Monday, 24 December 2018


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 24 December 2018)

Dr Irum Mizra is a mother like no other!
We understand that most mothers care for their children’s well-being. But when we met Dr Irum and her son Hariz Shifi, aged 12, we realized that she hadn’t just gone an ‘extra mile’ to ensure her son’s happiness. She had essentially run a maternal marathon for the sake of Hariz whom she believes has a special artistic gift.

“I was never very artistic myself, but ever since he was five years old, his school teachers have told me Hariz has a special talent that I ought to nurture,” she tells Business Daily.
It was when he was seven that Dr Irum discovered something more about her son that convinced her the teachers were correct.
“Hariz didn’t tell me he had a problem at school. But when I found one of his drawings in the back of an exercise book, I realized that he was being bullied. But I also realized that while he didn’t talk much, he communicates effectively through his art.”
That was an important revelation for Irum who now provides Hariz w
ith the basic art materials that he requires.
But as she wanted to do more for him, she felt she needed to be better informed about art. So she started researching the local art scene. She began to visit galleries and attend art exhibitions. That’s how she heard about Patrick Mukabi and the Dust Depo Art Studio.
“I decided to go to Patrick’s studio and ask for his advice,” says Irum having already decided that she’d like to help her son to have his own art exhibition as she felt he was that good.

“Patrick was very helpful and suggested I have a group exhibition including a few of the young artists working at Dust Depo,” she continues.
Irum liked the idea, but Hariz who is now 12 was slightly intimated by the whole plan. But his mother proceeded. She selected several Dust Depo artists whose works she liked and then went around researching where to hold the show.
Finally, she settled on Lavington Mall on the ground floor near one of Maryann Muthoni’s playful mosaic tile murals.

Dr Irum admits she didn’t know that mounting an art exhibition would be so challenging and time-consuming. But as she saw her son getting more enthusiastic about the idea, she feels the effort was worth it.
She also liked Patrick’s idea of including older, more experienced artists in the show which she entitled ‘Canvas Talks’. The Dust Depo painters who exhibited alongside Hariz included Hannington Gwanzu, Agnes Murugi, Lewis Thuku, John Kariuki, Kennedy Kinyua, Morris Mbuchu, Geoffrey Waweru, Allan Kioko, Finnie Wafula, Sawe Gichia, Patrick Karanja, Taran and Mandy Basan, Kidiavai and Mishack Tornadonez, John Mwema, Juma Byrone, Ibra Ndungu, Solomon Luvai, Zacaharia Magak and Patrick Mukabi. 
 The three artists who were not from Dust Depo were Patrick Okumu, a friend of the Studio, Hamza Nazir and Hariz, both of whom are 12.
All the works were reasonably priced during the two-day December show, and Dr Irum chose not to ask for a commission on the sale of any of the art. A number of paintings managed to sell, although there was one work that wasn’t for sale.
‘We didn’t want to sell Hariz’s rhino,” says Irum who feels this piece reflects a new maturity in her son’s style of painting. And she is right. Both anatomically and texturally, Hariz’s rhino painting reflects a qualitative improvement as compared to other of his earlier works which were also in the show.

Irum liked the rhino so much that she printed ‘Canvas Talks’ tee-shirts for every artist in the show. Each shirt featured a full-sized copy of the rhino.
As for Hariz, the shy lad who indeed speaks through his art, says that one of the best things about the exhibition is that he’s no longer intimated by the older artists. He may not spend much time painting at Dust Depo, but he’s definitely made new friends.
As for the mom, Irum is already planning for another group show for some time in the new year. Naturally, her son will be there.


