Wednesday, 31 October 2018

3rd Kenya International Theatre Fete opens next week



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (31 October 2018)

The Third edition of the Kenya International Theatre Festival opens next week at Kenya National Theatre, organized by Kenyatta University and the founder of KITF, Kevin Kimani who’s a graduate student at KU.
The six-day festival, which runs from 6th - 11th November, will feature theatre troupes performing from all over the world including Kenya. There will also be a two-day conference when a number of theatre practitioners and academics from Kenya and elsewhere will share ideas. That will happen on 7th -- 8th November.
The theme of this year’s KITF is “The Paradoxes of State Aid in the Growth of Theatre in Kenya.” It’s a topic that will be tackled initially by the Keynote speaker, Dr Charles Kibaya of Southeastern University in Kitui. There will also be presentations given by thespians and academics from US, Egypt and Kenya.
The Kenyans participating will span a broad spectrum of the local theatre scene. They include thespians like Mueni Lundi of The Performance Collective, Tash Mitambo of Renegade Ventures, Eliud Abuto formerly with the Festival of Creative Arts, Keith Pearson of The Theatre Company and George Orido of the Standard newspaper among others.
The topics they will discuss range from taking theatre to the people, unity among theatre actors and theatre and media to gender and theatre practice in Kenya, puppetry and participatory theatre to running a successful theatre company.
Despite the Festival being a six-day affair, there will hardly be breathing space for people who want to take part in scintillating discussions on the past, present and future of theatre in Kenya but also attend the myriad plays being performed by troupes coming from around Africa, Europe and the States.
On the Festival’s opening day alone, there will be six performances, one by an Egyptian troupe, one by Rwandese, another by Ugandans and three by Kenyans, one a collaboration with a Ugandan company, another a ‘collabo’ with an American university dramatizing Muthoni Garland’s book, ‘Tracing the Scent of my Mother.’
Every other day will feature just one play per day, either from Sweden, Rwanda, Uganda or Kenya. But on the weekend, there will be two performed on Saturday (one from South Africa) and on Sunday, the festival’s closing day, there promises to be five more productions, from Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda.
So theatre lovers need to leave their schedules open to attend as many new plays next week as possible.

  

FROM FAIRY TALE TO FEMALE EMPOWERMENT IN THE MATATU TRADE


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (31 )ctober 2018)

With ‘Cinderella the Musical’, Amar Desai and the Aperture Africa Productions more than met our high expectations for a dazzling and delightful fairy tale. It was filled with magic and romance as well as intrigue, child abuse and some sinister threads of sabotage running through a show we’d expected to be a pure enchantment and fantasy.
Amar and Jinita produced a no-holes-barred performance last weekend at the Oshwal Centre Auditorium where everything from the costuming, casting, choreography, music, special effects and even the set construction was impeccably conceived.
A lot of the show’s success goes directly back to its director Amar. For in all humility, the man played a Herculean (and hands-on) part in working on everything from the casting and choreography to the formation of an excellent 13-piece orchestra. He was even involved in construction of multiple sets which had elegantly painted backdrops.
The set painted most elaborately for the ball scene where Prince Charming (Tirath Padam) was meant to pick a bride was especially effective. Dominated by one giant clock, its presence reinforced the significance of the midnight hour when the magic bestowed on Cinderella (Stephaniah Lago) by her Fairy Godmother (Libby Ndambo) would cash out. The suspense of that approaching moment was dampened just a bit by too many ballroom dancers on stage making it difficult to keep track of the two-tiered drama underway.
For while the Prince and Cinderella were dancing and ‘falling in love’, the Prince’s guardian Sebastian (Arthur Saini) was conspiring with Cinderella’s sneaky self-mother (Elsie Oluoch). The two were scheming to marry off the Prince to Cinderella’s step-sister Gabrielle (Maya Spybey) so they would control the Prince’s kingdom and wealth.
What we hadn’t banked on in this version of Cinderella was its having a revolution brewing in the land! Instigated by Jean Michelle (Clinton Ahuta), the rabble rouser was the ‘voice of the people’, airing their grievances regarding Sebastian’s land-grabs. Claiming peasants’ land in the name of the Prince, Sebastian might have succeeded in staging a coups d’etats against the Prince if it hadn’t been for sweet Cinderella. She broke through his isolation from his people, advising him that injustices were taking place in his name.
The story still ends with a ‘happily ever after’. The two lovers link up when the lost shoe fits her foot alone. But in Aperture’s version of this classic fairy tale, the coups is foiled before it can proceed. The rabble rouser is made a Prime Minister and Sebastian loses his grip on the power and land he’d tried to steal from the Prince and his people.
The politics embedded in Apertures’ Cinderella could easily have been overlooked in light of the seamless style of the production. But politics added a healthy hot spice to an otherwise sugary bitter sweet tale. Bravo Aperture for managing a nearly 90-member cast and crew with beauty, grace and professionalism.
Meanwhile, at Alliance Francaise ‘Wamama wa Mathree: Stories from Nairobi Matatu Women’ was a radically different kind of show. Caroline Odongo’s original script was composed with support from a team of women working in the matatu industry and a western NGO, the Flone Initiative.
Wamama wa Mathree is the second all-women’s production that’s come onto the Nairobi stage in the last two months. ‘Brazen’ preceded ‘Wamama’, with both shows sharing women’s stories with a view to raising public awareness and empowering women in the process.
But ‘Brazen’ was specifically about historic women figures who may be less known but still, already have a place in history. In contrast, ‘Wamama’, which was directed by Veronica Waceke, was about women who most people may not even know have a role in Kenya’s transport industry.
We may have seen the occasional female ‘tout’ or matatu conductor. But who knew that hundreds of women are ‘manambas’? It’s their stories that were told in Wamama, both by actors like Marrianne Nungo, whose character Sonnia traces the life before and after becoming a matatu mama, and by actual matatu women whose testimonials were interspersed between the drama unfolding in Sonnia’s life.
The actors are just five, but all except Nungo play multiple characters: They are Michelle Tayars and Kennedy Ogutu as well as Nungo who plays a powerful but impoverished single mother who struggles to raise her daughters (Wajuma Bahati  and Pauline Kyalo). It’s a path that finally leads to Sonnia joining the matatu business. But she wants equity and a trade union, desires that highlight the multiple challenging that working class women face.






Monday, 29 October 2018

JAK THE ORGANIC ART INTELLECTUAL HAS MOVED ON


                                         Jak at Heinrich Boell in 2017 during a fund raiser organized by Kofi Osei

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 29 October 2018)

Jak Katarikawe (1938-2018) was, until October 19th, a living legend who inspired younger artists for both his talent and apparent financial success. He was among the first East Africans whose artworks could sell for hundreds of thousands of shillings a painting. He is also one of the first East Africans whose artworks were exhibited abroad, in Europe and the USA.
Jak’s legendary status was confirmed the same day he died, when news spread like wildfire on social media that Jak had passed on. He’d been found alone and unconscious by a cousin who’d come to his Forest Road flat to cook for him as Jak’s wife Florence was back in Uganda. Friends had tried to get him to accompany her home as he’d built a house for the family in Kabale, in Western Uganda. Yet he refused.

