Monday, 24 September 2018

PATRICK KINUTHIA: ONE OF KENYA’S FINEST LANDSCAPE ARTISTS



                                                                  Market day at Red Hill by Patrick Kinuthia

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 24 September 2018)

Patrick Kinuthia may be best known for his colorful portraits of beautiful African women. His women are all distinctive for their elegance, youth and apparent poise, gentility and grace that derives no doubt from their assurance that Patrick has painted them with an African Mona Lisa in mind.

It could be that most of his women are figments of his fertile imagination. But even if they are, their imaginary vitality veritably pours forth from his portraits such that one can easily assume they actually have blood running through their veins.
Yet however popular Kinuthia’s portraits are among local art collectors, he’s chosen to focus on landscape painting in his latest one-man exhibition which just opened last weekend at Polka Dot Gallery in Karen and running through 16 October.

Either way, Kinuthia has a vibrant sense of organic Kenyan colours. His landscapes are especially fine reflections of his keen ability to capture nuances in shades of green, be they shaped as leafy trees, grassy fields, tea plantations or even heaps of deep green cabbages stacked high in some rural market place.
Kinuthia’s secret, he says, is his love of the light that’s exceptionally bright in equatorial Kenya (when it’s not rainy season and not the sort of Nairobi winter that we locals have had to endure in recent times). His is a love that enables him to capture the sheen of Karen stable horses (which appear in his current show) as well as the shimmering turquoise blue hues that ripple along the Lamu coast.
Kinuthia mainly paints with acrylics (since they dry much faster than oils). But he also uses charcoal to shade and outline and generate the chiaroscuro shadows that enhance the mood and feeling of his landscapes, including his trees, rocks, ridges and rivulets.
Kinuthia has few street scenes in this show, apart from the empty dirt roads he’s found in Malindi, Kagwe in Kiambu and even off the beaten path in Muthaiga. But there’s one that stands out; it’s in Shela where four little boys are on the road but standing strategically in the shadow of over-reaching tree boughs. The shadow serves as their refuge as the sun looks set at high noon and it seems to be a scorching hot day.
In the seminal book, ‘Visual Voices’ by Susan Wakhungu Githuku, Kinuthia explains that he loves to travel and loved learning photography at Kenya Polytechnic. That love of travel is most apparent in this show (which is obliquely entitled ‘Aspects’) since his semi-impressionist landscapes range all the way from Lamu and Shela village to Lake Nakuru and Crater Lake. He’s even taken time to paint Malinda (both in water colors and acrylics), Muthaiga and Mau Narok.
Yet Kinuthia’s visions of Kenya are ephemeral, given the rate of change taking place in the country currently. One hates to imagine that the pastoral-like scenes that he captures in broad sweeping brush strokes may soon by history. But that’s what happened to earlier landscape artists like Constable, Gainsborough and Turner, so one can assume that Kinuthia’s paintings could soon reflect a bygone time.
Nonetheless, the artist is happy to paint what he sees in his own way right now. The surprising thing about the man is that for all his popularity, the prices of his works are still relatively low, even affordable to middle class Kenyans.
Kinuthia says he likes to keep his prices low so that people can afford them. And if in future, the value of his art accrues, he says that’s all the better for his art-loving clients. 



TINA BENAWRA CREATES ART FOR THE VISUALLY IMPAIRED

                                         Tina Benawra with her painting 'Upendo Kazi' at Hotel Intercontinental Nairobi

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 24 September 201)

Creating art for the visually-impaired sounds like an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. Indeed, it sounds like an impossibility.
Yet once you meet Tina Benawra, the diminutive Kenyan artist who loves painting on large canvases like the one currently on display in the front lobby of Hotel Intercontinental, you won’t be surprised to find that very little looks impossible to her.
Growing up on the edge of Nairobi’s CBD in Ngara, the only little girl in a ‘hood full of busy little boys, Tina joined in on all their games, including making toy matatus and cars from Kimbo tins, soda bottle tops and wires.
“I think that’s when I acquired my taste for both art and science,” says the former bio-physicist turned filmmaker turned visual artist whose paintings literally speak to the visually impaired.

Having grown up the middle child between two brothers, Tina’s parents were conventional enough to educate their boys while encouraging their girl to get a job. Tina completed her A-levels on a scholarship but then went to work as a flight attendant.
That’s how she got to Basel, Switzerland where she found the Open University enabled her to study and work simultaneously. It was the sciences that intrigued her most initially. But after several years, first researching a cure for AIDS, then shifting into engineering, she realized the sciences alone couldn’t satisfy her soul. So she went to study film in the UK, now realizing the arts had more appeal to her over the long haul.
Having studied film editing and scriptwriting before learning a family member back home wasn’t well, Tina returned to Kenya in 2015 just in time to participate in the Machakos Film Festival. But she wasn’t ready to move back to Kenya just yet. Her home base was still Basel.
It was there that she began studying the Swiss psychologist CG Jung and the unconscious. “I found myself buying cans of spray paint and ‘automatically’ creating graffiti on walls,” she says. Some of her graffiti had a more controlled and realistic feel to it, but progressively, it’s gotten more surreal and automatic.


Around the same time, Tina realized her twin loves of art and engineering could go hand in hand. She’d come back to Kenya to attend her brother’s wedding; and while she was here, she took a course in welding from a friend in Mlololongo. (She wanted to weld scrap metal into a water fountain).
It wasn’t long thereafter that she began meeting Kenyans who shared nearly as broad a range of interests as she had. Prior to that time, Tina was flying back and forth between Switzerland and Kenya, and hadn’t settled in sufficiently to see much of the Nairobi arts scene.
But the scale was now tipping towards spending more time and doing more with her art in Kenya. That’s when she met Velma Kiome of the Christian Blind Mission and began to see how her art could serve as a form of therapy for relieving the disabled of their sense of isolation and alienation.
When she got the call to create a painting for the visually impaired, Tina first thought of texture and the blind literally feeling her paintings. But then she decided to learn braille, the language of the blind. Now she incorporates a bit of it into her highly textured artworks.

The one at Hotel Intercontinental is for the visually impaired in two respects. On the one hand, it can be felt and read to be appreciated. But it can also be bought since the funds from its sale will go to CBM, to help build an art centre that will enable to disabled to both paint and sculpt and get involved in expressing more of their creative selves.
Tina is already working on more artworks for the visually-impaired but now she wants to also incorporate sound into her work, creating more multimedia art.
“I also have a deep concern for the environment so I hope to create artworks that can educate young people about the importance of protecting and preserving our environment,” says this innovative young woman who, for the time being, is happy to be working from this side of the world.
“I’ve got several new projects that I’m working on which will keep me busy here for the time being,” she adds. “So, yes, I guess I’m back, but I’m still on the move.”