                                                                                       Cyrus Kabiru Ng'ang'a

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 24 December 2018)

2018 was ‘off the charts’ as far as contemporary Kenyan art was concerned. One can’t recall a year when there was so much activity among artists who not only exhibited at well-known venues like the National Museum and galleries like Circle Art, One Off, Banana Hill, Red Hill, Polka Dot and the Nairobi Gallery. These were all sites where a wide array of exhibitions were held throughout the year.
Artists also got into the habit of holding ‘pop-up’ shows so that they exhibited their work everywhere from Muthaiga Heights (with Beta-Arts), Metta in Westlands, Karen Landmark, Karen Country Club, Uhuru Garden (at Dream Kona) and the Railways Museum where the BSQ graffiti artists re-designed an old railway car into their own colorful studio.
                                                           David Maina exhibited at Karen Landmark Plaza

BSQ were not the only artists to open their studios for show. Brush Tu Art did it. So did Kuona Artists Collective (on a monthly basis). So did Dust Depo. And even artists who had set up studios at Kobo Trust opened their spaces to show their new works this year.
A number of individual artists opened up art spaces of their own. Painters like Adrian Nduma already had Bonzo Gallery while sculptors like Kioko Mwitiki previously had Pimbi Gallery. But then Jeffie Magina left the GoDown to set up Studio Soko while Chelenge van Rampelberg opened her own Chelenge Home Studio. And Geraldine Robarts built a whole new gallery in her back yard. Even the Dutch art consultant Willem Kevenaar opened The Attic literally upstairs in his Nyari home and it was quickly becoming an art space of people’s choice this past year.
                                                                Beatrice Wanjiku @ One Off Gallery

Hotels were also more actively supportive of Kenyan artists this year. The Norfolk started the year off by having a solo show for Coster Ojwang right out in their front lobby. Hill Park Hotel held their first exhibition showing Kaafiri Kariuki’s ‘Dancing Pen’ paintings. The new Tamarind Tree Hotel also had a group show of Kenyans, collaborating with Polka Dot Gallery. Sankara Hotel had quarterly exhibitions in collaboration with One Off Gallery. Serena Hotel also collaborated with African Heritage House’s Alan Donovan to exhibit sculptures by the late Expedito Mwebe as well as pre-colonial works from Nigeria, Congo and Kenya. The Intercontinental showed works by Tina Benarwa, Ruth Nyakundi and Dinesh Revankar. And even Sarova Stanley held a one-night visual art festival. But it was the Dusit D2 that hosted a house-full crowd for the 2018 East African Art Auction which was curated by Circle Art Gallery.
The success of the East African auction apparently sparked a wider interest in auctions this year. The TNR Trust (the animal welfare group) had its own Silent Art Auction in cooperation with One Off Gallery. So did Paa ya Paa Art Centre. Kenyan artists were also involved in art auctions in South Africa and UK in 2018.

Meanwhile, restaurants and malls were busy having shows. Village Market hosted several East African artists’ exhibitions while Lavington Mall gave space to up-and-comers exhibiting. Carnivore, Lord Erroll and the Talisman among others opened up their walls for artists to exhibit their art.
But some of the largest group shows were hosted by the foreign cultural centres. The French, Germans, British, Americans, Russian and Danes all assisted Kenyan artists with exhibition space. Alliance Francaise was still the prime location for artists to exhibit. But still the British Institute of Eastern Africa was also quite active as they brought back their ‘Remains, Waste & Metonymy’ and initiated the cross-cultural showcase of food with ‘Kukolacho.’ 

The Americans annually support two major shows, one being the KMS Affordable Art Show at the National Museum, the other the ISK Friends of the Arts (FOTA) exhibition, both of which attract substantial art-loving audiences. The Germans’ Goethe Institute also hosted a number of exhibitions while Heinrich Boell Foundation launched the 2019 Kenya Arts Diary featuring an exhibition of artists’ works which were featured in the Diary.
And while the GoDown Art Centre ended the year by moving artists working there out while it’s involved in renovating a new art sart space, another art centre was being born upcountry at Tafaria Castle where George Waititu also runs artist residencies for adventurous Kenyans.

Finally, the clearest sign of the vibrancy of Kenyan art is seeing how every major gallery was fully booked throughout the year with shows by everyone from veteran artists like Yony Waite and Magdalene Odondo to Kamwathi, Abusharia, and artists from Wajukuu, Maasai Mbili and Karen Village.
The one major loss of 2018 was the demise of the inimitable Jak Katarikawe. 