                                            'I love you baby' by Jak at the Nairobi Gallery

He died while on route to the Hospital.
In his prime, Jak was known as an ‘African [Marc] Chagall’, named after the 20th century modern artist who, like Jak, created colorful, whimsical paintings that invariably had an enchanting narrative to back up his imagery. In Jak’s case, they were stories that were often about love triangles that he used to explain with a merry twinkle in his eye.  
Jak never had a chance to go to school since his polygamous father had retired by the time he was born and he was the last born of the old man’s youngest wife. But Jak had natural talent. Plus his mother was artistic. Jak once recalled how she used to paint lovely designs in ash all around her mud and wattle hut as a means of attracting the old man to come for supper at her home. Jak also recalled how he was inspired by the stained glass windows of the nearby church. He said they’d taught him the value of translucent colors and the storytelling power of art.

Jak’s big break came when he became a driver for a Makerere University professor who found his sketches stashed in the boot of his car. Professor David Cook could see that Jak had talent. Cook then arranged for him to be mentored by Professor Sam Ntiru, who at the time was head of Makerere’s Art Department.
After spending some time at Makerere, Jak came to Kenya in the early 1970s and initially he worked with Elimo Njau at Paa ya Paa. Subsequently he exhibited at Alliance Francaise and at Gallery Watatu.
                                                       Jak at Gallery Watatu in 2006

Jak was already established when the late Ruth Schaffner bought Gallery Watatu in 1985 from Yony Waite, co-founder of Watatu. She quickly took Jak under her wing and soon became his mentor, mother-figure, accountant and bank. She took his art worldwide, but after she died in 1996, Jak never recovered. He went into mourning and never got over his grief.
Ruth’s death also had a profound effect on his painting. Jak could never reactivate his effortless style of visual storytelling. Despite being pestered for years by art collectors from all over the world who frequently came personally to buy his art, he could never regain his creative edge. He soon exhausted his supply of the paintings that expressed the ‘old Jak’. Nonetheless, any time one of his older paintings has gone up for auction, the prices have shot sky high. Many people believe Jak’s art will only accrue in value over time, as it did for other artists who died poor, such as Vincent Van Gogh, but now their paintings sell for millions.
                                            Yony Waite made prints of this Jak original as a fund-raiser for Jak

Jak will primarily be remembered for the luminous artworks he created between the mid-70s and mid-90s. But to his friends, he’ll be remembered as the sweet-spirited gentleman whose skill in visual storytelling was sublime.
Jak was buried quietly at his Kabale home on October 28th, just a week after he passed. Tributes to him continue to pour in on social media. Plans are also underway to have a memorial service for Jak in the near future.





KENYAN ARTISTS EXHIBITING AT CHINA'S NATIONAL MUSEUM


                              Kisii stone sculpture by Gerald Motondi on exhibit in Beijing at Afro-Sino Cultural Exchange

AFRICAN ARTISTS EXHIBITING AT NATIONAL MUSEUM OF BEIJING

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 29 october 2018)

Gerald Motondi just got back from a major art exhibition and cultural forum in China featuring a number of other Kenyan artists, academics and civil servants. Also on hand were artists from Uganda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Rwanda.
“We’d been waiting for word as to when the Afro-Sino cultural event was to take place,” says Motondi who just got back from Beijing and is currently on his way back to Tabaka in Kisii County where the Sixth African Stones Talk International Sculpture Symposium just ended late last week. Motondi had been one of the sculptors participating in the symposium, but when he finally heard from the conference organizers, he had to leave early.
                                     Kenyans attending the opening of the Afro-Sino Cultural Forum in Beijing

“We finally got the information, including our tickets and our visa last Monday [October 22nd],” the award-winning Kenyan sculptor says. “We flew out that night, in time to attend the official opening in Beijing on Wednesday morning of the Afro-Sino Culture and Arts Exchange,” he adds.
 The Afro-Sino Culture and Arts Forum came immediately after the opening. It was attended by several Kenyans, including the Director of Culture in the Ministry of Culture, Sports and the Arts, Dr. Kiprop Lagat. Also on hand were the Chair of Nairobi University’s Department of Art and Design, Dr. Lilac Onsanjo, the Chair of the Kenya branch of Afro-Sino, Franklin Asira, Shine Tani of Banana Hill Art Gallery and the artist, Remy Musindi.
                                                               Kenyans at the Afro-Sino Cultural Forum in Beijing


A number of Kenyan artists now have their works on display at the National Museum of China where the Afro-Sino Cultural Exchange and Forum also were held. Among the artists whose works had been shipped from Kenya to Beijing especially for this cultural conference are Dr. Onsanjo, Gerald Motondi, Naftal Momanyi, Shine Tani, Remy Musindi, Willis Otieno and Steven Nderitu of the Kenya Photographers Association among others. Leading artists from other East and Central African were also represented at the prestigious Beijing National Museum show.                                               
        Professor Lilac Osanjo, Chair of University of Nairobi's Department of Design speaking at Afri-Sino Cultural Forum

Sunday, 28 October 2018

CHEF CHRISTIAN RETURNS TO ALLIANCE FRANCAISE AFTER 25+ YEARS

                                                 Chistian in his kitchen at La Belle Epoch

FRENCH CUISINE AT ITS FINEST AT ALLIANCE FRANCAISE

By Margaretta wa Gacheru  (posted October 27, 2018)