Thursday, 20 September 2018

NIGHT, MOTHER PREMIERES IN NAIROBI

PSYCHOLOGICAL DRAMA PREMIERES TONIGHT AT NATIONAL THEATRE

By Margaretta wa Gacheru

“Night, Mother” is a Pulitzer prize-winning drama that makes its Kenyan premiere tonight at Kenya National Theatre’s Ukumbi Mdogo at 7pm.

Presented by Sanifu Productions and ACT Kenya, the two-hander is a compelling story about a mother and daughter at a critical moment when Jessie (Rachel Kostrna) is contemplating suicide and her mom Thelma (Julisa Rowe) is trying to talk her out of it.

‘Night, Mother’ won its playwright Martha Norman several Tony award nominations and the prestigious Pulitzer prize for theatre in 1983. But despite the play being more than 35 years old, it remains fresh, timely and sadly relevant to our local scene where suicide has become the second most frequent cause of death among young people.

According to the World Health Organization, it’s youth ranging from ages 15 to 29 who are most prone to depression and suicide. Jessie falls into that age group and has decided she’s got no good reason to stay alive.

The tension in this tenderly sensitive tale is what has made the play so popular in the Western world. But just as Kenyans have appropriated so many other cultural qualities, customs and quirky attributes from the West, they have also embraced a number of psychological trends. One of them is suicide, a practice virtually unheard of in pre-colonial Kenya.

Julisa Rowe has been a professional actor for many years and a theatre lecturer at Daystar University for the past 11 years. Rachel Kostrna is a visiting performing artist from Oregon who’s directed, scripted and starred in many plays.

“Night, Mother’ will be staged through Sunday.

Meanwhile, news just in is that Heartstrings Kenya has been working on a new comedy. They will be staging ‘Last Man Standing’ from 4th-7th October at Alliance Francaise.

Finally, this past week has witnessed a style of performance that relies on literature other than actual plays. At Goethe Institute, Ngartia Bryan of Too early for Birds, gave a spellbinding performance from Olumide Popoola’s novel, ‘When we speak of nothing’. And at the Point Zero Coffee House, members of the Performance Collective, Aghan Odera and Wambua Kawive read from ‘Love in the time of cholera’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Both performances were inspired.

And at Kenya National Theatre, Tinga Tinga Tales the Musical is only running this weekend and next. So it’s best to book now or you might miss this extra-ordinarily entertaining production.

 

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

MELISSA THE MUSICAL, A WAKE UP CALL TO WOMEN AND MEN


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (19 September 2018)

Grace Mercy Muruthi is a blossoming playwright to be reckoned with as we saw early this week when her first musical, ‘Melissa’, premiered at the Michael Joseph Centre. Directed by Joseph Ochieng, her fellow Talanta Institute performing arts lecturer, Mercy took a risk in giving her first play to be performed by a young cast who are also her students at the Institute.

Yet Mercy wasn’t let down by either Rhoda Memusi who took the title role, or Philip Muoki, Melissa’s sweetheart, Dave, who’s in love with Melissa, but only conditionally as it turns out. The rest of the cast, including Melissa’s friends and David’s family, were all committed to their roles. But two key players who didn’t have huge parts in the play are pivotal and mutually provide a moral compass that will turn the tide in Melissa life.

They are the Cucu (played by Eva Wangari) and Melissa’s little girl (Nelly Wambaire).  Cucu, Melissa’s mother is adamant against her daughter wasting herself by returning to wedding plans with Dave. Clearly, she has heard about his physical abuse of her child. She undoubtedly has also heard about his typically male attitude of not wanting another man’s child in his life. It’s an attitude that compels many Kenyan women to either conceal their child’s existence from the prospective spouse or stick with the child and leave the man, as Melissa eventually does.

Cucu also knows that once a man lifts a finger against his woman, he can easily do it again. So she protests against Melissa’s departure with Dave once he comes home to their village and woos her back into his life. She is deeply concerned for her daughter’s safety and generally disapproves of the man. Melissa doesn’t listen however.

That’s where the other key player in the show comes in. It’s Melissa’s unnamed daughter that ultimately turns the tide on her mom’s decision to wed or not. Yet just as in Zippy Okoth’s two installments of the ‘diary of a divorced woman’ (both staged earlier this year), it takes the woman way too long to admit to herself that she need not tolerate the abuse she receives from her man.

In Zippy’s case, the abuse went on even longer than Melissa’s. But it would seem that both playwrights, Mercy and Zippy sought to portray the plight of women in relationships with men who apparently feel free to clobber the women closest to them. In Zippy’s case, the woman was beaten even though she was the mother of the man’s child. But that didn’t seem to bother Ricky, her spouse.

Fortunately, Melissa chooses to get out of what might have led to more domestic abuse by not showing up at the wedding. Nonetheless, she had already been hit by Dave more than once and it seemed Melissa was willing to suffer that fate again just so she could become ‘Mrs. Dave’.

In an interview prior to the show’s opening, Mercy had noted she had felt compelled to write ‘Melissa’ because she knew too many single mothers who were willing to sacrifice their dignity, physical well-being and potentially, even their lives just so they could have a man, ideally a husband living with them. They wanted the status more than the security, which Mercy felt was wrong.
           Melissa's music provided by (L-R) Dickson Kasavuli, guitarist, Jeremy Munene, vocalist & Frank Kariuki, pianist

“I wanted Melissa to show that single mothers could make it on their own. They don’t have to believe that life would be better with a man, any man, with them,” said Mercy.

Ultimately, Melissa the musical achieves her aim. However, it was something of a surprise when, at the last minute (on opening night), she absents herself from the wedding. We had just seen her in her wedding gown so we, along with Dave and his uncle (Joseph Gakure) we were confused when she didn’t show. Up until then, Melissa had looked like she was just like the other women willing to go all the way into wedlock in spite of their knowing they might be putting themselves in harm’s way.