By Margaretta wa Gacheru

Jak Katarikawe was a beloved East African artist who wasn’t just a painter of allegorical landscapes of Ugandan rural life. He was also a charming storyteller who’d hold his audience, (be it a client, longtime patron or friend) rapt as he interpreted the stories he had just painted. He’d always tell his tales with a twinkle in his eye as his characters, be they elephants or actual human beings, were often involved in [some sort of] illicit love affair, the kind he might have known first-hand back home in Uganda, before he came to Kenya in the late 1970s.
Jak didn’t arrive in Nairobi until he was nearly forty years old, or thereabouts. He was never sure of the year and month in which he was born, but he approximated it at 1938. That means that when he passed on October 19th, Jak would have spent the same numbers of years living in Kenya as he did in Uganda.
Yet as Jak grew less capable of painting the whimsical way he had done for a good forty years, producing brilliant and beautiful artworks that went into public institutions and private collections all over the world, he refused to ‘go home’ to Uganda. Despite having pumped a large portion of the revenues he had made from his paintings into constructing his family home in Kigezi, Southwestern Uganda, he no longer seemed to identify with the land of his forefathers. Kenya is where he had become King of contemporary East African art in the 1980s and 1990s. So in spite of his weakening condition and his difficulty paying his rent, Jak remained in the flat on Forest Avenue (now Wangari Maathai Blvd.) until the very end.
Until he passed on October 19th, Jak was 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 whose works 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 flat to cook for him since 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 Kigezi. Yet he refused.
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 artwork. Unfortunately, in his latter days, Jak was better known as a beggar who was frequently almost booted from his flat by an angry landlord who was only appeased when one of the artist’s longtime patrons stepped in at the last minute to ensure that Jak wasn’t tossed out on the street. They would pay his rent, including the arrears.
A few months before he passed, Jak was offered the means to go home to Kigezi with all his luggage and the remnants of his illustrious career. Alan set aside a substantial chunk of money to assist Jak to enjoy his last days in the comfort of his own Ugandan home. Yet he rejected that idea as well.
Jak never had a chance to go to school since his polygamous father had retired by the time he was born, 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. In an interview with ‘The Nairobi Times’ in the early 1980s, Jak also remembered how he was inspired by the colorful stained glass windows of the nearby church. He said the windows had shown him the value of brilliant translucent colors and the storytelling power of art.
Jak’s big break came after he was hired to be a driver for David Cooke, the Makerere University professor who found his sketches stashed in the boot of his car. Professor Cook could see that Jak had talent which he felt should be nurtured. So he arranged for him to be mentored by Professor Sam Ntiru, who at the time was head of Makerere’s Art Department and a leading Tanzanian artist.
After spending some time at Makerere, Jak had his first solo exhibition in 1966 at the Uganda National Theatre. It was like a coming of age for him. He now realized he was truly an artist. But like so many Ugandans who had to migrate to Kenya due to the political turmoil in his country, Jak moved to Nairoi in the mid-1970s. He initially worked and stayed with the Tanzanian sculptor and painter Elimo Njau, who as co-founder of Paa ya Paa Art Centre had set up visiting artists’ studios where refugees like Jak found a safe haven in which to work. Subsequently, Jak exhibited at Alliance Francaise and Gallery Watatu. He also worked closely with Nani Croze and Dr Eric Krystal in the 1980s when they were organizing artists’ workshops to create works reflecting Eric’s priority of family planning. Jak produced some of his most memorable paintings during that time.  
Jak was already established when the late Ruth Schaffner bought Gallery Watatu in 1985 from Yony Waite, the Guam-born American artist who co-founded Watatu with the late Robin Anderson and David Hart. Ruth quickly took Jak under her wing and soon became his mentor, mother-figure, accountant and bank. She took his art worldwide, particularly to West Germany and the US where she owned two galleries in Los Angeles and sold his oil paintings like hotcakes.
Jak, who had never been to school and had only learned how to sign his name from Dr Cook, grew increasingly reliant on Ruth. There is little doubt that Ruth made a fortune from Jak’s artworks, but since he didn’t keep his own accounts, nor did he know how much his artworks were sold for overseas, no one will ever know the kind of commission Ruth the art dealer made from Jak’s paintings.
What we do know is that Jak was perfectly happy painting in his spacious rented rooms upstairs at the Paradise Hotel on Tom Mboya Street. But Ruth convinced him the neighborhood was so ‘dangerous’ that he needed to move. She shifted him to the most expensive flats in Nairobi, the Norfolk Apartments just next to the historic hotel. She paid his rent out of his earnings which undoubtedly contributed to the penury he incurred in his latter days.
But once Ruth passed on in 1986, Jak refused to move. He continued to pay the rent despite the cramped quarters she had moved him into. Without her regular sales of his art, Jak had very little revenue and thus, his financial problems began immediately upon Ruth’s death.
Jak never recovered from Ruth’s passing. He went into mourning and never got over his grief. It wasn’t assuaged by Ruth’s husband, the Ivorian counsel Adama Diawara who took over the gallery after Ruth was gone. When the Ghanaian journalist, Osei Kofi took over the gallery for Diawara, he held an exhibition for Jak around 2007. He shared the limelight with Sane Wadu and Wanyu Brush. But even that didn’t shake Jak out of the doldrums he’d fallen into after losing his beloved Ruth. 
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 his Forest Road flat (where he finally moved to after having no choice) 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 soared. Many people believe Jak’s art will only accrue in value over time, just as it did for other artists who died poor, such as Vincent Van Gogh and even Rembrandt. But now their paintings are valued as many millions of whatever currency you prefer
Jak will primarily be remembered for the luminous artworks he created between the 1970s and 1990s. 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 Kigezi home on October 28th, just a week after he passed. Tributes to him continue to pour in on social media. And many Kenyan artists are still waiting to hold a memorial service for Jak, yet they respect the wishes of the family who wanted their father buried quietly without fanfare. Fortunately, his art has already made him an immortal and he will always be considered one of East Africa’s finest artists.

