By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 13 February 2018)
It was a killer weekend for anyone wanting to keep up with the local Nairobi art scene.
In the past, we’ve described the art scene as ‘exploding’ but what we saw this past weekend was more like a tsunami whereby an unbelievable range of Kenyan artists (and several artistic non-Kenyans) got swept up in the spirit of creative expression that’s moved among us of late.
For us who appreciate the arts, one needed either a helicopter or dedicated boda boda driver to make it round to see all that was going on.
If you started late Friday afternoon and stuck to the city centre, you could’ve made it to several events, starting with Coster Ojwang’s one man show at the Fairmont Norfolk Hotel. A French company with appreciation for fine art just took over the Hotel. So they were open to William Ndwiga’s suggestion for the hotel to host Coster’s exhibition in the hotel lobby for two weeks. That means there’s still time to see how rapidly this young Kenyan from the Lake has morphed into being an accomplished painter in a relatively short time.
From the Norfolk, you could have run to the Nairobi Gallery next to Nyayo House to see the marvelous exhibition of works by Yony Wa Ite. The original co-founder of Gallery Watatu had planned on the gallery’s curator Alan Donovan preparing her show. But as Donovan has been unwell, Yony was left to curate herself. This she did ingeniously, including her Nude on the Sofa which she originashowed at Polka dot Gallery last year. Yony’s exhibition is warm, intimate and reflective of her persuasive appeal in black and white. She does landscapes and wildlife in her own inimitable way, but as her show is all about ‘Ecco Homo’ and ‘Migrants’, she includes androgynous stick people whose ties to the environment are deeply drawn. It’s a fabulous show, which has gotten little publicity. But it’s her finest, embracing not only her paintings and prints but her wall hangings and provocatively painted nude sofa.
After that, you had to reach Alliance Francaise where, in the name of ‘Afro-Futurism’ the funky photographer Osborne Macharia teamed up with fashion designer Kevo Abbra, graffiti artist Kirosh Kiruri and DJ Blinky Bill for an overwhelming night. It was packed with young people fixated on taking selfies and climbing into the interactive exhibition. Blinky Bill’s [Ms1] music were even more addictive, making it difficult for AF’s Harsita Waters to shut down the night.
Then Saturday was bound to be hectic as I not only needed to head to Circle Art’s ‘New Threads: process and material’ show (where a dozen outstanding mostly female artists are exhibiting) and also get to One Off Gallery where Rashid Diab’s desert delights are on display. I also needed to get to Sankara Hotel where OO’s Carol Lees had also put together the trio show of painters featuring David Roberts, Olivia Pendergast and Linda Furniss.
I also wanted to get to Kobo Gallery to see Gemini Vaghela’s ‘Broken Illusions’ and then, if I’d had a helicopter I would’ve flown to Banana Hill where Samuel Njoroge is exhibiting at Shine and Rahab Tani’s Gallery.
All that was the ‘to-do’ agenda before lunch. After that, the big issues of the weekend were reaching two all-day events: first was Kikolacho starting Saturday through Sunday at the British Institute of East Africa where Craig Halliday and Joost Fontain had coordinated the third ‘Remains, Waste & Metonymy’ phenomenon. Then came the all-day Sunday Open Day at Brush tu Art Studio in Buru Buru.
But in between, I spent the weekend helping adjudicate the first phase of the Kenya Ismaili Arts Festival at the Aga Khan Pavilion in Parklands. That’s why I had to dash from BIEA in Kilileshwa to Parklands on Saturday; then Sunday I dashed from Parklands to Buru Buru, finding the core Brush Tu artists and devoted friends still celebrating the events of the day.
What made all three events so compelling is that Kikolacho and Brush Tu’s open day were for one weekend only events. The same was true of the adjudication. Thus, they were all not-to-be-missed.
BIEA’s Kikolacho was all about food and the city. The 15 artists took over the Institute’s facilities and grounds, filling them with phenomenal installations (featuring live goats and goat roasters), storytelling, painting and provocative films. It was the best out of three “Remains, Waste and Metonymy’ that have been held at BIEA, largely because the concept has been taken over by Kenyans who embraced it with heaps of energy, imagination and ingenuity.
Craig Halliday and Joost Fontain of BIEA managed to assemble an amazing array of artist-intellectuals including painters like Wycliffe Opondo, Elias Mungora, Kevo Stero and Onyis Martin. Those who preferred creating installations like Wambui Kamiru Collymore, Mwini Mutuku, Joan Otieno and Gor Soudan. Filmmaking was also an art form on display as Craig made two short ones that featured different aspects of street food culture while Joan Otieno’s video was part of her Fast Food installation which critiqued the way westernization has afflicted Kenyans with multiple maladies.
I couldn’t see everything at BIEA although I admired Mwini Mutuku’s installation which, like Joan’s, was cautionary and multimedia. Sounding the alarm on cassava, the new ‘wonder food’ that’s supposedly the perfect staple when drought afflicts. But it can also kill if not cooked properly.
I missed the writers, photographers and animating energy that built throughout the weekend. But I did partake of the popular makeshift kibanda (designed by Joost) where visitors hung out and tasted freshly roasted Kimiko mbuzi and drink Ethiopian coffee.
My early departure was my loss, but at least I managed to make it to Brush tu Sunday night where I met the core artists still there. David Thuku, Boniface Maina, Michael Musyoka, Waweru Gichuhi, Elias Mongora, Abdul Kiprop, Emmaus Kimani and Boniface Kimani all had transformed their studios into gallery-like spaces. They’d even reclaimed a portion of land adjacent to their studio-house, clearing out illegally dumped garbage and transforming it into a garden and hospitality space.
It was a perfect way to end the weekend: witnessing the powerfully transformative power of the arts at Brush tu, a place reflect of what’s really happening among bright young Kenyans right now.