In subsequent shows, Melissa’s daughter shows up with the Cucu when Melissa’s all dressed and set for the big event. But her heart melts at the sight of her child and the realization she might lose their precious bond once she marries Dave. So she makes the fateful choice to cancel out. It’s a surprise ending but it works. It also fulfills Mercy’s plan the write a play that wakes up both women and men.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

RACHEL BROSNAHAN, FROM HIGHLAND PARK, WON EMMY FOR MRS MAISEL


MARVELOUS MRS MAISEL WINS BIG AT EMMYS

By margaretta wa gacheru (held 18 september 2018)

‘The Marvelous Mrs Maisel’, the Amazon-streaming series that’s in its first season, just won big time at the 70th annual Emmy Awards last Monday night (17th September) at the Microsoft Centre in Los Angeles, USA.
Winning five trophies for Best Comedy series as well as for best actress (Rachel Brosnahan), best supporting actor (Alex Borstein), best director and best script-writer (Amy Sherman-Pelladino) of a comedy, Mrs Maisel may not have been viewed by too many Kenyans as yet. But it’s got a great story and has special relevance to young Kenyan women. That relevance relates to the way women may be brought up to accept a subordinate social status but once they find that there’s a way forward—and that it’s only up to them to take it—they can rise to take up any task once thought to be only for men. That’s what happens to Mrs Maisel; it can happen to Kenyan women as well.
And while the story is set in the 1950s New York City, it’s about a newly-married woman in her 20s named Miriam ‘Midge’ Maisel. She’s happy to be in a conventional middle class marriage where, despite having gone to one of the best women’s universities in the States, she’s thoroughly content to be a housewife whose whole life is focused on her man. His ambition is to be a stand-up comic and she does everything in her power to support him, but when he realizes he’ll never be a comedian, he reveals he’s been having an affair with his secretary and he leaves Midge for her. Midge is furious as he’s just smashed her dreams as well, but inadvertently, she takes the stand-up stage that he failed to command. That ‘inadvertent’ (and bumpy) path to finding her way into a professional career is what the series charts.
During her acceptance speech on Monday night, Rachel explained that the story “is all about a woman who’s finding her voice anew. It’s one of the things that’s happening right now all over the country,” and I believe all over the world.
Rachel is no stranger to cable TV series. She was in House of Cards for 13 episodes, played Abby Isaac in Manhattan, was in movies like The Unborn (while still in high school) and in network TV shows like Gossip Girl, The Good Wife and Grey’s Anatomy (while still at New York University’s Tisch School of Arts). 
She’s even been on Broadway, making her debut in 2013 after which she starred as Desdemona in Othello opposite David Oyelowo (who played Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr in Selma) and Daniel (007) Craig.

What I enjoyed about ‘The Marvelous Mrs Maisel’ was the way her life was like a preview of what would happen to American women in the 1960s and beyond, when they woke up to realize they could dream dreams just as large or larger than men’s. And they could expect to achieve them on an equal basis with men, even if it meant challenging the status quo and expecting society to change for the betterment of not only the planet but of men as well as women.


MARVELOUS MRS MAISEL WINS BIG AT EMMY AWARDS


EMMY AWARD WINNER A SURPRISE SUCCESS

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 18 September 2018)

When Emmy award winners were announced this past Monday night, (17th September) at the Microsoft Theatre in Los Angeles, more Kenyans would have known why the fantasy epic ‘Game of Thrones’ won yet another accolade. The popular HBO series (now in its eighth season) has many local fans (of which I am not one).

But they probably would have known far less about ‘The Marvelous Mrs Maisel’ which won even more trophies on Monday night than did ‘Thrones’. The two shows were the overwhelming winners on Monday evening. One a drama, victorious over ‘A Handmaid’s Tale’ which won the trophy last year; the other a ‘freshman’ comedy still in its first season. Nonetheless, it won five trophies setting the record for the night.

‘The Marvelous Mrs Maisel’ won for Best Comedy series at the 70th Emmy Awards. It won Best Actress in Rachel Brosnahan who plays the title role, that of a frustrated 1950s New York City-based housewife named Miriam or ‘Midge’ who finds herself doing stand-up comedy. Her cast-mate Alex Borstein bagged the Best Supporting Actor’s award. And the creator of the Amazon-streaming series, Amy Sherman-Pelladino won for best scriptwriting and best directing of a comedy.

During her acceptance’s speech, Rachel Brosnahan gave a brief summary of what the series is about and why it resonated so well with the judges of this years’ cable-TV shows. (There was only one network TV show that won this year, namely ‘Saturday Night Live’, the irreverent ‘sketch comedy’ show that regularly lampoons leading American politicians.)

“It’s about a woman who’s finding her voice anew. It’s one of the things that’s happening all over the country right now,” said Ms. Brosnahan whose character literally stumbles into stand-up comedy.

Midge had been a happily married housewife, content to play the conventional middle class American woman’s role of supportive spouse. Even though she had gone to one of the best women’s universities, she was living in pre-feminist times when women’s liberation and gender equality hadn’t crossed her mind.

She was fully prepared to support and encourage her husband’s futile ambition to become a successful stand-up comic. Yet when it became obvious that he’d never make it as a comedian, he left Midge for his office secretary. Caught by surprise, Midge ended up taking to the stage herself. First it was out of a sense of outrage at the injustice of being dumped by her spouse. Then it happened at the spurring on of close friends who saw her comedic flare and potential.

Midge is a complex character who inadvertently ends up breaking out of her middle class cocoon. It’s not an easy break but the series explores the beginnings of a cultural revolution in which women begin to question their second class social status and challenge the status quo.

Midge is a woman in her 20s, and like many young women, she’s at a fascinating stage in life when she’s making discoveries about herself all the time. Her story transcends American culture and may speak to women wherever they’re making choices which way to go in their lives.

 

  

Monday, 17 September 2018

TNR SILENT AUCTION INSPIRED LOVELY ARTWORKS BY LOCALS



ART IN AID OF ANIMAL WELFARE

By Margaretta wa Gacheru  (posted 17 September 2018)

