Sunday, 19 August 2018

SOI'S ART REVEALS HOW ‘CHINA LOVES AFRICA’

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (Appeared Business Daily 17 August 2018)

Michael Soi and Donald Trump have one thing in common. Both have taken on the Chinese for their presumptive economic practices. Trump hits them with tariffs for their flooding American markets with cheap goods.

Soi hits them for the way they’ve walked onto the continent, apparently as good guys, but Soi sees their motives as suspect. In ‘China Loves Africa,’ his current exhibition at Circle Art Gallery, Soi uses visual satire to expose what he sees as Chinese new mode of neo-colonialism.
There’s nothing new about Soi employing his art to expose obscene cultural, economic and social practices. His iconoclastic style of hitting ‘sacred cows’, be the athletic, political, or expatriate, can be traced back years. He’s never minded ruffling people’s feathers, especially when they’ve tried to accuse him of ‘impropriety’.
For instance, his ‘Sex in the City’ exhibitions with Thom Ogonga disturbed various fundamentalist groups who felt his art was ‘immoral’. But that didn’t stop him. He sees himself as a sort of cultural chronicler documenting what he sees in the city and the country, no matter how scandalous it might seem to some.
Those exhibitions were big hits. But that topic is only one of many that Soi’s explored since he began painting in the early 1990s, first at BIFA, then at Kuona Trust and currently at the GoDown.
What compelled Soi to look more critically into the Chinese presence in Africa was Kenyans’ preparations for participation in the 2015 Venice Biennale. During that time, local artists had discovered they were being misrepresented at that world-class art fair. Anonymous Chinese artists had occupied a so-called ‘Kenyan Pavilion’ in Venice in 2013, and they were getting set to do it again in 2015.
The painting that Soi created to satirize this obscene initiative went viral online, and played an instrumental role in bringing down the bogus Sino-Kenyan Pavilion. But it also drew broad attention to Soi’s insightful style of visual satire.
The 77 artworks that make up his ‘China Loves Africa’ series have been created over the last four years. Unfortunately, the majority of them exist only in the artist’s online archive since they’ve been bought.
“Four are now in China, another four are in Hong Kong, three are in Australia and the rest [apart from the 11] are scattered all over the world,” says Soi who consistently puts his paintings on Facebook when they are ‘works in progress’.
Indeed, one reason for his worldwide popularity is due to his transparent use of Facebook. His FB fan-base watches him as he works, step by step, in the case of practically every painting. In that way, he cultivates a feeling of familiarity with his fans. Some even come to Kenya just to meet the artist and get one of his hand-painted bags from him personally.
Facebook is certainly how they got to know about his ‘China Loves Africa’ artworks and how so many now own pieces of that series.
“It’s just a matter of Fed-Ex-ing the work wherever it’s wanted,” says Soi who only held onto the eleven that are up at Circle because he realized he wanted a local show. “They all could have gone by now,” he adds.
In fact, Circle Arts’ co-founder Danda Jaroljmek sold several last week before the show since they were already at the Gallery.
Soi says that one other incentive that inspired him to create so many different stories about how ‘China Loves Africa’ was an incident that took place in 2016. Six Chinese drove to the GoDown, came into his studio and started harassing and lambasting him for abusing their people through his art. They even called him ‘ungrateful’ for what China is doing for Africa, which he found ironic.
But rather than be intimidated by their visit, Soi says it ignited even more passion in him to expose the arrogance of these foreigners who apparently intend to one day control the continent if Africans don’t wake up and not allow it to happen.
One of his initial commentaries on the Chinese came in the form of a painting that became iconic among Kenyan art lovers who were unhappy about the way Chinese artists had gone to the world-class ‘Venice Biennale’ art fair, occupying the so-called Kenya Pavilion. Their presumptuous occupation of the space meant for Kenyans galled local artists and their friends; but Michael’s painting exposed the duplicity of their pretentious presence at the Biennale. 

Thursday, 16 August 2018

ACCIDENTAL AFRICAN PT 1 (work in progress)


WORK IN PROGRESS.....