‘La Belle Epoch’ isn’t just the pre-World War I period in French and European history when the future looked bright and the arts flourished, particularly in Paris.
‘La Belle Epoch’ is also the French restaurant resurrected after almost 30 years by chef Christian Caldaral at the Alliance Francaise. “When I opened the ‘Jardin de Paris’ in 1977, I was the youngest restauranteur in Nairobi,” says Christian who renamed his restaurant because the new name reflects how he feels about those early years which he says were a ‘belle epoch’ or the most beautiful era of his life.
“Now I’m the oldest one,” he adds, noting he’s never stopped preparing gourmet French cuisine, even after he left the French Centre in 1991. Instead, he joined the late Alan Bobbe whose French bistro on Koinange Street had for years been a cozy corner in Nairobi where notable people frequently came to eat Bobbe’s delicacies and confer in the quiet convivial atmosphere that Bobbe retained until he passed on in 2005.
Bobbe left the restaurant and his Riverside Drive home to Christian who moved Mr Bobbe’s bistro into Alan’s house which he reopened soon after that.
“That’s when we had visitors like Barack Obama and Professor Wangari Maathai. Raila also came often while he was Prime Minister,” says Christian who recalls that his specialty back then was the Lobster he was able to get fresh from Kismayu in Somalia.
Times have changed since then and he closed the bistro in 2011. But from the time Christian first came to Kenya in early 1974,  he’s been cooking, drawing inspiration from the encyclopedic 696 page cook book, ‘L’art de la Cuisine Moderne’ that his mother gave him on the day he left France.
“I was only 18 when I left with the cookbook, the Bible and a few clothes in a small suitcase,” recalls Christian who came to Kenya via Paris, London and Edinburgh.
“I had met an American who sold curios from Kenya and he gave me contacts in Nairobi which I pursued,” says Christian who admits he had never studied at a proper culinary school before he was asked to prepare French cuisine for private clients in Nairobi. But what he had was a life-long experience, growing up among chefs, bakers, culinary wizards and foodies.
“My father was a retired chef who never allowed my mother to cook,” he recalls, adding he had gained the technical skills of cooking from him. Meanwhile, his mother’s cookbook (given to her by her great grandmother) became a second bible for him.  “Plus I spent all my school holidays with my grandparents. She was a baker and he made the best [homemade] ice cream you can imagine,” says Christian who nostalgically describes how they sold their pastries and ice creams at local fairs and rural markets. “I started coming with them from the time I was around 10,” he adds.
Those early years showed him the joy of moving from place to place, which is one reason why he adapted so well to living in Africa. But now that he’s reestablished the French restaurant at Alliance Francaise, he’s happy to stick to one spot and impart his culinary skills to a team of young Kenyan chefs who help him prepare three meals a day, including everything from ‘Filet de Poisson Florantine’ and ‘Tournedos Marchand Devin’ to Quiche Lauraine and Coq au Vin. Those are from Christian’s luncheon menu.
Personally, I couldn’t resist trying out the Chocolate Mousse which Christian had introduced to me years ago when he was still running Le Jardin de Paris. Made with the finest dark chocolate, plenty of eggs and a touch of rum, his mousse is ‘to die for’ as they say. But his starters are also delicious, from his ‘soupe a l’oignon’ to the ‘salade nicoise’. And for light eaters, his baguettes (sandwiches on French bread) are also amazing.
But there’s little doubt that Christian learned a lot from his grandparents who specialized in sweets. And thus, one can’t leave La Belle Epoch without tasting either his Clafouti (a traditional fruit flan), his tarte du jour (which currently features fresh raspberries brought in fresh from the slopes of Kinangop) or the ‘Mousse au chocolat’ which will forever remain my all-time favorite, thanks to that classic recipe that Christian obtained from his great great-grandmother’s classic cook book.


BRUSH TU ARTISTS' MENTEES AT POLKA DOT GALLERY


INCUBATOR ART AT POLKA DOT GALLERY)

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted october 28, 2018

It might not be right to call the group exhibition which opened this past Sunday at Polka Dot Gallery ‘incubator art’ since that might sound demeaning. On the contrary, what has been happening at Brush tu Art Studio these past two years has been most laudable. That’s because the founding artists of Brush tu have opened the Studio door as well as their hearts and mentoring skills to capable young Kenyan artists.
It’s the day-to-day mentoring over weeks and sometimes months by artists like Boniface Maina, Michael Musyoka, Waweru Gichuhi, Elias Mong’era and David Thuku that led Waweru and Emmaus Kimani (another relative new comer to Brush tu) to describe the majority of artists on show at Polka Dot as having been ‘incubated’.
                                                              Baraza Bala with 'Ask for Transport I' at Polka Dot Gallery

Call them artists-in-residence, apprentices or mentees, their works at the Karen gallery illustrate well how effective the mentoring process has been. For instance, someone like Abdul Kipruto first came to Brush tu as an apprentice working closely with Michael Musyoka. But then, when the Studio invited first Peterson Kamwathi and then Thom Ogonga to give printmaking workshops to the mentees, Abdul got hooked on printmaking. That was more than a year ago, sufficient time for Abdul to gain a mastery of the process as evidenced by prints he’s got in this show and at Tafaria Castle.
Baraza Bela also says he learned a lot working with Musyoka as well as with Elias Mung’ora, both of whom are among the few long-standing Brush tu artists who have stunning prints of their own in this show. One can clearly see Mung’ora’s influence in Baraza’s paintings. He not only takes ordinary working Kenyans as colorful subjects of his art. He’s also as careful as Mung’ora in painting interesting poses of people in motion that look anatomically correct.
Mung’ora also has a couple of paintings in the show which contain characters that reflect a similar sort of dynamism to his mentee’s. His subjects often look preoccupied, as if they’re in the midst of activity that we wouldn’t want to interrupt.
Munene Kariuki also has paintings in the show. However he too has been stretched and challenged to be more experimental with both his materials and his subject matter since he’s joined the ‘incubator’ process at Brush tu. His two small black and white works are done in charcoal, pastel and ink, and they’re stylistically distinctive.
Equally surprising are the pastels on watercolor paper by John Mbiyu Ng’ang’a. His use of mat colors to tell stories is illustrative as well as quite fun.

But it’s the artworks by Sebawali Sio and Moira Bushkimani that frankly impressed me most at Polka Dot. I might be accused of gender bias. But all the same, Moira’s use of ‘found objects’ to create fascinating sculptures is notable. The only other sculptor in the show is Alfred Sila. He too uses ‘found’ metal objects which he welds together to make a covertly political statement about ‘service’. In this case, he’s referring to the lack of it on the part of government. The ‘service’ he says, is symbolized in the broken knives and battered tea cup, all of which are obviously no longer serviceable.
Moira’s sculptures are made out of wood which has a natural weather-worn look to it. Craggy and shaped through a rugged organic process, she says she simply found the wood, took it home and washed it. After that came the wires, beads and imagination to see those basic elements could give a semblance of fire, which is also one of the elements she explores in her art.
Sebawali’s work is also remarkable because it brings out facets of her artistry that we knew was there but hadn’t been as clearly until now. She still explores the theme of Woman, only her semi-abstract image on layered paper is a giant gem that reflects the layers upon layers of thoughts, motives and multiple concerns that invariably belong to women.

Finally, one of the original artists-in-residence at Brush tu is Emmaus Kimani. His part in Brush tu is both artistic and functional, since he’s not only a photographer who captures sights in our city that others may overlook. He’s also got accounting skills that provide an invaluable service to Brush tu artists.
Meanwhile, this past weekend at Nairobi National Museum, Kenya Museum Society held its annual Affordable Art show, enabling scores of local artists a chance to show and sell their artworks. A percentage of sales also goes to KMS for museum-related projects.
Alfred Sila (seated behind his art) works with found objects. Here he uses metal knives and cup to critique civil servants who have no sense of public service.