One thing we learned last Sunday at the first ever TNR Silent Art Auction is that animal lovers are not necessarily art lovers and vice versa.
The majority who attended the TNR picnic were primarily animal lovers who came not just to enjoy the food, fresh air, music, fellowship or even the art by some of Kenya’s finest contemporary artists.
They came to support a worthy cause, that of animal welfare and the group, TNR, which stands for ‘track, neuter, release’.
In fact, the picnic and the silent auction (organized by Carol Lees who is both the owner of One Off Gallery and a TNR trustee) were part of a fund-raising event to get TNR’s mobile veterinary clinic off and rolling round the country, providing free rabies vaccinations and dog neutering all over Kenya.
It was in aid of that worthy cause that Carol invited local artists to create works that could be included in last Sunday’s Silent Auction. As an added incentive she gave out stretched canvas squares (30cms by 30cms) to artists who were interested in taking part.
In all there were 46 paintings in the silent auction that had gone online for the bidding to begin a few weeks before the deadline day of disclosure, 16th September when the bidding was to end at 3pm.
But when 3pm rolled around, Carol, assisted by Kui Ogong’a and Annie Mather allowed for a little bit of last minute bidding, both the kind that came in on the auction’s what’s app account and in person.
In fact, that last minute bidding is what earned the auction its largest sales. Both Kui and Annie were monitoring What’s app since there were bidders overseas (as well as some locals) who were also watching the bids closely.
Annie was continually updating the bids online while Kui was updating the public listing at the tented arena where the TNR silent auction was taking place.
Perhaps it was because there were so many other events going on (like the raffle, the dog show, the live band and the gourmet food) that the auction didn’t attract the sort of art-shopping audience that could have snapped up almost every artwork on display as ‘a steal’.
In other words, there were works in the auction by some of Kenya’s most esteemed (and pricey) artists whose paintings eventually sold for ‘a song’.
Of course, the paintings were relatively small in size but the value of an artwork is not necessarily determined by its size. (Just check out da Vinci’s Mona Lisa)
In that regard, one of the smallest works in the show was Rashid Diab’s, but his tiny oil painting commanded Sh120,000. And that was the highest any one painting went for that day.
There were bidding ‘wars’ for works like Rashid’s, Timothy Brooke’s, Peterson Kamwathi’s and Olivia Pentergast’s, the latter three all went for Sh100,000. The closest sale after that was Dennis Muraguri’s Matatu at Sh70,000 but that came after another mini-bidding war.
Otherwise, the only explanations I can surmise for why some of our leading artists didn’t sell for more is because the animal lovers are not conversant with (or interested in) the current art scene.
For instance, a sweet dog portrait by the doyen of Kenyan art, Yony Waite, went for just Sh30,000. So did the cat lady by Joseph Bertiers, the fish by Peteros Ndunde and the stitched aluminum piece by Dickens Otieno.
Several went for Sh45,000 like paintings Beatrice Wanjiku, Fitsum Behre’s dog and Florence Wanjui’s kittens. Richard Kimani’s Mask went for Sh50K and Peter Ngugi’s and Leena Shah’s both went for Sh40K.
But as the bidding began at Sh10,000, many of the works went for 15,000. They included a print by Thom Ogongo, a drawing by Eric Gitonga, a glass piece by Nani Croze and paintings by Elaine Kehew, Kamal Shah, Joseph Cartoon and (unbelievably) a drawing by Mandy Bonnell.
The one painting I wish I had bid on was by Anthony Okello whose contribution was a ‘collabo’ between himself and his two little girls. It went for a mere Sh20,000.
There’s probably a lesson to be learned from attending a silent auction. And that is, if you love Kenyan art, make sure you are there on the last day of bidding. You are likely to get amazing artworks for affordable prices.








Saturday, 15 September 2018

NGARTIA BRYAN PERFORMS AT GOETHE INSTITUTE


Ngartia Bryan, the founder of Too Early for Birds, was invited by Goethe Institute's Artistic Encounters program to perform a portion of the novel 'When we speak of nothing' by Nigerian-German novelist, Dr Olumide Popoola last Thursday, 13 September 2018.

TINA BENARWA in her Studio in Ngara


Tina Benarwa got back from living in Switzerland for more than a dozen years, returning to Kenya once a year while she was working, pursuing further studies and finding her true vocation as an artist in the process.
This is just one of several videos taken during my day with her as we discussed her creating of art for the visually impaired. The story will come out in Business Daily and the videos will be edited by a great graphic designer at BD who prefers remaining anonymous. the moment he says i can disclose his identity i will. suffice it to say he is brilliant and very helpful, especially as i am just beginning to do video and am still a novice.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

WOMEN ARTISTS DOMINATE THE ART SCENE



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 13 september 2018)

The Nairobi art world is normally dominated by male artists. But this past weekend we saw a major turn of events.
Not only was there the opening on Sunday of the exhibition of nine so-called ‘Pioneer Women in the Arts’ in East Africa at the Nairobi Gallery. 
On Saturday there was another opening of artworks by two more Kenyan women. And in contrast to the ‘pioneers’ (a euphemism for ‘antique’), these two, Janice Iche and Moira Bushkimani are blossoming new-comers to the local art world. They both bring fresh new perspectives on creativity to their show, which they share with Peteros Ndunde, at the Attic Art Space in Nyari.

Then too, the previous Thursday, at Alliance Francaise, Joy Mboya of The GoDown Art Centre was guest of honor at the opening of another female newcomer’s art show. ‘Hadithi Hadithi? Hadithi Njoo!’ is the name Gloria Muthoka gave to her first solo exhibition ever. Her link with Joy is that she is based at the GoDown and all the 47 works on display were conceived at that Industrial Area art space.
The month of March, when March 8th brings International Women’s Day, is usually when one sees a number of women artists come out and expose what they’ve been up to quietly over the previous year. But it’s apparently by coincidence that all twelve of these women’s works are on display concurrently.
Ironically, we have men to thank in two out of three cases for exposing the women’s work in exhibitions. At Nairobi Gallery it was Alan Donovan, of the African Heritage House, who pulled together the works of these nine important pioneer women artists and curated their show. Sadly only one of the nine was present at the opening. But Geraldine Robarts did a stellar job speaking about her career and artistic practice as both a professional painter and university art lecturer at Makerere and Kenyatta Universities. However, we missed Professor Magdalene Odundo, Nani Croze of Kitengela Glass, Yony Waite of Gallery Watatu and Wildebeest Workshop, Rosemary Karuga, Theresa Musoke and the deceased Margaret Trowell, Joy Adamson and Robin Anderson. But the beauty of the exhibition made up for their absence.
And at the Attic Art Space, it was the Dutch consultant, Willem Kevenaar who invited Moira and Janice to bring their art along with Peteros’s to put on display in his gallery.
The contrast between these two shows couldn’t be more striking in that the pioneers are by definition women who are already well established artists. All nine are names well known within the regional art world and beyond. In contrast, Moira only began experimenting artistically in 2013 and has been mentored by Kibera-based artists like Kota Otieno and members of Maasai Mbili. Janice has been practicing art an even shorter time; but both women are bold, experimental and daring in their style of expressing themselves artistically.
In this regard, they both have something in common with another female artist, Joan Otieno, who currently works with young women in Kariobangi, mentoring them in means of expressing themselves using found objects, especially plastics.
Meanwhile, Gloria Muthoka is much more of a visual storyteller. In fact, she carefully researched African folktales and selected ones that she felt had the most graphic appeal. Again, it seems coincidental that her show of colorful folktales would coincide with the  depiction of some of the same stories in the musical production of ‘Tinga Tinga Tales’ currently on at Kenya National Theatre.
For example, Gloria paints her interpretation of ‘How Ostrich got a long neck’ which at Tinga Tinga, the story’s about how the giraffe (played by Nyokabi Macharia) got a long neck. And like the musical, Gloria fills her show with a cast of animal characters whose stories teach us lessons and fuel our imaginations.
And as if these aren’t enough women working in the visual arts to convince us that we’re seeing the strengthening of women’s role in the field, there’s more. Women are behind two upcoming Silent Art Auctions, both of which have already opened the bidding.
Carol Lees of One Off Gallery is working with the animal welfare group, the TNR Trust, to organize an art auction filled with mostly new works by Kenyan artists in aid of the Trust. The auction’s final day is this Sunday, 16th September.
Phillda Njau of Paa ya Paa Gallery is also hosting a Silent Auction of East African artists’ works which will be on 7th October.


