Tuesday, 16 October 2018


                                                                                  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.

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