She didn’t really quite know how she got there. It had all felt like a dream. Except that it had been such a fiasco getting out of town, escaping the mental cells that her father tried to lock her into just before she climbed aboard the plane and flew across land, seas and more land until she finally reached that inexplicable destination, Nairobi.
Her whole experience prior to boarding that aircraft had been a blur. She’d been born into a situation where she felt as if everything had been prearranged, preordained. Other people seemed to know who she was and what she was supposed to do. Not that she knew herself or had a clue what she wanted to do with her life. But one thing she did know. She had to resist the sense of fate that seemed to hover over her head. She refused to accept the destiny that elders and the stars seemed to have charted out for her.
What made that imperative of refusal to comply most obvious was the fact that none of her brothers were kept in a box the same way her father sought to lock her in. All three seemed to have free reign over their lives. They could come and go, excel or fall down, and frequent all kinds of places without a note of negation.
But not her. Her every move seemed to be monitored and checked. And more often than not, those moves, once seen, got curtailed or shut down altogether. The one good thing about that early awareness that she was being surveilled is that she quickly learned how to move ‘under the radar’ as her friend Sarah put it. She learned how to avoid the surveillance cameras, the family spies who might see her at venues that her elders (including her older brother) deemed ‘off limits’.
Not that she overtly lied about her comings and goings. But she got so she knew she wouldn’t go anywhere or do anything with her life if she didn’t learn the art of subterfuge, the strategy of going undercover and moving with stealth. In college, she took keen interest in guerrilla warfare since it had those elements of improvisation and spontaneity and quick wittedness that appealed her immensely. She loved to watch movies about spies and covert action heroes. They felt like her comrades and role models.
But while she was still a kid, her best defense against being stuck on a shelf and treated like a hot-house plant was to go out and play side by side with the boys.
She took pride in being a tomboy, in climbing trees and shinnying up slippery jungle gym poles. She played baseball and found her most prized possession at age nine was not a doll but a Left-handed catcher’s mite.
She was also a runner, and ran the 50 yard dash in a flash, often tied with her best friend, a Turkish girl whose parents were Democrats and peace activists, the exact opposite of hers.
When she inherited her older brother’s bicycle at age ten, she instantly got on the bike and flew away without a moment’s tuition. She could feel the bike becoming her key to freedom, mobility and an ability to escape and discover new horizons.
In fact, it was the bike that taught her to be a voyeur, to speed by new situations so fast that she couldn’t be snagged, tagged or tugged into any untoward circumstance. She was curious about all that lay outside the radius of her family’s home turf and the confines circumscribed by her father.
But she actually had to give credit to her oldest brother for his instilling in her the feeling of fearlessness. For it was he who never failed to challenge her to ask questions, inquire deeply and strive to figure things out wherever she might be.
But it invariably also put out a double message: on the one hand, he wanted his little sister to explore the universe just as he loved to do. But he also had those hang-ups that tried to shut down little girls who talked too much and asked too many questions. But even his efforts to shut her down taught her to be strong and to fight his inherited conservatism that sought to retain the pernicious posture of a patriarchal status quo.
That conservativism is what ended up turning him against her when she got the scholarship to study in Kenya and then decided to stay. He said she was wasting her life, but he didn’t understand that for the first time, she felt like she had a handle on her life; she felt almost free to discover the person she was meant to become.
Ironically, she didn’t anticipate that it would actually be much harder to fly under the radar in Nairobi. On the contrary, for various reasons, despite her efforts to retain anonymity, she found it practically impossible.
It was largely that impossibility that got her in so much trouble.  (to be continued) 840

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

NEW WORKS & LINE: THE BASIC ELEMENT AT ONE OFF GALLERY


                                                     Okello's Masques, a New Work in The Loft at One Off Gallery

GALLERY’S EXPANSION OPENS UP NEW LINES OF THOUGHT

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 14 August 2018)

One Off Gallery has done a brilliant thing by sacrificing its stable and making it over into a second art space just adjacent to its original gallery at The Loft, both of which are located in Carol Lees’ backyard.
                                                                                                     Peter Ngugi's

Currently, both spaces are full to overflowing with intriguing works of contemporary Kenyan art. The Loft is filled with ‘New Works’ by One Off regulars such as painters Anthony Okello, James Mbuthia, Peter Ngugi, Olivia Pendergast, Peter Elungat, Naomi van Rampelberg who paints exclusively on glass, Ugandan artist Collin Sekajugo and the marvelous metal sculptor Harrison Mburu.
But as lovely as works in the Loft look, it was the show in the Stable that attracted the greatest attention on the opening day of the ‘Line: the basic element’ group exhibition.

