By Margaretta wa Gacheru (6 April 2018)
There’s heaps of humor, irony and deadpan indulgence in the unprecedented exhibition of the same name, ‘Indulgence’ that its curator Nyambura Waruinge says took her more than a year and a half to construct and which opened April 5th at Goethe Institute.
“I’d actually been thinking for some time about putting together a show that focused on the body,” says Nyambura who graciously credits the Ugandan curator Violet Nantomen for giving her the inspiration to take up the tabooed topic and running with it.
Violet curated ‘Eroticism & Intimacy: Faces, Places and Paths’, an exhibition which featured the works of 28 artists from five Great Lakes Regional states. Nyambura’s is more subtly named and only has the art of five creatives in it. But each one explores and experiments with comparable and equally evocative themes related to gender, sexuality, desire, erotic pleasure and a range of related issues, each in their own inimitable way.
If one is easily shocked with the public display or discussion of sex, then ‘Indulgence’ isn’t for you. But if one’s prepared to keep an open mind and an unflinching gaze, then you’ll be in for a fascinating ride into an unexplored terrain that will bring either delight or distress to one’s heart and mind.
For there’s little doubt you won’t have ever seen ‘the Big Five’ referred to not as Kenya’s renowned wildlife but as five life-sized phallus’. Each one stands erect inside a polished wooded box that is lit by blinking battery-charged mini-bulbs. The phallus’ were carefully carved out of assorted Kenyan woods by James Muriuki who also tells BD that he’s not ‘gender biases’.
In fact, he recently sculpted a vagina out of soil and sand. But he felt the phallus’ were more appropriate for this show since their display would definitely be seen as a taboo and possibly even an insult to man’s virility since the five seem to be mocking what most men see as their ‘manhood’.
At the opening of Indulgence, James spoke freely about his phallus’ and clearly took pleasure in the public’s curiosity. Women especially interrogate him that night as they were clearly intrigued by a man who didn’t seem to mind making fun of traditional masculinity.
Meanwhile, Yaye Yassamali also enjoyed explaining her contribution to the show: three shapely steel wired multicolored configurations, two of which hang like fragile mobiles from Goethe’s ceiling.
Yaye said she’s been working in two dimensions for some time and was keen to experiment with 3D sculpture. The three wire works represent three stages of orgasm, she says: first, the foreplay, then the ecstatic pleasure and finally, the repose.
Like James, Yaye is shameless in her explanation of a subject which is definitely tabooed talk among most Kenyans. Indeed, the mere mention of sex is rarely touched on, leave alone issues of pleasure and desire. But Yaye seems to have found her calling since she’s been painting various aspects of women’s sexuality on canvas, paper and even t-shirts for some time..
Then one comes to the two Ugandans in the show, neither of whom was present at the opening. But both Stacey Gillian Abe and Henry ‘Mzili’ Mujunga make powerful statements about what Nyambura calls ‘gender bending’. So does the fifth contributor to ‘Indulgence’, Neo Musangi, especially when in her video, she has the faceless protagonist dressed in a priestly gown injecting him- or herself with hormones meant to transition that person from one gender to the next.
Neo is apparently the one who inspired the exhibition’s title since Nyambura explained that the Catholic Church associates sex with sin and sin is an indulgence, something for which someone is meant to repent.
To confirm that she’s alluding to the church and its being one of the loudest taboo-talker about sex and sin, Neo also includes an actual priestly robe plus several rosaries in her installation.
Mzili might also offend audiences with his three glorious paintings, all of which present human beings who primarily combine the bodily features of both women and men. They might have male genitalia but female breasts or vice versa. And if the paintings present confusing pictures of human beings, the artist nonetheless uses a lovely array of bright dazzling colors to captivate one’s eyes before they can avert their gaze, if they were inclined to feel shame, embarrassment or incredulity at what Mzili has done to the human body.
Stacey has similarly challenged traditional views of her gender, only while Mzili works in oils and acrylics, she uses photography and collage to create works of art that arrest the eyes in ways similar to what Mzili does.
Both of her works present a woman apparently in the act of preparing food although shes stirring up her stew in a toilet bowl not a kitchen pot. What’s more she’s scattered replicated images of women’s vaginas all over the floor beneath the bowl. It’s bizarre but no less so than believing women are destined to remain confined and denied their right to fulfill their potential, including their passion and pleasure, whatever that pleasure may be.