Friday, 21 December 2018


                                                          Rose Wahome, mosaic tile artist at 45 degrees Kitchen

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 21 December 2018)

Kenyan artists are always scouting the countryside to find new venues where they can exhibit their art for receptive audiences.
The latest art space they found is in Garden Estate down Marurui Road where there’s a cream-colored gate marked 45. That’s the only indication of what’s happening inside.
First and foremost, there’s an amazing boutique restaurant behind that gate called 45 Degrees Kitchen. But equally significant is the group exhibition currently underway inside.
It was nameless until I saw Evans Ngure’s ingenious sculptures which he calls ‘Circles of Life’. But before I knew that name, I called them ‘Wheels of Fortune.’
‘Wheels of Fortune’ can do for 45 degrees’ first otherwise untitled art exhibition since the owners opened up the eatery in 2015. That’s somewhat surprising since one of the five artists exhibiting is Rose Wahome who’s also a co-owner of 45 Degrees Kitchen with her gourmet chef husband, Harold Sena-Akoto.

“We’ve been so busy with the restaurant that I haven’t had much time to devote to my art,” says Rose whose mosaic tile mirrors and tables are indeed works of art. One might call them functional art. But in addition to their being of practical use, they reflect attractive geometric designs and a thoughtful use of earthen colors.
Rose might not have launched 45 Degrees as a new art venue if she hadn’t known the Kenya-based German artist Milena Weichelt whose paintings she loves. Milena was happy to consider exhibiting her art in the restaurant, especially as the people who appreciate Harold’s food tend to be art lovers. “Many embassy people like to come to 45 Degrees,” says Harold who has been serving continental cuisine for most of his life. Or at least since he went off to study culinary science in Italy for several years. After that, he’s set up restaurants everywhere from Australia to Canada to San Francisco in the US.
Milena was keen to show her paintings at 45 degrees, only she knew another artist who she felt would do well to exhibit there too. Evans Ngure creates colorful sculptures which currently hang from the outdoor panels that partition the cozy nooks where guests tend to eat when the weather permits.

He’s a specialist in assembling ‘found objects’ into artworks that surprise for their unprecedented style of artistry. For instance, Evans’ latest creations are his Wheels of Fortune. These are bicycle wheels whose spokes he beads, creating lovely and colorful abstract designs.
In one nook, he has a pair of Wheels, one he calls ‘Atomic Bubble Gum’; the other which is larger he’s named ‘Heartbeat’ since it veritably pulsates with color.
He’s also exhibiting  a series of three-dimensional ‘paintings’ which he creates out of everything from an old tennis shoe, discarded keys and an array of spare parts from typewriters and computers to bicycles and buttons. His wind chimes are also unique. They hang around the restaurant’s terrace.