In part that had to do with the show having been curated by two young Kenyan artists, Thom Ogonga and Jonathan Solanke Frazier who were well-equipped to call fellow artists who they knew had an affinity for painting and drawing using their ‘basic element’, the line.
In part it was because many friends of One Off also knew they could anticipate the unexpected that day. So expectations had to run high.
                                                                                              Patti Endo

Carol Lees had given Thom and Jonathan a free hand to pick and choose whomever they wished to showcase. Not that their selection of eleven Kenyan artists was a startling surprise. But it was exciting to find that most of those chosen to be in the Line show had never exhibited at One Off before.
In fact, only Florence Wangui and Mercy Kagia had showed their artworks at One Off before. Florence’s animated chickens, drawn in charcoal, always have personalities of their own. And the ones she drew for the ‘Line’ exhibition were no exception. 
                                                                                              Florence Wangui

Mercy’s previous works had been in the Gallery’s second ‘Nudes’ show which was held last year, and they’d attracted broad interest (and some controversy), in part because her paintings were the only ones in the show that featured men.
In any case, the rest of the artists feature in the Stable were Kenyans making premier appearances at One Off.

They included Agnes Waruguru, David Thuku, Janice Iche, Jonathan Solanke, Longinos Nagila, Ndeithi Kariuki, Patti Endo, Sebawali Sio and Wanjohi Maina.
It was an eclectic group of artists whose works happened to harmonize beautifully as one will find when you get to One Off and wander from one white-walled room to the next.

In fact, the artworks in the Loft have an equally harmonious effect, only in different hues, textures and techniques. For instance, there are more oil paintings in the original gallery, more familiar imagery such as Okello’s monumental masks, Ngugi’s curious street people and Olivia’s elegant auburn tree-scape.

Meanwhile, the works in the Stable are full of surprises. For instances, Longinos’s 3-D optical illusory art is unlike anything we’ve seen him create before. Ndeithi’s metallic, musical fingers are also exceptional silhouettes of sound. And Agnes’s cotton tapestry is just as refreshing as (albeit quite different from) the textile art of the Canadian artist, Lisa Milroy who’d shown at One Off several months before.
                                                                                                    Ndeithi kariuki

So there’s a lot to see at One Off this month. The artworks of both the gallery ‘regulars’ and the newcomers to the Rosslyn gallery are on hand to view. In all, there’s tremendous variety to see, so August is a good time to get to the Gallery.
Incidentally, in the coming weeks we can look forward to Carol Lees setting up another art outpost in the Rosslyn Riviera Mall, just down the road from One Off.

                           Moira, Janice, Naitiemu and Nadia at One Off


AFRO-RENAISSANCE A CULTURAL MOVEMENT OR A SCI-FI


                                          Light into Darkness by Native at Afro Renaissance, Alliance Francaise

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 13 August 2018)

Afro-Renaissance isn’t just a book or an artists’ catalogue of paintings, photography, poetry and prose.

Nor is it simply the title of an art exhibition currently underway at Alliance Francaise that opened last Friday night with performances of poetry and graffiti artists covering the pillars in the ground floor exhibition hall with Kenyanised hieroglyphic-like graffiti art.
                                                      Live graffiti hieroglyphs by Kerosh at AfroRenaissance

Afro-Renaissance is meant to be a cultural movement of young Kenyans who are committed to not just changing the stereotypic narrative of Africa as a land that had no history until the colonizer came. They are artists keen to reclaim their people’s history dating back to the times when Africans presided over their own destinies.
Spearheaded by two young artists known simply as Native and Sogallo, the two largely look to the stars to imagine the limitless possibilities that are open to creatives who, like themselves, are keen to take part in the cultural ‘re-birth’ that they see as already underway.
                                                                               Ancient Astronaut by Native

Two visionaries, Native is the painter with a background in architecture and fine art while Sogallo is the conceptual photographer and digital artist. Buddies since secondary school, the two have been planning to take this positive approach to their art for quite some time. In fact, less than a year ago, they put up their first edition of Afro-Renaissance at the British Institute of Eastern Africa.
But their vision and sense of purpose has grown over the past year. Their first volume of ‘Afro-Renaissance’ the book, is evidence of that progress. So is the poetry contained in the soft-cover catalogue of the art included in their AF show.