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Wednesday, 24 October 2018

JACKSON BIKO'S STORIES DRAMATIZED BY BACK TO BASICS IN 'BREATHE'

STORYTELLING ABOUT KENYANS PROVES WE LEAD FASCINATING LIVES

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (23 October 2018)

Jackson Biko must be feeling quite pleased with himself. He might be just slightly humbled by the handiwork of Mbeki Mwalimu, Gilbert Lukalia and the whole cast of ‘Breathe: stories of [you guessed it] Jackson Biko.’
How else might a man feel when one of the best theatre ensembles in Nairobi just breathed fresh life into characters that you had managed to draw in such vivid and vibrant language that these gifted thespians felt compelled to act?
That cast of nine, including director Lukalia (who was the first to become your clone at Alliance Francaise last weekend) resurrected black and white pages of people (whom you presumably knew) and made them into beings possibly more real, colorful, funny and sometimes sad than the originals probably were!
They even worked the great wonder of bringing the dead back to life. Many of the followers of your blog, bikozulu.co.ke, are already well acquainted with Bradley, the little boy who tragically got run over by school bus. But it was the deeply touching performance of the boy’s grieving dad (played by Lukalia) who brought Bradley’s memory back to life even as we felt the father’s pain tingle through our own bones.
And as if that was not enough, the Back to Basics cast compelled us to sit attentively for nearly three hours as they became you! They dramatized words exclusively written by you but carefully selected and re-assembled by Mbeki Mwalimu and then directly brilliantly by Lukalia.
“It was Gilbert’s idea to have everyone be Biko,” says Mbeki, who was first to see how well Biko’s stories could play on stage. But she adds that it was a collaborative effort on the part of the whole cast (including Bilal Mwaura, Bokeba Mbotela, Daisy Temba, Martin Githinji, Mary Mwikali, Nick Ndeda, Wakio Mzenge, Wanjiku Mburu and Gilbert of course) that can be held responsible for holding us all that long. It was their blending of hilarious ensemble scenes with solo storytelling like the soulful one of the cancer-survivor shared by Wakio Mzenge that made B2B’s performance most memorable.
And just when, after more than two and a half hours, our attention began to flag, B2B brought out Biko’s wonderfully irreverent tale of two culture’s funeral arrangements.
Now anyone familiar with the ways of Luo and Kikuyu funerals knows they are very different. What made Biko’s interpretation of those differences so devastatingly funny was the way he got into the heads of both camps. The result was a hilarious scramble of unspeakable insults that left us laughingly aghast, but also alive to the genius and utility of truth-telling.
The truth is people are different, but so what! We may feel that our way is the best, but by Biko’s and B2B’s showing that’s just how people feel, that knowledge brings tolerance, which is what the world needs a lot more of in this day and age.

Tonight we’ll see another set of real life stories, only this time ‘Wamama wa Mathree’ will be about a phenomenon that is both new and old in Nairobi.
What’s new is seeing women matatu conductors. They have been around for a while, but are still relatively rare. But they definitely have stories to tell, and that’s what the show is all about.
What’s old is the trials that women face when they step out into the world, especially a world where men dominate and also see women as easy prey, not people of equal value, intellect and entitlement to move about in this world without harassment or assault by dogs, thieves or fellow workmates.
Scripted by Caroline Odongo, the show is based on stories she’s been given personally by matatu women. The women have been working closely with an NGO called the Flone Initiative which is concerned with women’s rights.
Those same women will be part of the cast. But the lead characters will be played tonight and tomorrow at Alliance Francaise by four outstanding women actors. There’s the award-winning actress Marrianne Nungo, plus Pauline Kyalo whose star just shone in Walter Sitati’s ‘Necessary Madness’. Majuma Bahati is also in the cast along with Michelle.
Kennedy Ogutu is the brave man who’s the only male in ‘Wamam wa Mathree’. But he promises to hold his own as he and the women are directed by Veronica Waceke, an actress who also kept us spellbound recently when she costarred with Valentine Zikki  in ‘Of Cords and Discords’.



HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH FILM FETE FEATURE SOBERING DOC FILMS


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (23 October 2018)

This year’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival will present four timely, provocative and sobering documentary film from this coming Tuesday, 30th October until 2nd November.
Only one will be screened at Alliance Francaise. The rest will be shown by the Festival’s other partners, including Amnesty International Kenya, Rift Valley Forum, and the Alchemist in Westlands.
It’s at The Alchemist on Tuesday that the award-winning Fred Peabody film, ‘All Governments Lie’ will open the Festival. This is a film that anybody keen on truth (rather than ‘fake news’) must go see. It features four of the finest and most independent investigative journalists working today. They are Jeremy Scahill and Glen Greenwald who co-founded ‘The Intercept’, Amy Goodman, co-founder and anchor of ‘Democracy Now’, and Matt Taibbi who first made his name writing for ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine.
On Wednesday at Alliance Francaise, the Kenya film, ‘Watatu’, directed by Nick Reding will be shown. ‘Watatu’ traces the experiences of three Kenyan men whose lives intersect in ways that reveal some of the factors that can compel someone to become a violent extremist.
Yusuf is frustrated by the dearth of opportunities open to him. This drives him away from family and friends and propels him towards extremism. The film is billed as a documentary, but Reding actually wrote the script in collaboration with Coastal folk, after which he dramatized his film in a documentary style.
On Thursday, ‘This is Congo’ by Daniel McCabe reveals the tragic history of the longest-running war in Africa which, in its current phase, has gone in for the last 20 years. But the truth is that ever since the 1884 ‘Scramble For Africa’ got underway with European powers each grabbing a piece of the African pie, there have been human vultures out to grab the natural and mineral resources that resides within Congo’s borders.
Finally, on Friday at the Amnesty International Kenya offices, the documentary film, ‘Scarred: Anatomy of a Massacre’ by the award-winning Kenyan filmmaker and founder of DocuBox, Judy Kibinge will be shown.
Retrieving a tragic slice of Kenya’s inglorious history, Kibinge finds and interviews the survivors of the 1984 Wagalla Massacre. The Degodia survivors claim at least 5000 men were picked up, tortured, maimed and then murdered at Wagalla by soldiers from the Kenyan military.

After each film, there will be an opportunity to discuss the public’s reactions including questions that come to mind. 