Meanwhile, inside three more artists’ works are on display. Milena’s paintings like those of Anwar Sadat Nakibinge and Samuel Njuguna are to be found beautifying the solid brick walls of the dining room. They also hang on the other side of the same wall, brightening up the building that had once been a poultry holding room where Rose’s father once kept his freshly-laid eggs before they went off to market.
Milena’s paintings are decorative in the best sense of being beautiful to look at, whether she’s painted bougainvillea or oceanic tides. Sam Njuguna specializes in creating vibrant scenes of rural Kenyan life which reflect the way many local people in rural areas live their everyday lives.

Anwar on the other hand is a specialist in painting wildlife but puts them on his large canvases in attractive ways. Be it a giraffe, elephant, cheetah or buffalo, he treats them as iconic forms that serve as essential elements of his attractive semi-abstract designs.
The new year is likely to see 45 Degrees hosting many more exhibitions since the artworks serve to beautiful the space and enhance the feeling that one’s arrived at a very special place which is unique not just for amazing food but for attractive artworks as well.

                                                                             Samuel Njuguna's Matatu to town

Kevin Oduor with George Waititu, founder of Tafaria Castle

Thursday, 20 December 2018


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 20 December 2018)

45 Degrees Kitchen is a boutique restaurant nestled so deep inside Garden Estate that you might miss if your eye doesn’t catch the ‘45’ on the cream-colored gate on Marurui Road.
But 45 degrees’ executive chef Harold Sena-Akoto doesn’t mind being discrete since people who understand and adore delicious food always find their way to his front door.
One would never know the Kitchen was once his wife Rose’s family poultry farm, nor that their elegant high-vaulted dining room was once a place where eggs were carefully stored.

“We made the whole place over,” says Harold who also created a spacious outdoor terrace where tables covered in colorful batik cloths, (hand-painted by the Ugandan artist Anwar Sadat) are either situated in their own separate nooks or aligned near the big house so one can have a better view of the artworks on display. The paintings are by Milena, Samuel Njuguna and Anwar Sadat while the wind chimes and colorfully-beaded wheels of fortune are by Evans Ngure.
But as cozy, attractive and rustic as the Kitchen is, it’s the cosmopolitan cuisine, the genial chef Harold and his gracious wife Rose that bring people back to 45 degrees.
For myself, it was the menu that assured me I would have to come again since there are so many mouth-watering suggestions of soups, salads, sea foods, steaks, stews, lamb shanks, and even spaghettis that I wanted to try.

And that wasn’t all. There were also the detailed descriptions of every plate. Each one confirmed the chef to be a culinary connoisseur who’d studied and practiced cooking as a fine art long before he’d come to Kenya in 2015.
“All the recipes are my own,” says Harold who encouraged us to try either the four courses, each one of which he pairs with a specific wine, or not. Otherwise, we could try a la carte, meaning we had the freedom to select anything on the menu.
I chose to try the four courses without the wine, even though I was intrigued by the fact that the Kitchen serves wines from all over the world. The beverage menu says wines come from Italy (where he studied his craft for six years), Argentina and Spain and from Australia, California, South Africa and France. Cognacs, Tequilas, Whiskeys, various Vodkas and Liqueurs are also served.

What was significant to me was Courses No.1 through 4. Not easy choices to make, but I started with the Roasted Salmon Consomme with Garlic croutons. Harold, who’s originally from Ghana, explained the salmon was flown in from Norway. I agreed that one bowl could easily be a meal since the salmon was served in big chunks and the soup itself was super tasty, spicy and slightly hot.
I could have stopped feasting there and then. The consomm√© (soup) was deeply satisfying. But I’d already deliberated on Course #2. As I have a weakness for fish, I tried the Grilled Malindi Deep Sea Trout with roasted pepper sauce and olive salsa.
Again, the fish was delicious. This time it literally fell off the bone, into a sauce that was savory and sweet. “I have a fisherman friend who brings freshly-caught trout to me regularly,” Harold says with a touch of pride.