MOIRA, JANICE AND PETEROS AT THE ATTIC


GLORIA MUTHOKA'S HADITHI HADITHI NJOO!


THIRD SMARTPHONE FILM FESTIVAL October 8-12th


KENYAN FILMMAKERS WELCOME TO 3RD SMARTPHONE FILM FESTIVAL

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (Posted September 12, 2018)

The fascination among Kenyans for filmmaking has grown by leaps and bounds in the past few years. There are film schools coming up everywhere from Kenyatta University and of course, KIMC to the Multimedia University, the Mohamed Amin Foundation and elsewhere.
Plus there’s even more freelance filmmaking underway as a result of initiatives like Kalasha, Kenya Film Commission, Riverwood, Slum Film Festival, DocuBox, The Bus and even the Kenya Scriptwriters Guild.
Yet all of these programs cannot fully satisfy the aspirations of many more young Kenyans who have a dream of one day becoming another George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Wanuri Kahiu or Likarion Wainaina. They might not have the fancy equipment or the big budget to make the films they want.
But what most Kenyans do have is a cell phone, and most probably even a smartphone, be it an Oppo, Iphone, Infinix, Samsung or Tecno. All of these phones have a camera in them which can be used to make a film.
Many smartphone owners probably snap images to insert on their Instagram account. But how many use their phones to make actual movies?
This is what the Third annual Smartphone Film Competition is encouraging every Kenyan 18 years and over to do with the hope that they might win either first or second prize or even the People’s Choice award come October 12th.
Any one of those wins would get them either Sh100,000, Sh50,000 or Sh25,000.
All you have to do is make a video with your phone which is four minutes or less, turn it into Alliance Francaise by September 30th, and keep it focused on  the theme #sheisnambaone.
“But people shouldn’t take the theme [she’s number one] too literally,” says the competition’s organizer, Harsita Waters, the cultural coordinator at Alliance Francaise.
“People need to think outside the box and use their imagination and creativity,” she adds.
For instance, the video could be about your number one actress or spoken word poet or even a pop singer. It could be about your favorite pet, your favorite city or even your number one choice of sports car.
The first year the competition was held, the theme was ‘Rebellious Spirit’ and only 30 films were submitted. But the second year when the theme was ‘Storos za familia’ more than 100 film shorts were sent in.
This year, expectations are high that Alliance Francaise will receive many more entries than in years past since the interest in filmmaking has soared and the word is getting out on social media that the prizes are substantial.
Another bonus to being involved in this year’s competition is that the finalists’ films will be shown everyday preceding the French film that is part of this year’s French Film Festival.
“Depending on the number of entries sent in, we could even show as many as ten smartphone films a day,” says Harsita. In the past she says she has seen some remarkable talent emerging out of the competition. She expects it will be no different next month.
Others who have similar high expectation include France 24, Radio France International, Canal+, European Union and Film Studies, all of whom are supporting this year’s Festival.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

DON’T MISS 'NECESSARY MADNESS' or 'MELISSA'



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 12 September 2018)

If there is one play you go and watch this year, let it be ‘Necessary Madness’ by Hearts of Art theatre troupe. We say it last weekend at Braeburn Theatre.

The script, by Walter Sitati and Eva Warui, is hilarious. However, it’s a painful social satire that reveals the way the cancer called Corruption has seeped into practically every layer of Kenyan society and caused monstrous and even murderous circumstances.
What makes the story so funny is first of all, the acting is brilliant. Caroline Odongo has directed the outstanding cast. But the reason it truly tickles the funny bone is just how closely all the characters sadly resemble characters we know only too well.

To start with, there are the traffic cops (played with aplomb by Peter Kawa and Pauline Kyalo), particularly the ones who stand at our roundabouts and ignore the red and green lights. They keep cars lingering way beyond what patience will bear. What’s more, they seem to relish their power, especially when they can grab anyone they decide can give them a substantial bribe.
They may pick on the (relatively) innocent, like Nosizwe (Patience Akinyi) who had a good reason for speeding: her sister was about the give birth and needed an urgent lift to hospital.

But then, when there’s a real crisis, like the multiple car crash that injured many and resulted in multiple deaths, they relax apparently because there’s no quick cash coming from such a calamitous event.
Then there’s Governor Zuri (Ben Ojuwa) who’s the spokesman for all corrupt Kenyan politicians. He speaks the cynical truth about how it’s his ‘turn to eat’. His aid Amare (Allan Wasike) is the articulate one who writes all of Zuri’s inspiring speeches and even his people-centric manifesto. But clearly Amare doesn’t want to lose his job so he’s sold his soul as a consequence.

Yet neither Amare nor the Governor is a match for Lesedi (Lucy Oruta), the former lawyer and community organizer who, with her daughter Nessa (Frazier Chilande), are the only two principled persons in the play. Lesedi believed Zuri’s campaign promises and thus, presents him with a Sh20 million proposal for assisting slum youth to get valuable IT training. But Zuri laughs in her face and gives her a lecture on cheating the people as a matter of course.
Lesedi’s furious and plans to fight back. She’s taught her daughter to be just as ethical and tough. But Nessa has a soft spot for Zuri’s party-girl daughter Ziki (Azziad Nasenya). Ziki, like her dad, is a loafer who believes only fools work hard and money’s the answer to every problem. But Ziki is not a total lost-cause. Her conscience is touched by Nessa and her mom.

What’s so ingenious about Sitati’s and Warui’s story is the way so many institutions are exposed for being infected by the big C. The whole health care system is dysfunctional due to it; so’s the security system. And especially the political system is polluted by the miasma of fast money.

But the most troubled and complex character in ‘Necessary Madness’ is Dakarai (Kawa), the traffic cop who was once upstanding but has fallen down due to the hardships he’s allowed to overwhelm him.  Through him we can see how challenging it is to serve within the system and not go mad. The show returns to Kenya National Theatre 8th and 9th October. See it.

Meanwhile, ‘Melissa’, the brand new musical by Grace Mercy Murithi, premieres this coming Monday, 17th through 19th from 6pm at Michael Joseph Centre. Directed by Joseph Ochieng, the show stars Rhoda Memusi as Melissa and Philip Muoki as her sweetheart Dave.