In a sense, one feels the two are on a mission to convince their fellow Kenyans that they deserve to reclaim a glorious past, particularly an ancient time when kingdoms and civilizations were guided and governed by celestial powers.
Those powers are manifest in Native’s paintings especially. Works like ‘Empress Moon’, ‘Queen’s Lady’, ‘High Priestess’ and even his ‘Sing to the Moon’ all reflect his fascination with otherworldly powers. He even raises the wild possibility of African civilizations having their origins in civilizations that arrived from realms beyond our planet earth. His ‘Ancient Astronaut’ (who looks like another elegant goddess or exotic deity) gives a tangible testimony to the uncanny speculations of the German author Erich von Daniken who wrote ‘Chariots of the Gods’ back in the late 1960s.
                                                                                         Empress Moon by Native

Von Daniken wondered about whether planet earth might have been populated by ‘astronauts’ from an advanced civilization from another planet altogether. His book created quite a stir at the time, and it clearly sparked the Native’s imagination as well.
What if Africa had at one time been populated by peoples who were way more advanced than any existing in the world today? Who can frankly refute that possibility?
                                                                                   Sing to the moon by Native

Sogallo’s abstract imagery blends well with Native’s otherworldly themes. This is especially true when the painter takes a turn from the celestial and spiritual speculations to painting about ‘the dark side’. Works like ‘Light into Darkness’ and ‘War Child’ I and II reflect on the darker dimensions that seem to permeate much of Sogallo’s digital art and photography.
Starting with Sogallo’s ‘Gemini’ I and II, we can see that their Afro-Renaissance has its own version of what the Italians called chiaroscuro which relates to the combination of light and darkness. Sogallo’s ‘Ghosts’ has a haunting effect as does his ‘Peponi’ and ‘Zimwi’, both of which could also bear witness to those ‘ancient astronauts’ who might have arrived here in non-human forms, the stuff that science fiction is made of.
In the end, Native doesn’t ignore the dark side, as can be seen in his two ‘war children’, both of which are painted (like most of his works) not on canvas but on colorful kitenge cloth. The contrast between the paint and the geometric textile designs enhances the beauty of Native’s beings, all of whom seem transcendent in a way.
                                                                                      Native (in a Mask)

Then too the contrast between Native’s colorful works and Sogallo’s mainly black and white digital art also adds interest to this show. Equally the graffiti art drawn by Kerosh, Chela, Kaymist and Native on the exhibition’s opening night enhance the feeling that indeed this exhibition has a live element to it, even an element attuned either to the ancients or to the stars.
                                                 Guests at the opening of AfroRenaissance

WOMEN TAKE CENTRE STAGE ON NAIROBI’S THEATRE SCENE


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted August 15, 2018)

Zippy Okoth joins an esteemed assemblage of Kenyan women who are taking their place and even taking the lead on the Kenyan theatre scene. With her chapter two of the ‘Diary of a Divorced Woman’, staged last weekend at Kenya National Theatre, her ‘Silence Voices’ came in the wake of ‘The Brazen Edition’ of Too Early for Birds, which featured an all-female cast and crew and illustrated how Kenyan women can own, operated and orchestrate a production on their own.
And while Brazen was still in rehearsal, Aleya Kassam and Sitawa Namwalie also found time to co-write and stage ‘Love, Loss and Discovery’ in Loresho for one night.
The day after Zippy went on stage, June Gachui and Patricia Kihoro costarred at the Arboretum in the improve-comedy show, Because You Said So
                                                                                                  Aleya and Sitawa

And just a few days before Zippy opened, having not only scripted, produced and directed her one-woman show, Mbeki Mwalimu also opened with the theatre troupe that she’d assembled, produced and directed, called ‘Back to Basics’. Mbeki’s choice of script, by Justin Miriichi entitled ‘Legally Insane’ was very well done. But the storyline ended up being way too misogynous for me. The mother (Wanjiku Mbuno) got blamed for everything, which I didn’t think was fair, especially as Gilbert Lukalia’s crazy patriarch was a wife beater.

In Zippy’s woeful story about her former spouse, Ricky is also a wife-beater as we learned in graphic detail in part one of her ‘Diary’. In part two, Ricky hangs on in spite our belief that Zippy freed herself from this useless man in the first segment of her saga.
Zippy has promised to bring us further installments from her ‘Diary’ in months to come. One only hopes Ricky is ousted for good since this otherwise strong, resourceful woman, sends an unfortunate message to other women.
Zippy’s one-woman shows are surely autobiographical, which is why we can applaud the achievement that she spells out as her story unfolds. But her confessions of ongoing abuse by that man makes us hope she genuinely moves on and eliminates him from her life once and for all.
Meanwhile, Mshai Mwangola-Githongo and Mueni Lundi will join with Aghan Odero tomorrow at the Point Zero Coffee House where their Performance Collective will continue dramatizing portions of Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s award-winning novel, Kintu from 11am. Andrea Moraa (who owns PZC with Wangeci Gitobu) will also tell fascinating tales about Kenyan coffee.

