CONTEMPORARY KENYAN ARTISTS FILL NEW & OLD SPACES
By margaretta wa gacheru (posted 4 June 2018)
Perspective is everything. From one point of view, the city of Nairobi is filled with garbage. From another, including mine, Nairobi is filled with fine art. It’s there in abundance. And the proof is all the new places as well as the older more established ones that interested folk can find it in, especially on weekends.
The newest space that’s putting contemporary Kenyan art on display are the Tamarind Tree Hotel, a funky new place situated just next door to the Carnivore and literally filled with photography, colorful murals and a spacious art gallery (that doubles as a conference hall, in a way that’s comparable to what they do at the Dusit D2 Hotel, another venue that holds exhibitions of up-and-coming Kenyan artists on the last Saturday of every month).
The group show was put together by Polka Dot Gallery and the free-lance curator Humphrey Mugo. The two brought together 20 local artists including everyone from junk artist Joan Otieno, Coster Ojwang, Wycliffe Opondo, Nadia Wamunyu and David Maina to Alex Wainaina, Nelson Ijakaa and Patrick Kinuthia among others. The exhibition was eclectic but enchanting in its diversity.
The other brand new exhibition space is at Muthaiga Heights where Beta-Arts and Gloria Barasa are now showing more young rising stars in the local art scene in Pop-Up exhibitions.
Last weekend, Gloria with assistance from Emmaus Kimani of Brush tu Art Studio curated an outdoor exhibition on the balcony of the new flats. Artists featured included Abdul Kipruto, Evilidah Wasai, Leevans Linyerera, Munene Kariuki, Saad Lukwago and Wallace Juma.
Both Gloria and Emmaus have jumped into the art scene after having heard from many young artists that they need venues in which to share and potentially sell their art. So we’ll be seeing more of Beta Arts collections in days to come.
The other relatively new art space, which has an opening tomorrow, is The Attic in Nyari. Kuona sculptor Meshak Oiro will be exhibiting along with two artists whose works Gloria just showed, namely Wallace Juma (who won First Prize at this year’s Manjano art competition) and Leevans Linyerera. One hopes we won’t see the same works at the Attic as we did at Beta Arts.
In fact, there is an etiquette that artists need to exercise out of courtesy to the galleries. It was violated recently when one well-known local artist had a one-man gallery show at the same time as he featured at a popular restaurant. At least he didn’t show the same works in both venues, but otherwise, it’s a ‘no-no.’
One artist who doesn’t recycle his art is Timothy Brooke who’s been so industrious in the past few months that his art, including his new oil paintings, water colors and drawings fills all the walls at One Off Gallery. That’s a feat in itself since One Off just expanded into a new space (Carol Lees’ former stable) that is even bigger than its original Loft.
Timothy runs wild, painting herds of zebra, wildebeests and wild buffalo, all of whom are on the move themselves. Their dynamism is captured in his art as his paints and pen both easily capture their flight across the savannah.
Meanwhile, Timothy Brooke is not the only vintage artist currently exhibiting in Nairobi. At Nairobi National Museum, Ngecha artists who gained renown in the 1990s have re-emerged in an exhibition curated by King Dodge King’oroti of Ngecha Art Centre. That means one can see new and older works by artists like Chain Muhandi, Wanyu Brush, Sebastian Kiarie, George Ngaruiya, Martin Muhoro, Daniel Kinyanjui, and Dodge himself, among others. It’s a show that will make one nostalgic for past initiatives of Kenyan artists who hold an important place in the history of contemporary Kenyan art.
Finally, the best evidence to show how Nairobi has become a hub of artistic activity is the fact that artists from other parts of East Africa art flocking here to have exhibitions. In the past few months we’ve seen Ugandan artists exhibiting at Village Market with works that have set a standard for up and coming artists to learn something from. Then too, Tanzanian artists have also come to Kenya this month and over a dozen of them are exhibiting as from last Saturday at Banana Hill Art Centre.
Last but not least, the Maasai Mbili artists workshop at Polka Dot Gallery went well last weekend as James Dundi Obat shared his skill stitching metal in a way we haven’t seen since it used to be done by another Kenyan, Kota Otieno.