Course No.3 could have been a sirloin steak, Mongolian Lamb or Pan Fried chicken. But again I had to go for the fish. This time it was Pan Fried Red Snapper topped with olive chumichuri Burgundy sauce. It was unbelievable. Every morsel of fish had a uniquely flavorful taste.
If I had tried a la carte, I could have had the Ghanaian style Tilapia, or the Fisherman’s stew made with Snapper, Lobster, Mombasa Shrimp and coconut milk. I could have also tried the Tuscan Country Lamb Shank roast, the Rib-Eye Steak or even the Green Thai curry.
But I was happy with what I had. I couldn’t believe I was still keen to try Course no.4 as I have ‘a thing’ for chocolate. Harold’s Flourless chocolate [cake] was covered with cream caramel accessorized with a chocolate-dipped strawberry and a “cheese tart for garnish” the chef adds.

I veritably roll out the front gate of 45 degrees, I’m so full. But if my meal was more than I normally consume, I must admit I just had a meal “to die for’.
One hears about guys on death row getting to order whatever they want for their last meal. For me, it would have to be the Four Courses from the 45 Degrees Kitchen.

Wednesday, 19 December 2018


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 18 December 2018)

Hephzibah Kisia just got back from Nantes, France a few weeks ago. Yet already she’s gathered a team of Kenyan and French artists and gone all over Nairobi. Their mission has been to paint walls and introduce Kenyan people, particularly kids, to the joys of creating street art.
Before she’d gone to France in 2016, Hephzibah had studied fashion design and opened her own fashion house featuring ‘The Sama Eden’ line.
“I thought I was going to be the next Chanel,” she told Business Daily as she stood outside the back end of Alliance Francaise where she and her fellow artists had been busy painting AF’s tall wall the whole afternoon.

AF is coincidentally where she first started learning French. It’s also where she began rethinking her priorities. That led her back to school to study business and fine art in France.
It was there that she started another company called ‘Switch-A-Roo’ which is basically a cultural exchange program. And that’s what brought her back to Kenya, only now she’s leading a team of French street artists who, like her, love to travel, create art and meet new people in the process of sharing their art.

Antoine, Alceo and Mathieu are the three French artists (all members of ‘Street Art Sans Frontieres’) who signed on to Hephzibah’s Switch-a-Roo program and accompanied her back to Nairobi where they’ve been painting street art for the past two weeks.
Along the way, they have been joined by Kenyan artists including Naitiemu Nyamyom, Edmond Nonay and most recently, Namakula Muinde.
“I was just passing by [Alliance Francaise] and saw them painting the wall, so I joined in. They encouraged me to pick up a paint brush and add my contribution,” says Namakula who admits she is more of a writer than a painter. “But the artists were so welcoming, I thought I’d try my hand,” she adds.

Antoine, who was most fluent in English of the three Frenchmen explains that Namakula illustrates the whole idea of Switch-a-roo. “We are here to bring art closer to the people, and to get them involved in doing it themselves,” he says. “We want local people to claim ownership of the street art we make together,” he adds.
Naitiemu says that when the team went to Kibera and Mathare, there were many more people, especially youth, who wanted to pick up a paint brush and paint whatever wall they could find.
“In the CBD there have been fewer people who’ve stopped to paint with us, but that’s alright. The idea is to connect with local people,” Naitiemu adds. She also observed that along Loita Street where they’d been painting the ten-foot wall, there were more commuters in transit to and from their work than locals with time to get involved with street art.

Nonetheless, everyday has been exciting, Naitiemu says, although Sunday was a challenge. They had been careful to collect all the appropriate papers, signatures and approvals from City Council in order to paint everywhere they’d gone, be it Jamhuri, Pangani, Kibra or Mathare. They even got the papers to paint some stairs at one flyover in town. Nonetheless, they were still stopped by City Council askaris who refused to recognize the paperwork and simply stopped them in their tracks.
But the team is undaunted. They’ll continue painting for another week. After that, Hephzibah says they will all be going to France early next year. “That’s the idea of Switch-a-Roo. The French artists came to Kenya to paint after which it will be the Kenyans’ turn to accompany them back to France where we will work together in just the same way. We’ll go to ground zero in the town of our choice and then get permits to paint walls wherever we can.
Antoine adds that he and his French friends have been painting walls for quite some time.