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

NAITIEMU, IJAKAA & LEMEK AT THE ATTIC

ART ADDRESSING ISSUES OF IDENTITY AND MENTAL HEALTH

By Margaretta wa gacheru (posted 23 October 2018)

Mental health isn’t an issue that’s often addressed by visual artists in Kenya. It’s a topic that tends to be kept concealed behind closed doors, as if it’s a shame or social stigma that the public shouldn’t know about, leave alone observe as art.
Yet Naitiemu Nyamjom and Nelson Ijakaa have chosen to tackle the topic frankly, honesty and visually through Ijakaa’s photographs and film and Naitiemu’s serving as the embodiment of the issue in an exhibition at The Attic Art Space that opened last Saturday.
“We both have had to deal with the effects of trauma, especially from the loss of our fathers,” says Naitiemu who admits that she was deeply disturbed after the passing of her dad, a man to whom she was very close.
In fact, it’s mainly her personal experience of trauma that inspired the two to explore this challenging psychological topic, which is sometimes referred to as OCD or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Ijakaa’s images are meant to visualize the troubled mind-set of someone suffering from OCD. Thus, many of his images are blurred, intentionally without focus or clarity.
That’s the idea, the couple say. Ijakaa’s images of Naitiemu are meant to convey that disturbed sort of mood swing. For instance, in one series of shots, her visage in apparently joyful, then depressed, then contorted such that one can see and feel her teetering mood swing.
Yet the best reflection of what they’re trying to convey is most clearly expressed in the short video of Naitiemu starting off in silhouette and silently struggling to cover up with a diaphanous cloth. Her movement is graceful but pained as one can see the mental anguish.
The title of the exhibition is ‘Identity’ which is an issue that equally applies to the paintings of the third party in the show. Lemek Tompoika’s art isn’t about bipolar depression or even PTSD (a condition normally associated with people who have been to war).
But his artwork also attempts to convey a mind-set that many urbanized Africans have struggled with. We’ve seen it in literature, such as the novels of Chinua Achebe and autobiographies of Africans who are creatures of two worlds.
In Lemek’s case, his family background is Maasai. (Coincidentally, so is Naitiemu’s). Yet he, like Naitiemu is unclear on where he stands psychologically, since he’d grown up far removed from Maasai traditions. Yet he still feels a deep affinity for that culture, although not enough to turn his back on his Western education and urban lifestyle.
In a series of paintings which are mixed media, he uses the image of a black kaftan to symbolize one concept of culture. Not that Maasais are normally seen in kaftans, but for Lemek, it’s a neutral garment that changes gradually in his art, transforming subtly through several series of mainly black and white works.
Like Naitiemu and Ijakaa’s art, Lemek cares to raise the issue and convey the dilemma that he personally faces. His paintings don’t suggest that he has solved his problem, any more than Ijakaa’s images do.
What all of their artwork does do is give a visual voice to their personal struggles. Their art is intense and highly abstract. It reflects inner moods and honest feelings that ought to be the essence of fine art.
Certainly, theirs is an approach to art that The Attic’s founder and curator Willem Kevenaar relishes. “I appreciate art that expresses a sense of personal struggle,” says the art and business consultant who’s just celebrated his art space’s first anniversary of existence. “Struggle is a common theme among the artists whose works we exhibit at the Attic,” he adds.  




TAFARIA CASTLE OPENS CENTRE FOR THE ARTS



By Margaretta wa gacheru (posted 23 Ocotber 2018)

Tafaria Castle may be best understood as ‘a dream come true’ for George Tafaria Waititu. Yet the ‘dream’ is still a work in progress.
It’s been nearly a decade since Mr Waititu began breaking ground in the rural region once known as Deighton Downs but named by locals, including his mum, as Kangawa. Nonetheless, the Castle itself is only one feature of Mr Waititu’s expansive vision.
The man who made his mark in the Kenyan financial world as a brilliant market research analyst has already proved he is also a poet, having self-published his own book of poetry entitled ‘Soul of Tafaria’.
But one hadn’t counted on his also building a centre for the arts. But he has. What’s more, the Tafaria Centre for the Arts officially opened last Saturday with an Inaugural exhibition that featured some of Kenya’s most interesting young artists. Some are from Brush tu Art Studio, others from Maasai Mbili and others from Kuona Artists Alliance. That includes Kevin Oduor who is the brave heart who agreed to attend Tafaria’s first art residency with Cyrus Kabiru back in 2013. That was years before the Centre was built, the artists’ workshop and studio space constructed; and artists’ living quarters erected.
Even so, Kevin has a similar sort of imagination, ingenuity and tenacity as Waititu, such that both he and Cyrus managed, after one month, to create amazing works of art.
Kevin is also the one who coordinated artists and Tafaria transport to bring a host of Kenyans up to the inaugural event of the newly-built Centre. By now, Waititu’s vision had grown to recognize the need for a multi-purpose art space that can serve not only visual artists but also designers, creative writers and even performing artists.
He also sees the need for artists to embrace the local community and expose it more broadly to the arts.
“We’ve already witnessed the interest we’ve generated among the youth,” says Waititu who has every artist-in-residence at Tafaria create a project that involves locals, be they school children or adults.
Peter Walala, who’s one of the two resident artists currently at the Castle (Jimmy Githaka is the other), offers an illustration of the eye-opening impact that his art has already made locally.
He is currently working on a huge tree stump that the Waititus first saw as a local woman was taking it home in her donkey cart. “She wouldn’t sell it since she said she needed it for firewood. So we went out and got her a ‘meco’ [small gas cooker]. After that, she was happy to let us have the wood,” says Waititu.
When Walala got hold of that wood, he had help carrying it from one of the workers on site. “Every day he now comes to see what I’ve done to the wood. He’s amazed to see what it’s turning into,” says the sculptor who’s wooden ‘work in progress’ is an integral part of the inaugural show.
One other fascinating feature of the new Centre is the set of recycled glass windows created by the previous Tafaria artist-in-residence. Joan Otieno’s windows are beautiful but this woman who specialized in creating junk art found her project nearly daunting.
“I had to dig up the bottles as they had been buried [as a means of disposal]. Then I cut the glass, using thread and fire. After that, I used cement to hold the glass in place,” Joan says.
Her windows are a permanent part of the Centre but the current exhibition will only be up for two months. “I want to give many artists an opportunity to exhibit at the Centre,” says Waititu who also has permanent artworks scattered all around the grounds.
For instance, Maggie Otieno welded a lovely ‘Soul of Tafaria’ sculpture that stands near the front entrance of the Castle. Other works of ‘public art’ situated near the Castle include Joseph ‘Bertiers’ Mbatia’s two satiric scrap-metal sculptures, Longinos Nagila’s series of four red-hooded metallic men and Waititu’s own giant fiftini tea cup.
The other arena specifically dedicated to the arts is the Amphitheatre where Waititu announced the first edition of the Tafaria Advocacy Visual Arts Award. It’s an annual award of USD1000 that will go to artwork that best combines art and social advocacy of an issue aligned with Tafaria’s concern for positive social transformation. “We’ll accept submissions next year between August and September. The first winner will be announced on October 20, 2019,” he adds.