Yet Melissa is no ordinary love story. On the contrary, Mercy’s play tackles the issues of domestic violence and single motherhood. It has a powerful message that the playwright hopes will resonate with many young women as well as men.
“I have many friends who are single mothers and I felt I had a few ideas to share with them,” says Mercy, who like Joseph graduated from Kenyatta University Drama Department in 2017. “I want them to understand they don’t need to put up with abuse just so they can have a man.”

Ochieng, who lectures in performing arts at the Talanta Institute (as does Murithi), drew his entire ‘Melissa’ cast from the Institute. He also choreographed the show while Mercy’s in charge of music.

Saturday, 8 September 2018

THE ACCIDENTAL AFRICAN


Before Sally became an accidental African (meaning African not by birth, blood or even by intentionality), she started out as an accidental adventurous. Or you might just call her an accidental escape artist.
Sally had always felt she had arrived in the Dr. Sweetness home by accident. Supposedly she was the last born and the apple of her father’s eye. But it had never felt right. The four-stories of that solid brick house never felt like her home. The 18th and 19th century furniture, inherited from her mother’s mother wasn’t for utility. It wasn’t something you could sit on, or study in or relax in generally. In fact, it contributed to that alienated feeling that inspired her to want to move out. Which is what she started doing from the time her big brother sold her his bike for one dollar. She was ten.
Somehow she found the cash. Then she walked the bike a few blocks till she reached the open field next to the Lake where she hung out in most summers. The bike had a miraculous effect on her. She never gave much thought to the concept of balance although she had taken dancing classes from the time she was four. But the moment she got on that two-wheeler, she felt like she could fly. Not a wobble nor any hesitation whatsoever. She was simply on the move, and frankly, she would never look back.
The rest of her childhood was a big blur. The biggest factor was her desire to claim the mobility that she acquired every time she got on that bike. It was an exhilarating feeling of freedom, but inevitably, she would have to return home to that brick house and those aliens called family that did their best to keep her ‘in her place’ which was to be seen but not heard.
The one thing that made sense inside the house was the way her older brothers flew away ever August and didn’t come back until the end of the year. Then they flew off again in January and they both were clearly relieved to be getting on the bus, train or plane, whatever means they used at the time to get away. How she envied them.
And then Sally’s turn came. She was told she could only get out if she got good grades, so she did her bit. Not too much but enough to get her admitted to a school that was out of town. But school still wasn’t far enough away for her. She did it for four years but then, once she got the piece of paper, she soon felt like she was in danger of getting stuck. What to do next?
That was when the biggest accident happened that literally changed her life. Her mother, who was desperate herself to explore the world but could not because she was strapped to her man as well as to the bricks and antiques and all the trapping of her social class. But one night, the mom (call her Marjorie) came to her bedroom, closed the door and handed her a form. “Fill this out right away,” Marjorie commanded with an assurance that she had rarely heard come out of that woman’s mouth.
It was an application to go away, to look for a scholarship to study anywhere in the world. It wasn’t something she had ever seen before but it was her wish come true. Here was an avenue of escape that was being handed to her by the most unlikely person, my mom. But she took Marjorie’s advice, filled it out, got called for an interview and presto, she was now free to go anywhere in the English-speaking world all expenses paid.
Here is where the second spectacular accident appeared. She had to flip a coin to figure out where she would go. It had to be a place listed among countries that were part of the sponsors’ global network. But she was advised: don’t pick Oxford, Cambridge or Edinburgh because part of the criteria for the final section of awardees relates to country quotas. If too many students want to go to country x, then you were unlikely to be called. But if you picked a place that wasn’t as popular, then your chances were much better.
So her two choices boiled down to either Singapore or Nairobi, Kenya. So you see how accidental it was for her to land in Nairobi without a clue what she was in for. She soon learned that most people who yearned to go to Kenya wanted to see a giraffe or a hippo, lion, cheetah or elephant. But not her. Sally was utterly unprepared to go to Africa, but did she mind? Hell no!! She was still wanting to escape the bricks and antiques and alien lifestyle of bourgeois privilege. She had survived this far this long in anticipation of accidentally finding a way out of the safe circumstances that left one unprepared to cope with the hazards of living accidentally.
Her oldest brother Charlie understood how she was desperate to get away but he warned her to watch out. Charlie had saved her several times when she had accidentally fallen into bad company, and he didn’t know how she would get along once he was not around to catch her before she fell off some edgy ledge. But for her, Charlie was also one of the aliens. As much as she adored him, he was still one of those who expected her to be seen and not heard. Yet he was full of contradictions. He also encouraged her to ‘be true to herself’, to be inquisitive and never to be satisfied until she got to the bottom of any mystery that came her way. But he also advised her to ‘keep your options open’ so when her heard that she’d linked up with an African man, he claimed she was doomed. But that came much later in her story. Before that happened, he was one of the best of the aliens. And besides that, she valued his example of escape. He was the first one to fly from the brick house and never come back, apart for the occasional visit. Otherwise, he was a man who treasured his freedom. And so did she.
2
By the time Sally reached Nairobi, she wasn’t sure if it was fate, or divine grace or a pure accident that landed her in the Mercedez Benz that took her and her fellow ‘scholar’, (a girl who’d briefly be her roommate) up to the Escarpment and finally to Naivasha to collect some English boy who was family friends of the owners of the car. She’d never been in a Benz before. Her father always drove a Cadillac so she wasn’t terribly impressed and realized she would never be a ‘wabenzi’. But she soon discovered that the make, year and model of car that one drove ‘defined’ a man’s social status. Not a woman’s however. The first women she met in Kenya were not Africans but white colonial memsabs whose lifestyle was largely domesticated and dull. Her sponsors at the time were all men so she got to know the British and the privileged life they still led despite Kenya having obtained its independence many years before her coming and accidentally sticking there.
But there was nothing accidental about the abhorrence she felt towards the people who clearly enjoyed lording over the locals who worked for them and got paid a pittance. That first day that she arrived in Nairobi, the driver’s name was Mwangi and he was happy to answer all her typical questions as he drove her and Joanne, the new roommate upcountry. It wasn’t his fault that he had to drive slowly in order to talk to them as well as stay on what were then narrow dual-carriage (and often treacherous) roads. But once they reached the sponsor’s home, they heard shouting out in the garage. The shouts got shriller as they continued nonstop. She was sure she’d never heard one human being scream at another in such a vindictive and vitriolic manner. As it turned out, Mr Bristow, the man whose home they’d stay in for the next week until they got their student housing sorted out, was bitter that Mwangi had gotten back ‘late’. From that moment on, she knew she wouldn’t be spending much time among the expatriates or among white people generally since Kenya was still steeped in colonial vestiges that didn’t look likely to go away soon.
So here she was. By accident she had found herself in the home of a ‘bloody’ racist who was swift to introduce her to the sort of lifestyle that privileged white people enjoy at the expense of the local Kenyans. Apparently, Mr Bristow and his wife had both been born in Kenya, but like so many British living there, they identified first and foremost with the UK. That was their true home. They were just here to make money and enjoy the luxurious lifestyle, including the cook, cleaner, gardener, nanny, driver and messenger all of whom were bound to do their bidding, but get paid poverty wages in the process.
She felt like a spy and a stranger living in the Bristows’ home and she was delighted to get out as soon as she and Joanne found a flat in Westlands. But even then, she couldn’t stay there long. Joanne was also an accidental partner with whom she had very little in common. For a while the two got along fine despite the fact that Joanne would come home from class and complain she couldn’t understand the Africans’ accents. She tried to overlook her imperious attitude, hoping it was just na├»ve and a matter of peasant upbringing. She initially didn’t want to admit she was living with a little racist. And besides, their sponsors had organized a whole series of safaris for them and it felt like it was part of her duties to her sponsors to stick with Joanne through it all. In any case, she’d never been to Lake Turkana, leave alone to the Indian Ocean or Mount Kenya.