“We all got started as graffiti artists. Otherwise, we didn’t go to art school to learn how to paint. That’s one reason why we know that everyone can learn the joy of painting and expressing themselves through color, form and line. They just need a chance to try. And that’s what ‘Street Art Sans Frontieres [Without Borders] is all about.” 

Peterson Kamwathi, an artist par excellence

Tuesday, 18 December 2018


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 18 December 2018)

Maimouna Jallow is a master storyteller, an award-winning one at that. As such, she’s been to storytelling festivals all over the world, performing among other marvelously amusing stories, ‘The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives’ by Lola Shoneyin. She’s also been involved in revitalizing the (nearly lost) art of storytelling.
Last weekend, Nairobi experienced some of the benefits of Maimouna’s meeting many brilliant storytellers in her travels. She brought a number of them to perform at her ‘Re-Imagined Storytelling Festival’ at Alliance Francaise. They included artists from South Africa, Sierra Leone, Morocco, Australia, and Gambia (where Maimouna is originally from). She even invited the West African kora griot Sanjally Jobarteh to play during the premiere performance of ‘The Door of (No) Return’ and give a captivating kora concert the night before the Fete.

In fact, the Festival ran throughout last week since the visitors told stories to youth everywhere from Eastleigh and Buruburu to Mathare Valley. Several of them also gave master classes on facets of storytelling the day before Saturday’s all-day event. That was where one got to see and feel the magical power of these Pan-African word wizards who, like Usifu Jalloh, revealed a myriad of secrets to becoming a story specialist like themselves.
Kenyan storytellers were also involved in the festival. They included Hellen Alumbe Namai and Mumbi Kaigwa who shared stories with kids in the Reading Nook; John Namai and Patrick Gachie who performed with Maimouna in the afternoon, and others, including Muthoni Garland, Wangari Grace, Chief Nyamweya, Chombe Njeru, Mshai Mwangola, Ayana Michelle and more.

The only problem with the Festival was that there was so much to see and watch (given there were two stages occupied throughout) that it was impossible to listen to everyone on that one Saturday. I was fortunate to watch Moroccan artist Jawad Elbied, Nomsa Molalose of South Africa, Lily Rodrigues-Pang of Australia, Alim Kamara and Usifu Jalloh both of Sierra Leone. And among the Kenyans, it was able to see storytelling performances by Muthoni Garland, Chombe Njeru and Chief Nyamweya (who came with his new graphic novel, Art of Unlearning, hot off the press).

What was also hot off the press was Maimouna’s brand new anthology, ‘Story, Story, Story Come’. She’s the editor as well as the founder of the ‘Re-Imagining African folktales’ project which she launched back in 2016 and which resulted in both the book and the festival. The project itself aimed to revive the age-old art and tradition of African orature (oral literature) and storytelling. But it was also to modernize the folktale so that storytelling itself has meaning and relevance in an age when social media and many other forces are threatening the very art of orature.
Fortunately, once Maimouna put out a call for African writers and storytellers to ‘re-imagine’ the African folktale, she got an overwhelming response. It was a challenge for her to select only twelve out of the numbers she received. At the same time, it must have been easy to pick delightful tales like ‘Why chickens do not fly’ by Nigeria writer Nnamdi Anyadu and ‘When the moon learnt to be kind’ by South African writer Gugulethu Radebe.

The stories come from all over the region, from Cameroon, Gambia, Ghana and Nigeria as well as South Sudan, South Africa, Zambia and Kenya.
The anthology together with its audio version also made their premiere appearance at the Festival. And to whet the public’s appetite for the anthology and share some of the stories in a dramatic format, Maimouna also created ‘The Door of (No) Return’ which adapted three of the stories for the stage.

The story that made me want to rush out and get the book was Maimouna’s telling the story of The Water Spirits. They had it in for the humans who they knew to be corrupt and no good. But they adopted a little one who they had unintentionally orphaned. That little girl was sweet, beautiful and gifted. But she got spoilt and turned out to be just as self-centred, proud and treacherous as the water spirits knew the humans to be.
One will have to get the book to find out what happens to the little girl (who was ‘more beautiful than Beyonce!’).
 In the meantime, performances by Sanjally, Usifu, Maimouna and Muthoni assured one that the art of the griot and the storyteller are alive and well in Kenya and Africa.