Monday, 22 October 2018

LEGENDARY PAINTER JAK KATARIKAWE MOVES ON 19 OCTOBER



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted to EA 22 October 2018)

Jak Katarikawe (1938-2018) is one East African artist who is difficult to write about in the past tense. He was, until last Friday, a living legend who inspired younger artists for both his talent and apparent financial success. He was among the first East Africans whose artworks could sell for hundreds of thousands of shillings a piece.
Jak’s legendary status was confirmed last Friday when news spread like wildfire on social media that Jak had passed on. He’d been found alone and unconscious by a cousin who’d come to his Forest Road flat to cook for him as his wife Florence was back in Uganda. Friends had tried to get Jak to return with her as he’d built a family home in Western Uganda. Yet he refused.
He died while on route to Nairobi Hospital.
In his prime, Jak was known as an ‘African [Marc] Chagall’, named after the 20th century modern artist who, like Jak, created colorful, whimsical artworks that always had an enchanting narrative. He’d never had a chance to go to school but he had natural talent. Plus his mother was artistic and the stained glass windows of the local church taught him the value of translucent colors and the power of art to tell powerful tales.
Jak’s big break was becoming a driver for one Makerere University professor who saw his talent and took him to be mentored by Professor Sam Ntiru, head of Makerere’s Art Department. From there he came to Kenya in the early 1970s and eventually exhibited at Paa ya Paa, Gallery Watatu and French Cultural Centre.
Jak was already established when the late Ruth Schaffner bought Gallery Watatu in 1985 and quickly took Jak under her wing. She soon became Jak’s mentor, mother-figure and money bank. She took his art worldwide, but after she died in 1996, Jak never recovered. He went into mourning and never got over his grief.
Jak will primarily be remembered for the luminous artworks he created between the mid-70s and mid-90s. But to his friends, he’ll be remembered as the sweet-spirited gentleman whose skill in visual storytelling is sublime.




Sunday, 21 October 2018

LEMEK, NAITIEMU AND IJAKAA AT THE ATTIC


CONCEPTUAL ART TAKES ON QUESTIONS OF TRAUMA AND IDENTITY

BY Margaretta wa Gacheru (21 October 2018)
To the untutored eye, the works currently up at The Attic Art Space might be mistaken for merely a series of blurred (but slightly provocative) photographs and another series of black slaps of paint, charcoal, pencil and pastel drawn in singular straight vertical lines on ordinary A4-sized paper.
At the discovery of the show being entitled ‘Identity’ and the artists exhibiting being Lemek Tompoika and the team of Naitiemu Nyampom and Nelson Ijakaa, one should be inclined to look a bit deeper to discover what’s actually going on with these two series of works.
If one has attended any of the previous exhibitions at The Attic, you can appreciate that the art space’s curator, Willem Kevenaar has a taste for conceptual art. That is to say, art that is less concerned with presenting pretty pictures and more to do with projecting powerful emotional content.
“I tend to like artworks that reflect a sense of struggle,” says Willem as he tried to explain why he prefers art that takes on topics that might disturb, be seen as emotionally dark or depressing. But invariably, those images are often deeply personal and reflective of artists’ inner-most thoughts.
That is certainly the case with both series in The Attic’s ‘Identity’ show.
For instance, Naitiemu and Ijakaa’s images address issues of mental health, including trauma, anguish and the instability of mind that can derive from personal experiences that affect one negatively.
In other words, the images are intentionally blurred to reflect the sort of psychological confusion normally associated with mental illness. The images are “personal” for both of them, although Naitiemu admits she was more traumatized by the passing of her father. That is partly why Ijakaa is the photographer striving to create special effects with his camera and Naitiemu is his subject.
Yet both were very close to their fathers, and both were affected by their deaths. Yet Ijakaa admits that his father only passed last year and he hasn’t been quite as affected by his death and she has been.
“That instability has meant that I could be happy at one moment, angry in the next and sad soon after that,” says Naitiemu, explaining how one group of color images show her expressing all of those emotions.
But as intriguing as their still photos are, especially with their subtle blend of blur and elusive color, it is their short video at the entrance of The Attic that most clearly reveals what the couple are trying to do.
Starting with a silhouetted Niatiemu in the nude, one watches her struggle to cover herself in a diaphanous white cloth. Once she manages to drape herself fully, she moves gracefully but one also can feel her being constrained by the fabric, and struggling to escape.
Amazingly, Lemek Tompoika’s black lines also bear a secret truth that can only be deciphered if one appreciates that he too has a mental challenge. Only his is less about trauma and more about identity since his background is Maasai. Yet he’s a thoroughly urbanized, Western-educated Kenyan male who struggles over questions of culture.
So if one looks more closely at the thick black lines in his paintings, one will see they are by no means identical. Instead, each is meant to symbolize a sort of male ‘fashion statement’ with fashion also symbolizing one aspect of identity.
Shaped with multi-layers of pen and ink, pastel and charcoal, the first images in his series look specifically like a loose kaftan gown draped on a thin wire hanger. Yet gradually, with each iteration of the black line, the kaftan becomes less distinguishable, more abstract and the hanger disappears. The line is then left hanging in space, rather like the artist who still seems to feel un-grounded in either Maasai or urban Western culture. It’s a theme he’s addressed in previous exhibitions that he’s had at Kobo Gallery and Kuona Artists Collective.
It’s apparently coincidental that both Lemek and Naitiemu are Maasai by birth, and both concerned as artists with issues of mental focus, be it related to culture, personal trauma or identity. In this regard, art serves them both as a means of articulating their challenges and bringing them out into a realm where solutions may be found. In this way, art seems to serve as a sort of therapeutic tool, not as a panacea but as a mental palette with which to find balance and a healing resolve.