But then came Jonathan Savage. His father was one of their sponsors and he had a house at the Coast where they were invited to stay. Joanne fell for Jonathan and vice versa, so that looked like a pleasant thing. However, he was a diehard white supremacist who openly disdained Sally bringing her Kenyan classmates home for tea at their apartment. And then there was his father whose invitation we took up the weekend before she finally got fed up with Jonathan’s racist rants against her African friends.
She and Joanne had gone to the Coast and stayed at the father John’s elegant beach house. John Savage owned a factory that made corn flakes and she wouldn’t have minded if he was just a flakey old English man. But in the evening, everyone had to have their drinks and since she never touched alcohol but swallowed lots of soda, she had to disappear to the outhouse across the lawn from the bar and game room. It was one more accident on her part to have run into John in the dark as she was returning from the ‘loo’. But the old man was intentional in his effort to grope her in the dark and scare the hell out of her. As he was already intoxicate, it wasn’t difficult for her to throw him off balance and dash back to where the rest of the group was congregating. But that was the last straw. The combination of the father and son was sufficient for her to start looking for ways to get out of that living situation and find somewhere else to stay.
So it wasn’t accidental that Sally left Westlands, especially as she’d already decided she wanted to complete a degree at the university and might have to stay an extra year to do it. The scholarship was only for a year, but she realized she could live humbly and stretch her sumptuous scholarship if she didn’t live beyond her means. She was still tethered to her sponsors who very kindly got her a motor scooter so she could get around the city with ease. It was a gift she could hardly turn down, but that piki piki paved the way for her to not only claim her freedom but also get into one ‘accidental’ circumstance after another.
3
Some of the accidents she fell Into were fortuitous, like getting so angry about African men and the way they aggressively pursued one of the few white women on campus, namely her. Out of that anger and frustration was accidentally born her writing career since she was advised to write about her frustrations. She was appalled that men could be so adoring of their mothers (as most men she met were), especially for the sacrifices those women had made to enable their sons to go to school. But then, she wondered how, on the one hand, these guys could be so good to that woman while treating their wives and girlfriends so badly. They seemed to be consistently insincere and inclined to forget things like commitments and loyalty and continuity of caring for the younger women in their lives. How many of them, who were out to woe her and get her into bed, were already married and having a kid or two or more. Yet they were the same guys who were most aggressive about getting into her pants. It wore her out and bored her stiff.
The story that she wrote appeared in a local magazine and it seemed to have a positive impact on readers since she got hired for her first journalistic job after that. It was to be the Women’s Editor at the Christian magazine called Target.
But way before Sally started that job, she was still at university and loving the intensity of having to live in the library in order to read all the book she’d been assigned by her Literature professors including Ngugi wa Thiong’o. Tolstoy was her favorite author by far, and Ngugi insisted Sally and everyone in her masters class read all of his writings, or as much as we could.
It was while on campus that she saw this lovely man leaning against the wall beside the Science Building hanging out with friends. He had the cutest cap and he reminded her for some reason of Samora Michel, the former leader of MPLA. Actually, the Samora correlation didn’t come until after they got to talking in Drama class and they discovered they were both reading Karl Marx and buying books from the Russian bookstore in town. That was the start of a blossoming friendship that seemed stimulating intellectually and also fun. They went out once, but then she realized that a woman was wise to not let her guard down ever or she would get into a compromised position. Was it accidental that she slept with him on that date? Yes well sort of. In any case, she didn’t stick around to find out. She enjoyed it too much, but then, she did not want to get snagged by any of these guys. So that relationship got postponed for a time. What had to come first was the invitation from her drama professor John Ruganda to join the Nairobi Univiersity Free Traveling Theatre. Her first impulse, and perhaps the smartest one, was to say no, no way. She had already experienced the mocking amusement that some students felt over this one silly white woman floating around their campus. But at the time she was living with an Australian woman friend who was married to a brilliant Zimbabwean professor and the woman, Serena was adamant that she should accept the offer.
“You will never get an opportunity like this again,” she told Sally. “You’ll get a chance to get to know Kenyans up close and that will be a rare learning experience. So do it!” Sally took her advice, and in the end, Serena was right in that she experienced something she’d never seen, felt or suffered so much with before. She’d never been so ostracized by people. But at the same time she learned so much. It was a form of mental torture the entire month that she was on the Travelling Theatre bus. The only time there was a reprieve was when she was on stage. But then she was such a spectacle in rural areas that children used to climb trees just to see her play the white prostitute who had a black boyfriend in an adaptation of one of Ken Saro-Wewa’s plays. They really laughed when she got into her twin kangas and join in an African dance. She tried to keep the beat and keep up with the others but it didn’t really matter. No matter what she did, she stole the show and some people in the cast were not amused by that. Then one cast member went through her backpack one night when she was asleep and swiped her diary. The following day in Thompson’s Falls, Nyahururu, they called her to a meeting at night. She was escorted by a set of fellow actors who served as guards as if they expected her to run away from what was to come. She had been advised by one of her Kenyan friends before getting on the bus, to keep a diary and talk to it because he anticipated that no one would dare be too friendly with her. The peer pressure would be too great, said Tsotsi, a lovely poet who was in her Lit class. And he was right. So she wrote and wrote, very personal observations about what she was seeing and feelings. It was no accident that I was made to read some of the parts they wanted to allege were racist or sexual or presumptuous.... After they passed judgment on my inner thoughts, they built a fire and burned that notebook. She assumed she would leave after that. But she stuck. The director continued to bring booze onto the bus every day and some of the actors got drunk regularly but the only persons I had to speak to were two Ugandans, one was Ruganda, the other was Magee, a really fine actor who was also ostracized for being a foreigner.
Anyway, once she got back she headed straight to find Samora Michel. Unlike the mean people she had been with all month and who had sworn that if she told anyone what they had done to her, they would come after her, Samora was kind. He seemed like such a gentle man who had deep insights into human behavior and intentionality. And this meant a lot to her because she had accidentally got herself stung many times over as if she had fallen into a bees’ nest. One other reason she ran to him was because the leader of the rat pack that picked on her most was his best friend, so he understood things about his behavior as well as the behavior of men generally and African men specifically, so he was happy to explain what had actually happened to her at Nyahururu with their classmates. In hindsight, she realized he didn’t understand everything but it didn’t seem to matter. She was just so swollen with pain that his demeanor was soothing and even healing. He felt like a real friend, despite that one night together when they felt like they could become more than friends. Lovers in fact.
And that actually happened. But she still feels it was accident. It began one day when they had spent the day together studying. Then he said he wanted to introduce her to his brother Elijah since the two were living together in Bahati. Sally still had her motor scooter but Samora made her leave it in town. He frankly preferred that she not ride it at all. So when they got off the Number 7 bus right in from of his tiny self-contained little house, (originally built during colonial times), they went in and he fixed her tea. They agreed to wait for Elijah to come so she could at least meet him. But then it got dark and Sally had no means of getting back to her flat. She had left her scooter in town. She never found out if that was his plan but it worked. The hour got later and later and finally she suggested she spend the night. There was only one single bed since she couldn’t sleep in Elijah’s room. But he promised that if they slept in the same bed, he wouldn’t touch her....Right! That was a laugh. By morning, the die was cast. By accident Sally had already begun her journey of becoming an accidental African.
(To be continued) 7 September 2018


