one can see that he has not only bought Basquiat’s works because he loves the art. He is also speculating that the works will not just accrue in value. Public interest in them is also likely to rise such that art institutions will be happy to pay the Japanese billionaire for his loaning them Basquiat’s celebrated works.
So while Mr. Maezawa has told the world how happy he is to own ‘a masterpiece’, referring to his most recent procurement, he is also thrilled to be taking it around the world and making money in the process.

Not a bad deal if you’ve got the capital and the desire to rub shoulders with art connoisseurs all the world.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (margaretta.gacheru@gmail.com)
Kenyans know Nollywood and Bollywood and even Riverwood. But none of these ‘woods’ can quite compare to the mother of all media film centres which is Hollywood.
Hollywood’s incomparable for its glitter, glamor and glow of media stardom which was highlighted this past weekend when the Hollywood Foreign Press Association held their annual awards night, the 75th Golden Globes.
The Golden Globes come a few weeks before the Academy awards, also known as the Oscars (to be held March 4th). And some critics take them to be of lesser importance than the Oscars.
But some of us see them as more insightful and deeply discerning than the Oscars. This is because the judges, while mostly based in Hollywood, are from different regions of the world, giving them (assumedly) a more global perspective on media and specifically, film.
But while the winners and losers of this year’s Golden Globe awards were much anticipated, especially as the names of the nominees were widely circulated well in advance, the big news of the night related to the main award recipient.
Oprah Winfrey won the prestigious Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award, which was a big deal in itself, especially as she is the first woman of color to receive that prize. But upon receiving it, Oprah gave such a powerfully compelling and charismatic acceptance speech that the instantaneous buzz became ‘Oprah for President’ in 2020.
Adulation of Oprah has been a phenomenon for many years and her fans have often suggested she run for the US President. She has always denied any interest whatsoever in becoming a politician. She was happy to remain a leading cultural icon who not only has her ‘OWN’ cable TV channel and popular ‘O’ magazine. She has a living history of being the top syndicated TV talk show star which earned her a single-name recognition that sticks with her to this day.
But the clamor for Oprah to run for public office got louder after Barack Obama became the first African-American president. She remained adamant against it until very recently when things changed dramatically.
(The change was described by Frances McDormand (who won Best Actress at this year’s Globes for her role in ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) as a ‘’tectonic shift in the Hollywood industry’s power structure.”
The Harvey Weinstein Sex Scandal is what really precipitated this shift. It roused women across America (and around the world) to widely endorse the ‘Me Too’ movement of women admitting publically that they too had been sexually assaulted in the past. But more often than not, they had kept silent about that abuse up until now.
Now that women celebrities including Lupita Nyong’o, Meryl Streep and many others, have spoken out and even named their abusers, multiple male ‘heads have rolled’.
Men who once seemed untouchable and highly esteemed have had to quit their jobs or be fired outright. Everyone from Weinstein, one of the biggest media moguls in the world, to movie stars like Dustin Hoffman to politicians like US Senator (and former TV comedian) Al Franken have been publically named, shamed and literally forced by overwhelming public pressure to leave their high social seats of power.
Their fall has been dramatic. And to illustrate women’s solidarity with all the ‘victims’ who had been abused in the past, practically all the women (and most men too) at last Sunday night’s Golden Globes wore black.
What’s more, the choice of award-winning films, actors and actresses also reflected the changes resulting from not only the ‘Me too’ movement but its follow-up campaign of “Time’s Up’.
The Time’s Up Now concept was initiated, again, by Hollywood celebrity women who want to ensure that fundamental changes take place in power structures. They want to make sure the public’s response of the Weinstein scandal is not short-lived.
This is where Oprah comes in. When she ended her acceptance speech by declaring a “new day [is] on the horizon,” that was it. The audience at the Globes went wild. They got on their feet as they applauded and the presidential buzz amped up.
And while there were numerous award winners at the Golden Globes that were men, such as Gary Oldman for his role as Winston Churchill in ‘The Darkest Hour’, the majority of winners were woman-related. That includes the TV series ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ and Best Dramatic Motion Picture ‘Three Billboards.’ Plus actresses who won included Nicole Kidman, Allison Janney, Elizabeth Moss and Saoirse Ronan. And apart from Oprah, the one Black actor to win at the Globes was Sterling K. Brown for his role in ‘This is Us.’