PERCUSSIONISTS CELEBRATE DECADE OF RHYTHMIC RUNS


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 14 October 2018)

There’s a whole wide world of percussionists in Kenya, many of whom perform under the radar and so they don’t get as much media coverage as they deserve.
Some work as back-up drummers in local bands, others perform in churches like Margaret Wanjiru’s ‘Jesus is Alive Ministry’ (JIAM). But most don’t get many chances to perform as solo entertainers, although quite a few got that opportunity this past Sunday afternoon when Drumjam Entertainment teamed up with the Banda School to stage “Drumroll’, a full percussive program at the August 7th Memorial Park.
The open-air production featured a wide range of percussionists, from seasoned professionals like Rabala Matthew Omondi and Amani Baya, who are co-founders of the Drumjam to novices Villa Simiyu who’s only been drumming professionally for the past two months to a slew of drum students, some as young as eleven years old.
Yet a student like Rani Shah, 11, has been practicing on percussive instruments since she was four.  Kasiva Mutua, who also performed on Sunday, was just a wee bit older (6) when she first started banging on her grandmother’s drum. And now, a little over two decades later, Kasiva is acclaimed as an internationally-touring percussionist as well as a Global TED (Talk) Fellow and ‘trail-blazer’ who’s broken through a myriad of barriers that would have denied her the right as a woman to play percussion in Kenya or elsewhere in the world.
The students who performed came from either Hillcrest, Peponi High or Banda School and are all students (or former students) of Timothy Kaberia who currently teaches percussion at The Banda.
“It’s the first time I’ve performed in public,” says Rani who nonetheless has participated in a number of drum performances at her school. The same is true for Aman Vora, 16 who asked the Drumroll organizers if he could possibly have a little time to jam on stage with Amani Baya whose drumming he has admired for quite some time. They agreed, so Amar first performed solo, then with Amani who was happy to accommodate the young drummer and finally as part of a trio when Steve Owuor, another school percussion instructor, jumped on stage and joined in that brief but high-powered jam session.
“One reason we started Drumjam with Amani [and Carrington Muhati [who has since moved on into IT] was so we could interest more Kenyans in becoming percussionists,” says Omondi who notes that the Drumjam is now celebrating ten years since it first got off the ground.
“Now we have more than 200 members and two what’s app drum circles in which we share information about where we’re performing and where there’s a need for a drummer,” Amani adds.
“This past year we’ve paid special attention to interesting more Kenyan women in drumming,” Omondi says, noting Kasiva was coming to perform in the second half of the Drumroll. “Kasiva also co-founded the all-women drum group, MOTRA [which stands for modern and traditional rhythms],” he adds.
“Most of our members perform on drum kits [meaning a mix of drums, cymbals and wooden drum sticks],” says Amani who adds there is one notable exception. “Kasiva also performs with other kinds of drums, which she will probably drum with today,” he adds.
And indeed, when Kasiva got on stage, her face slightly hidden by a black baseball cap, she went straight for the tall conga drums. She wasn’t on the official program, but neither was Omondi who joined her on one of the drum kits on the open air stage which had been set up especially by Natasha Mbugguss, the General Manager of the August 7th Memorial Trust.
One gets the feeling that the Kasiva-Omondi duet was an impromptu jam. We don’t know if they had jammed together before. But we can assume they have since their performance was rhythmically fine-tuned, constituting what was for me the high point of the Drumroll. It was one of those improvised musical moments that one wishes would never stop.
But it did and the one consolation was in knowing that by early next year, monthly Drumjam sessions will reconvene every third Sunday at Alliance Francaise.
“When we started out, our group was small and we jammed in Muthurwa. Then we gradually grew and first went to 680 [Hotel], then to Phoenix Theatre and finally to Alliance where the public is free to come and jam along with us,” Omondi says.
  

PREVIEW SHOW OPENS OF ART IN KENYA ARTS DIARY 2019


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 17 October 2018)

The Kenya Arts Diary has been coming out every year since 2011, ever since Kitengela Glass founder-mother Nani Croze gathered together a few Kenyan art lovers and designed the first Diary.
With the ninth Diary coming out November 2nd officially at the Heinrich Boell Foundation, the Preview exhibition of all the artworks being featured in this coming year’s Diary opens Thursday, 18th October at Alliance Francaise.
Filling two floors of AF, this year’s Diary is unprecedented for having more Kenyan artists and their work featured than ever before. More than 70 artists are included, nearly all of them Kenyan with a few from Uganda and Tanzania and a few Kenya-based residents.
This year is only the second time that the Diary launch is accompanied by a public exhibition of the artworks included in the actual diary. “It’s a way for artists to be further exposed to a wider audience and for them to potentially sell their work as well,” says Nani Croze who has worked with a fluid team of volunteers over the years. These are the people who have helped her assemble the artworks and also collect artists’ contacts and information so they can write brief bios, all of which are included in the Diary.
The Kenya Arts Diary itself is a combination calendar (including January to January pages broken down week by week) and art catalogue. “Many people don’t actually use the Diary as a calendar. They prefer to set it aside and keep it as a catalogue of contemporary Kenyan art, since that is also what it really is,” says Diana Maigwa who’s responsible for marketing the Diary.
“Some people complain that the Diary doesn’t include all the well-known, established Kenyan artists, [although many were there in the 2018 Diary]. But Nani’s idea has always been to promote up-and-coming young Kenyan artists who can use the Diary as a platform to be better known. Plus the public is now able to contact the artists directly since their information are there in the Diary,” says Lyne Were, one of the KAD volunteers.
Besides that, it is something of a myth that established artists are not in the Diary since there are always some every year. For instance, in the new 2019 Diary (which will be available in the Textbook Centre and in the art galleries}, established artists like sculptors John Diang’a, Kevin Oduor, Robin Mbera and even the relative ‘newcomer’ Joan Otieno are in this year. And among painters, Yony Waite, the co-founder of the legendary Gallery Watatu is in this year as is Peter Elungat, Patrick Kinuthia, Geraldine Robards, Wycliffe Opondo and Nani Croze herself.
So it is worth stopping by Alliance Francaise up to the end of the month to see some of the freshest new talents as well as a few vintage ones, all of which are in the new Kenya Arts Diary 2019 which is printed and packaged beautifully by Kul Graphics.


THESPIANS TRANSFORM A BLOG AND A FAIRY TALE FOR STAGE


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 17 October 018)

Jackson Biko is no ordinary columnist who writes about all sorts of people and places, getting his stories read all over East Africa and beyond.
He’s also an award-winning blogger whose bikozulu.co.ke blog is read by thousands of loyal fans who eagerly await his weekly posts.
Most importantly right now, bikozulu’s stories have been adapted for stage by Mbeki Mwalimu of Back to Basics productions. Entitled ‘Breathe: stories by Jackson Biko’, this unique storytelling session opens tonight at Alliance Francaise and runs through the weekend.
Directed by the ingenious Gilbert Lukalia who is also one of the star-studded cast, Mbeki (who is also the founder of B2B) and Gilbert assembled some of Nairobi’s finest actors to be part of this innovative, original show. They include Martin Githinji, Mary Mwikali, Nick Ndeda, Wanjiku Mburo and Bilal Wanjau as well as Daisy Tembo, Bokeba Mbotela, Wakio Mzenge and Gilbert.
The show has been set up almost orchestrally, with the full cast on stage at the outset and the end. And then, as if like oceanic tides, the cast members will roll in and out depending on which of the stories they will tell.
What’s ingenious is also the way the stories are told. They are not simply narrated; they are dramatized and also shared among several voices, being either Bikozulu or the characters whose stories have been adapted for stage.
“We have been careful to only use Biko’s words,” says Mbeki who underscores that while she has selected the stories (around ten) and Gilbert has set them into that orchestral-style, the script itself is all Bikozulu or just Jackson Biko.
Meanwhile, Aperture Africa Productions is all set to put on another one of their most spectacular fantasy musicals. The big difference this year is that “Cinderella” will be accompanied by a live 13-piece orchestra!
‘Cinderella’ is possibly the best known children’s fairy tale in the world. The tale of the poor orphan girl (Stephaniah Lago) who ultimately finds her Prince Charming (Tirath Padam) is a classic. But it will be uniquely told this year as directed by Amar Desai and featuring a wonderful cast. In addition to Lago and Padam, Elsie Oluoch plays the wicked step-mother and Libby Ndambo plays Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother.
This Aperture fairy tale is bound to be a dazzling, magical and beautifully designed, costumed and coiffed production which will run from 26-28 October at the Oshwal Centre auditorium.