 

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Gloria and Jeffie chose art over business in 2015


(I wrote this story in 2015 when i first met Gloria and Jeffie Magina. But it seems appropriate to reprint since Gloria's Hadithi exhibition, her first solo show, is opening at Alliance Francaise 6.9.2018)
Choosing art as inspiration and enterprise
http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/image/view/-/539810/data/44/-/xfp184/-/digg.gifhttp://www.businessdailyafrica.com/image/view/-/539814/data/46/-/mf1a4uz/-/delicious.gifhttp://www.businessdailyafrica.com/image/view/-/539816/data/47/-/9gtufoz/-/stumble.gifhttp://www.businessdailyafrica.com/image/view/-/539818/data/48/-/3gbj8h/-/yahoo.gif
                                                     Coffee by Gloria Muthoka. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU 
By MARGARETTA WA GACHERU, (first posted 8.2015 & reposted 4 September 2018)
Gloria Muthoka has an MBA (Masters in Business Administration) from the United States International University (USIU). Jeffie Magina is a CPA (Certified Public Accountant) and has a B.Com degree from Strathmore University.

Both could easily have promising careers in business either in administration or in accounts.
And yet both recently chose to leave those career paths behind and do what? To become full time visual artists!
Both based at The GoDown Art Centre. Neither have much academic training in the arts, only the desire to express their innate creativity and the skills they have picked up along the way.
Gloria went back to school after fulfilling her parents’ dream, now to get another degree in Graphic Design, and Jeffie is even more of a self-taught artist.
His first artistic inspiration came from all the glossy magazines his journalist father, the late Magina Magina, used to bring home before both his parents passed on when he was just ten.
Yet both dared to take a great leap into the unknown, first by renting a studio at The GoDown and then getting to work at what they both believe is one of the best decisions each has ever made—becoming an artist with the freedom to express his and her feelings, thoughts and perspectives on life.
Does this say something about the opportunities that young Kenyans are seeing open up in the visual arts? Are they in fact part of a trend in which we are witnessing young people wanting to express themselves artistically rather than merely becoming a businessman or woman?
Or is it that Kenyans are seeing the potential for actually earning a good living as an artist, a notion that was unthinkable to most Kenyans just a few years ago.
I would say all of the above is true.
Certainly this is true of Jeffie who has been doing business literally since he was ten years old. He went to work selling mitumba (second-hand clothes) with his auntie who took him in after his parents died.
Fortunately, another auntie helped to pay his school fees at Lake Nakuru Secondary where he did well. After that, he paid his own way to become a CPA and his first employer paid his way to complete his Bachelor’s degree in Commerce from one of Kenya’s best Business school, Strathmore University.
From there, Jeffie could have picked his employer and he did fulfill his obligations to his former boss working two years as a company accountant.
“But I felt there was a gap in my life,” said Jeffie who admits he was bored doing the same thing day in and day out.
“I felt Society needed more creatives,” he added.
So once he made the move to GoDown, he hasn’t stopped drawing and painting portraits like the old man from his home village of Rwambwa in Siaya County.
What’s more, he has started an ambitious painting project involving child labour that he’s calling ‘The Tumaini Revolution.’
SHARE THIS STORY
“I feel children like these need more exposure to creativity since it can open their minds to untold possibilities,” he added.
Gloria Muthoka went to some of the best schools in Kenya, first Maryhill School in Thika, then USIU where she initially studied psychology and counselling.
She got jobs working with victims of torture and then with refugees, both well-paying work. But she, like Jeffie, felt like something was missing in her life.
Her course in graphic design didn’t quite do the trick either, but now she’s happy to paint full-time. Like Jeffie, she never took a course in fine art apart from Art & Crafts in primary school. But one couldn’t tell from looking at her art.
Her series on sunflowers is stunning; her portrait of a coffee plantation worker is also interesting, especially her use of light, lush color and delicate configuration of coffee branches.
Perhaps the most intriguing work in her studio is an enigmatic interpretation of an African folk tale about a snake and a tortoise. The painting is almost self-abstract since the creatures are not instantly identifiable, which means the work requires a second and third look.
The GoDown is one of several art centres in Nairobi that are giving aspiring young Kenyan artists space to explore their creativity in tangible terms. There’s Kuona Trust, Paa Ya Paa and Bobea Art Centres, among others.
The two newest spaces where one will find artists working full time are the Railway Museum Studio and the Dust Depot also at the old Railways Museum.
Part of the advantage of working at such venues is that there are veteran artists around who can either serve as mentors like Elimo Njau at Paa ya Paa or as examples of what successful artists can look like.
One such example is Michael Soi, who currently has an awesome solo exhibition in the GoDown Gallery where he fills all the walls with colorful (and often ‘off color’) images of Nairobi day and night life. His exhibition will be up for the rest of the month.