                             Dr Mshai Mwangola-Githongo at Point Zero Coffee with Dr Wandia Njoya













 WOMEN TAKE CENTRE STAGE ON NAIROBI’S THEATRE SCENE

By Margaretta wa Gacheru
Zippy Okoth joins an esteemed assemblage of Kenyan women who are taking their place and even taking the lead on the Kenyan theatre scene. With her chapter two of the ‘Diary of a Divorced Woman’, staged last weekend at Kenya National Theatre, her ‘Silence Voices’ came in the wake of ‘The Brazen Edition’ of Too Early for Birds, which featured an all-female cast and crew and illustrated how Kenyan women can own, operated and orchestrate a production on their own.
And while Brazen was still in rehearsal, Aleya Kassam and Sitawa Namwalie also found time to co-write and stage ‘Love, Loss and Discovery’ in Loresho for one night.
The day after Zippy went on stage, June Gachui and Patricia Kihoro costarred at the Arboredum in the improve-comedy show, Because You Said So.
And just a few days before Zippy opened, having not only scripted, produced and directed her one-woman show, Mbeki Mwalimu also opened with the theatre troupe that she’d assembled, produced and directed, called ‘Back to Basics’. Mbeki’s choice of script, by Justin Miriichi entitled ‘Legally Insane’ was very well done. But the storyline ended up being way too misogynous for me. The mother (Wanjiku Mbuno) got blamed for everything, which I didn’t think was fair, especially as Gilbert Lukalia’s crazy patriarch was a wife beater.
In Zippy’s woeful story about her former spouse, Ricky is also a wife-beater as we learned in graphic detail in part one of her ‘Diary’. In part two, Ricky hangs on in spite our belief that Zippy freed herself from this useless man in the first segment of her saga.
Zippy has promised to bring us further installments from her ‘Diary’ in months to come. One only hopes Ricky is ousted for good since this otherwise strong, resourceful woman, sends an unfortunate message to other women.
Zippy’s one-woman shows are surely autobiographical, which is why we can applaud the achievement that she spells out as her story unfolds. But her confessions of ongoing abuse by that man makes us hope she genuinely moves on and eliminates him from her life once and for all.
Meanwhile, Mshai Mwangola-Githongo and Mueni Lundi will join with Aghan Odero tomorrow at the Point Zero Coffee House where their Performance Collective will continue dramatizing portions of Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s award-winning novel, Kintu from 11am. Andrea Moraa (who owns PZC with Wangeci Gitobu) will also tell fascinating tales about Kenyan coffee.




























 WOMEN TAKE CENTRE STAGE ON NAIROBI’S THEATRE SCENE
By Margaretta wa Gacheru
Zippy Okoth joins an esteemed assemblage of Kenyan women who are taking their place and even taking the lead on the Kenyan theatre scene. With her chapter two of the ‘Diary of a Divorced Woman’, staged last weekend at Kenya National Theatre, her ‘Silence Voices’ came in the wake of ‘The Brazen Edition’ of Too Early for Birds, which featured an all-female cast and crew and illustrated how Kenyan women can own, operated and orchestrate a production on their own.
And while Brazen was still in rehearsal, Aleya Kassam and Sitawa Namwalie also found time to co-write and stage ‘Love, Loss and Discovery’ in Loresho for one night.
The day after Zippy went on stage, June Gachui and Patricia Kihoro costarred at the Arboredum in the improve-comedy show, Because You Said So.
And just a few days before Zippy opened, having not only scripted, produced and directed her one-woman show, Mbeki Mwalimu also opened with the theatre troupe that she’d assembled, produced and directed, called ‘Back to Basics’. Mbeki’s choice of script, by Justin Miriichi entitled ‘Legally Insane’ was very well done. But the storyline ended up being way too misogynous for me. The mother (Wanjiku Mbuno) got blamed for everything, which I didn’t think was fair, especially as Gilbert Lukalia’s crazy patriarch was a wife beater.
In Zippy’s woeful story about her former spouse, Ricky is also a wife-beater as we learned in graphic detail in part one of her ‘Diary’. In part two, Ricky hangs on in spite our belief that Zippy freed herself from this useless man in the first segment of her saga.
Zippy has promised to bring us further installments from her ‘Diary’ in months to come. One only hopes Ricky is ousted for good since this otherwise strong, resourceful woman, sends an unfortunate message to other women.
Zippy’s one-woman shows are surely autobiographical, which is why we can applaud the achievement that she spells out as her story unfolds. But her confessions of ongoing abuse by that man makes us hope she genuinely moves on and eliminates him from her life once and for all.
Meanwhile, Mshai Mwangola-Githongo and Mueni Lundi will join with Aghan Odero tomorrow at the Point Zero Coffee House where their Performance Collective will continue dramatizing portions of Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s award-winning novel, Kintu from 11am. Andrea Moraa (who owns PZC with Wangeci Gitobu) will also tell fascinating tales about Kenyan coffee.































