CINDERELLA THE MUSICAL OPENS WITH A MULTICULTURAL CAST


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 18 October 2018)

If there is one Western fairy tale that’s better known than all the rest it’s probably the one about the little orphan girl who’s mistreated by her stepmother, but dreams of magically finding her Prince Charming, escaping her misery and finally living happily ever after with her PC.
‘Cinderella’ is the name of that fantasy. It’s also the name of the musical production being staged next weekend, from 26th-28th October by Aperture Africa at the Oshwal Centre Auditorium.
Amar and Jinita Desai created Aperture Africa Productions ten years ago, but they only started producing spectacular musicals like The Jungle Book and Robin Hood a couple of years back. But as soon as they opened with Jungle Book, we could see Aperture was something special and something unique on the Nairobi theatre scene.
For not only are Aperture shows mixed up with Kenyans and Asians in both the cast and the crew, reflecting a true picture of the local multi-cultural scene. Amar Desai, who’s got professional training and experience in theatre, also takes care with everything from costuming and make-up to the choreography and special effects.
This is what we expect to see next Friday night when Cinderella opens on the Manu Chandaria stage. Starring Stephaniah Lago as Cinderella and Tirath Padam as the Prince, Cinderella’s saving grace is actually her fairy god mother played by Libby Ndambo.
But who usually adds heightened interest to any fairy tale is the villain. In Cinderella’s case, there are actually three baddies, including her stepmother played by Elsie Oluoch and her nasty stepsisters, played by Tuja May and Maya Spybey.
Having started rehearsals for the productions several months back, one’s assured it’s unlikely to be any slip-ups on opening night. But as fine as the acting is likely to be, what will also be essential to the show’s success is the music itself.
Here again, we can be assured the 13-piece live orchestra, assembled by Amar together with the group’s conductor Caleb Wachira, are bound to be very good. What’s more, the music is not from the 1950 Disney animation when less known composers produced the music for that version of the fantasy.
Aperture’s music is from the original Broadway production by Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein which they wrote in 1957 originally for television. Only after the show’s TV success did it go to New York City where it was a smash hit.
The combination of fantasy, magic, music, romance and a touch of comedy makes Cinderella a production that should entertain both adults and children alike. What’s more, Aperture Africa has managed to get support from a number of local companies including Diamond Trust Bank. This is also a good sign indicating the health of Kenyan Theatre, and we hope to see many more local firms follow in the footsteps of DTB and the others endorsing Aperture. 
In the meantime, one of the highpoints of the show is bound to be the beautifully choreographed scene at the Ball. That is where choreographers Karan Dedhia, Vruti Gosrani and Amar have their moments of glory as the ball is a climactic moment when the crux of the Cinderella story unfolds. It’s a moment one won’t want to miss.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

RED HILL GALLERY SHOWS SIX EXPERIMENTAL ARTISTS

                                                                                  Churchill Ongere's Suspensions

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 16 October 2018)

Red Hill Art Gallery is a trek. But it’s well worth taking a #114 matatu nearly to Limuru. (Then you get off at ‘Posta’ and walk until you reach the ochre Red Hill gate).
It’s worth it first because Hellmuth and Erica Rossler-Musch are such hospitable folks. But as welcoming as they are, it’s the art that Hellmuth’s curated for their current show that makes the trip especially notable.
Hellmuth’s been collecting Kenyan art since the 1990s when he met the late Ruth Schaffner who often exhibited works by young Kenyan artists at Gallery Watatu.
Now Hellmuth does the same, although the local artists that he exhibits aren’t necessarily ‘young’. Nor are they novices. But they are all mainly Kenyan artists who are definitely ‘going places’.
The current exhibition at Red Hill features six artists Hellmuth has given solo shows over the past two years. He has shown other people during that time, but he has a special affinity for these six.
They are Churchill Ongere, David Thuku, Gor Soudan, Kyalo Justus, Onyis Martin and Samuel Githinji. All have distinctive individual styles. All have varied social backgrounds and arts experience. The one thing they all have in common is that each one is experimental and inclined to employ their art to make social statements which are cryptic but invite one to  inquire into their meaning. Their art also tends to be meticulous and created methodically.
The one exception might be Kyalo Justus since his media include mabati (iron sheet), acid and the weather. Both the acid and the weather are unpredictable in their impact on the iron sheet. Only the acrylic paint, which he occasionally applies after the acid, wind, rain and time have left their mark, allows him to have the last word concerning his art.
Gor Soudan’s pieces also reflect an element of unpredictability since his use of ink and color on watercolor paper equally produces delicate surprises in his art.
Gor’s four pieces in the show were created while he was doing artist residencies in Sierra Leone and Japan last year. His work is always innovative so it’s no surprise that the four convey new styles of painting and drawing. But what is fascinating to see is the way each set of works has clearly been influenced by the different atmospheres and artistic terrains in which he was creating.
The remaining four artists all make significant social statements with their art. David Thuku’s exhibition entitled ‘Bar Code, the layers between’, for instance, speaks to issues of consumerism, commodification and ultimately the dehumanization and alienation of human beings.

Onyis Martin’s collages are called ‘Papers of Freedom’ and reflect on the difficult times faced by refugees and asylum seekers.
Churchill Ongere’s works, from his ‘Suspensions’ show, apparently aim to convey a crazy world where everything’s turned up-side-down.

But it’s possibly Samuel Githinji’s whose art has the most explosive message in Red Hill’s current collection. Githinji has the one work on display that’s brand new, not seen in public before.
But newness isn’t the point. Having painted three destitute characters on hessian (‘gunia’) gunny sacks that he’s stitched together into one giant tapestry, Githinji’s central figure looks like he’s wearing a crown of thorns and maybe even a halo. So the artist suggest that ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’ since his impoverished trio all have an enigmatic line drawn across their foreheads.
Whatever the message or messages of the six, there’s still time to check out their art before the show comes down October 30. The Early Works of the Sudanese painter Abusharia opens November 4.