By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted November 28, 2018)
Carbon Mwini and El Tayeb Dawelbait transcend all sorts of ‘Boundaries’ in their joint exhibition which also happens to be the title of this premiere exhibition which opens One Off Gallery’s ‘annex’ at the Rosslyn Riviera mall!
Their exhibition is the reason I stepped foot in one of the many new malls going up all around Nairobi. But it was such a good idea for One Off’s Carol Lees to find this well-windowed space which greets you right as you climb up the first set of steps into the Mall.
The space seems vast with its high ceiling and pearly white walls which are large enough to easily accommodate one of El Tayeb’s larger works. It’s not quite as tall as a similar piece of his that stands graciously in the lobby of Delta House in Westlands. But he employed a similar set of methods, motions and notions to create them both.
For instance, in both instances, he’s assembled old wooden boxes that he’s picked up here and there, then placed them in a larger boxy frame, after which he’s painted them in various colors and styles. The finished work feels almost antique in its rustic elegance.
What the show’s curator, Willem Kevenaar of The Attic Art Space has done with this show is to harmonize the works of El Tayeb and Mwini. He does so by hanging geometric ensembles of Mwini’s laser art, placing them together either three by three or two by four in forms that correlate the two artists’ works.
According to Mwini, each of his mixed media paintings can stand on its own. Each is a smaller piece having its own unique fascination. First, it’s surprisingly symmetrical, or rather one layer of each painting contains an exquisite sense of symmetry which Mwini has achieved by carefully drawing his iconic African designs using laser light.
In other words, in place of a paint brush, pencil, biro pen or palette knife, Mwini ‘paints’ using high-powered laser rays in a way that I confess I don’t fully understand. But by so doing, his indigenous African icons are also ‘assembled’ into intricate shapes that become modern-day icons that combine the old and the new.
For Kevenaar, that’s one way that Mwini defies the boundaries of time and space. Probably, the most obvious way that both men burst out of linear boundaries is most easily seen in that neither artists’ works conform to the more conventional forms of ‘fine art’. For instance, Eltayeb collects ‘found objects’ (most notably discarded boxes and planks of wood) and then reconstructs them into new and beautiful forms that can’t quite be called painting or sculpture. Or perhaps it’s more apt to say his art combines a little bit of both.
The same with Mwini. Painting with laser is hardly a conventional mode of artistic expression. But then, in this show he’s increasing used additional media to show how art never stays static. His innovations are beautiful although not altogether abstract since his icons are infused with meaning, especially associated with ancient African history, Mwini says.
Eltayeb is best known for his African male profiles, some of which he paints on canvas; others he ‘engraves’ in wood. But in this show, those profiles take on new twists. In one instance, he slices his profile from top to bottom and adds another narrow wood panel vertically, suggestive perhaps of a split in his man’s personality. In another case, several of his profile portraits are given partial wood plank frames for added effect.
In addition to One Off’s otherwise untitled exhibition space at Rosslyn Riviera (which I’ve informally named the annex) making its debut with this pop up show, the exhibition is also the first time that Willem Kevenaar has ventured out of his Attic space to curate another gallerist’s show. It could have been a challenge for him since his Attic is relatively small by comparison to the annex. But he utilized the voluminous space quite effectively, giving each piece room to breathe and every observer an opportunity to look a bit more leisurely upon each piece without the pedestrian traffic jams that sometimes occur at art show openings.
We applaud Carol Lees for opening up more space to local artists who are not part of the One Off ‘family’ of well-established ones. Judging from what came forth at this premier exhibition, it’s likely there will be lots more openings at the Riviera sometime soon.