Sunday, 12 August 2018

WOMEN’S INCREASING ROLE IN KENYAN THEATRE

                                                                        All women cast and crew in The Brazen Edition of Too Early for Birds

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 12 August 2018 for Awaaz)

After the Phoenix Theatre died in 2016, there were countless forecasts of the impending demise of Kenyan theatre generally. The ridiculous irony of such chatter was that the loudest doomsday forecaster were guys who had rarely if ever shown their faces at a Phoenix show. They were also the ones who boycotted because they claimed Phoenix was a vestige of the old colonial order.
Yet what these cultural critics hadn’t foreseen or even included in their hasty assessment of the Kenyan theatre scene was the role that women would play in not just reviving the local theatre world but uplifting it to a better life than it had seen in many years.
It was actually decades ago when women like Mumbi wa Maina and Janet Young created brilliant new shows through their Tamaduni Players. An original script like ‘Portraits of Survival’ was inspired by the likes of Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Micere Mugo whose ‘Trial of Dedan Kimathi’ (which represented Kenya at FESTAC in 1976) effectively kick-started a revolutionary phase in Kenyan theatre. That phase was tragically truncated not long thereafter when the Kenya Government bulldozed the Kamiirithu Theatre and shut down Ngugi and Ngugi wa Mirii’s powerful Kikuyu play, ‘Ngaahika Ndeenda’ (‘I’ll marry when I want to’).
Nonetheless, Micere’s role as a pioneer in contemporary Kenyan theatre was solidly established with the ‘Trial’. More often she’s lauded for being a brilliant poet, and as such, both roles were recently recognized and paid homage to in the introductory scene of ‘Brazen’, the Fourth Edition of the new and innovative theatre company, Too Early for Birds.
Professor Micere’s poem, ‘Daughter of my people, sing’ raises so many questions about why women seem to be absent in Kenyan history. It was those questions that the three script-writers of ‘Brazen’ sought to answer when they created one of the most inspiring and multi-layered productions seen at the Kenya National Theatre in recent times.
Aleya Kassam, Laura Ekumbo and Anne Moraa went ahead and did their homework, researching the whereabouts of the most heroic women freedom fighters in Kenya’s past. ‘Brazen’ highlights the tremendous contributions made by five outstanding women, namely Mekatilili wa Menze, the Giriama woman who led a resistance movement against the British colonizer in 1913-1914; Wangu wa Makeri, the first female Chief in Kikuyuland, Field Marshall Muthoni wa Kirima, the top-ranking female freedom fighter in the ‘Mau Mau’ Land and Freedom Army; the nameless woman who brought down the legendary Luanda Magere, and the great Kenyan-Asian writer and rebel, Zarina Patel.
‘Brazen’ amplified the lives of all five of these amazing women whose role in Kenyan history they play insist must never be forgotten. But neither is ‘Brazen’ to be forgotten since it is the first all-female show that exclusively featured women in both the cast and the crew. What’s more, the integration of music, dance and dramatic effects was impressive, especially as the lighting and sound were all handled impeccable by female technicians.
The actors in ‘Brazen’ were also outstanding. Some were in their early twenties, others were decades older than that. But what also made the script impressive was the way the writers researched their script, just as Janet Young and Mumbi wa Maina more than forty years before.
But if ‘Brazen’ confirms our assertion that women are taking the lead in reviving and renovating Kenyan theatre, the show does not begin to tell the full story of what women are doing in theatre today. The troika of Aleya, Laura and Anne are not the only women scriptwriters who are busy right now. For instance, Sitawa Namwalie who played the Cucu in ‘Brazen’ has been dramatizing her poetry ever since she staged ‘Cut off my tongue’ in 2008. But she is also scripting and staging her own plays, including ‘Room of Lost Name.’
Mumbi Kaigwa is also an award-winning playwright whose trilogy has been staged (often one play at a time) in Kenya and East Africa as well as in Europe, the US and Asia. Best known for her acting in films like The Constant Gardener and The First Grader, Mumbi at 57 has been on stage for nearly half a century. She’s also inspired a multitude of upcoming actresses by starting her own theatre troupe, The Theatre Company in 2000 and in being the first Kenyan woman to dare stage Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues.
   
