By margaretta wa gacheru (posted 28 November 2018
Niketa Fazal is a rare kind of Kenyan artist. For one thing, she had to endure a mini-mid-life crisis before she realized she was meant to be a visual artist. She’d trained in graphic design in UK and then went into advertising once she returned home to Kenya. But she didn’t feel fulfilled in that career.
“I’d always loved the arts,” she told Saturday Nation. But it wasn’t until she’d nearly reached forty that she finally took the radical step to leave her job and enroll in Kenyatta University’s fine art department.
Niketa says she was the oldest student in her class, but she didn’t mind, since she felt she was doing what she was meant to do.
Now Niketa is painting up a storm. For her latest series of works, she traveled all around Nairobi, sketching sites and shooting photographs in order to create a number of cityscapes. These were recently on display at Village Market, together with art of two other women artists.
With Yulia Chvetsova and Milena Weichelt, Niketa mounted an exhibition entitled ‘Diverse Perspectives.’ Their show only ran from 16th to 19th November so I confess I didn’t get there. But I managed to get a private viewing of Niketa’s art when I visited her home and saw both paintings from her recent show as well as earlier works she’d created this past year.
“2018 has been a busy year for me,” says Niketa who got her bachelor of fine art in 2011. “I had a [solo] show in [Delhi] India in February, and another one in Spain in September which featured my watercolors,” she adds.
Hoping to organize a group exhibition of water colorist in 2019, Niketa’s works at Village Market had been primarily painted in acrylics.
“For my cityscapes, I traveled all around Nairobi, both sketching scenes on site and taking photographs that I would later use inside my studio,” says Niketa who says she loves her city.
But she admits she’s been troubled to see how rapidly the city has changed on the surface. Her cityscapes reflect those changes since she, like another Kenyan artist, Paul Njihia, felt compelled to paint construction sites as ‘works in progress’.
But more troubling to her is that beneath the surface and behind those high rises, she’s continued to see the same slums that haven’t changed significantly despite all the towering walls of cement and steel rising rapidly all around them.
Her show included both high rises and scenes from Majengo and Kibera. Yet even though she painted ‘mabati’ shacks situated near a city dump, her perspective never seems bleak or voyeuristic.
On the contrary, one work that she entitles ‘White Wash’ highlights not the dilapidated slum so much as the white sheets hanging on a laundry line in front of a shack behind which stands the one beautiful purple-blossomed Jacaranda tree in that neighborhood.
Another one of her works is a common sight on Landies Road where scores of empty blue metal barrels are stacked maybe thirty feet off the ground. Her painting portrays the peculiar beauty of that scene. The man standing below the stack seems minimized by the magnitude of the metals’ implicit might.
The painting by Niketa that I find most intriguing is one she created in early 2008 entitled ‘Power Sharing’. The scene is somewhere in Eastlands. What’s most distinctive about it is the darkened sky overhead which evokes a mood that’s haunting and almost ominous as was the politicians’ talk of ‘power sharing’. On the other hand, dark skies could foreshadow much-needed rain. So there’s a paradox to this painting which reflected a sign of those times.