Other women playwrights include Dr Elizabeth Orchardson-Mazrui who’s best known as a painter, textile designer and poet but has also written scripts like ‘Nzinga, the Warrior Queen’ and ‘The Lion of Egerton Castle’. Others include Jean Akinyi who wrote ‘Contract Love’ which was staged earlier this year by Dr Zippy Okoth.

Dr Zippy has been a passionate playwright cum performer in the past year especially. Staging a series of one-woman shows out of her ‘Diary of a Divorced Woman’, she’s put on ‘Stranger in my Bed’ and ‘Strange Voices’ even as she’s taught Theatre Arts at Kenyatta University. Zippy can be credited for playing a decisive role in inspiring a number of young active thespians, including the founders of Too Early for Birds, Nyartia Bryan and Abu Sense.
There are also a wide range of women who have started up their own theatre companies. Besides Mumbi Kaigwa (who handed over The Theatre Company to her ex-spouse Keith Pearson in order to found The Arts Canvas), there’s Mbeki Mwalimu who founded Back to Basics early this year and has subsequently staged several original Kenyan scripts. Then there’s Mshai Mwangola who with Mueni Lundi and Aghan Odero, formed The Performance Collective which has a regular gig every month at the Point Zero Coffee House and Book Club.
                                                                    Mshai Mwangola Githongo
Caroline Odongo was the force behind the Mujiza Theatre where she not only managed but often directed shows. She also acted but now she works with etcetera productions mainly as a producer-director.
Muthoni Garland is not only the author and founder of Storymoja Publications. She also founded the Nyef Nyef Storytellers which is one of a number of Kenyan storytelling troupes that perform not only at the annual Storymoja Festival but at festivals of their own. 


One such festival is the Sigana International Storytelling Festival which features Hellen Alumbe Namai, Wangari Grace and a wide variety of performing artists from around the region and the world.
                                                                     Alumbe Namai, storyteller with the Sigana International Festival of Storytellers


                                                                  Maimouna Jallow telling the story of The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives

Mara Menzies is a Kenyan storyteller who is based in Scotland but comes occasionally to perform in Kenya en route to other parts of the world. Maimouna Jallow is an inspired Togo-born storyteller married to a Kenyan who has also played a pivotal role encouraging Kenyan writers and performing artists to ‘reimagine Kenyan folktales’ in light of present-day circumstances.


                                                     Storytellers Wambui Raya, Sitawa, Patricia Kihoro, Mumbi Kaigwa and Maimouna Jallow
One cannot forget Millicent Ogutu who is both a lawyer and thespian who single-handedly saved the Phoenix Players in the 1990s after which she became Managing Director of Phoenix up until she went back into law. But Milo’s one-woman performances have been some of the most memorable in recent times. If she could make a living as an actress, there is little doubt she would return to live theatre full-time.
                                                                                                                        Millicent Ogutu
Finally, two of the most exciting actresses on the Kenyan stage currently are part of the live Improv-comedy troupe ‘Because You Said So.’ June Gachui, like Millicent, is a lawyer as well as a performing artist. Her female counterpart in BYSS is Patricia Kihoro, both of whom are accomplished singers as well as comedians who are part of this dynamic seven-person troupe whic performs several times every year and most recently (12 August) starred at the Nairobi Arboretum, nonplussed by the fact that the Phoenix Theatre is no more. They feel free to perform wherever they can find space, which is the spirit that many Kenyan actors share.
                                                                               Patricia Kihoro and June Gachui costar in And So You Say
Quite a few Kenyan male actors (and some women) have shifted over to film and television, in part because they find it more lucrative. But with their departure, we are witness to the unavoidable fact that Kenyan women are emerging as the most dynamic force in live theatre today.