                                                                               KU cast from Reverberations

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 18 December 2018)

There’s a new theatre company in town. Talenta Yetu is a troupe that’s come from Kenyatta University with freshly honed theatrical skills, energy and enthusiasm for trying out new and daring scripts.
Like ‘Reverberations’ by Clinton Obama and directed by Fanuel Mulwa who we’ve seen in shows like Sarafina, Grease, Caucasian Chalk Circle and both versions of Jesus Christ Superstar (where he played Peter).
Fanuel admits he’s learned a lot about theatre at KU (especially from Dr Zippy Okoth). But actually doing professional shows like those just mentioned and working closely with Stuart Nash of Nairobi Performing Arts Studio gave him essential knowledge and experience as well as the courage to start directing shows himself.
He does a great job with Reverberations, although I must say I was slightly surprised by the ease with which characters were either bumped off or beat up. But that apparently is part of the corruption that the play aims to expose.

The focus of corruption is on churchmen who supposedly are meant to beacons of morality, truth, goodness and selfless love. But Pastor Sonford (Samson Omondi Onyango) is the antithesis of all that. He’s a hypocrite of the lowest order. He pretends to be pious while seducing young women and even forcing himself on girls like Alice (Regina Wahito) who genuinely try to resist.

The ‘reverberations’ are affected by the Pastor’s two sons Charlie (Tony Sesat) and Jacob (Clement Ochieng) who, despite being highly critical of their dad become just as bad if not worse than he was.
Charlie is bitter because he believes his dad literally killed their mom. For not only did the dad refuse to take her to hospital, claiming it was church doctrine. His real motive was apparently to hide his having infected her with AIDS.

Charlie’s resentment turns deadly. As it turns out, he’s just as reckless as his father, first by administering poison to Jacob’s pregnant girlfriend (Tracy Muga), then by finishing off his dad and finally, by selling off the church.
Jacob becomes a clone of Pastor Sonford. He’s just as lecherous and hypocritical a churchman. There are ‘good people’ in the play. But they are also sneaky schemers who devise a plan to catch the brothers ‘in the act’. 
                                            The 'good guys' who are schemers intent on catching the two brothers.

Whether they succeed or not is what you’ll have to find out when Talenta Yetu brings ‘Reverberations’ back due to popular demand.

Nairobi Street art with Switch-a-roo artist from France & Kenya

Monday, 17 December 2018

Maimouna Jallow performs in 'Door of No Return'@Storytelling Fete

Nicholas Odhiambo talks about his 'Pedagogy of Oppression' expo

Chief Nyamweya talks about his new book 'Art of Unlearning'


                                               'Social Purgatory' by Nicholas Odhiambo at Alliance Francaise

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 17 December 2018)

Nicholas Odhiambo’s exhibition at Alliance Francaise, ‘Pedagogy of Oppression’ is one of the most thought provoking shows of 2018. All drawn in subtle shades of black and white graphite, the 29 artworks could require a bit of background to decipher the artist’s figurative imagery.
It might help knowing the title of his show correlates with that of the brilliant Brazilian philosopher Paulo Friere’s classic text, ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed.’
“Yes, I read his book but I was already working on this series before I did so,” says Niko whose art is surprisingly illustrative of some of Friere’s most profound concepts related to oppression, socialization and education.

Yet in every way, Niko’s drawings reflect his own critical perspective on Kenyan society. For instance, a work like ‘Watch men 1’ illustrates the way Kenyans can stand by passively and simply watch as their fellow Kenyan is beaten by cops.
Frankly speaking, Niko seems to be more preoccupied with individuals and the various ways they are oppressed, ways they often are not even aware of. The most explicit illustration of that perspective is the work he calls ‘Manipulation’. In it, there’s a man whose limbs are attached to strings being controlled from above, by hands of someone we cannot see.
Across the room at Alliance Francaise are two drawings of men who appear to be the Big Men in charge. Each in a separate drawing, they both look dominant and dangerous. They easily pass for the Oppressor while the one being manipulated represents the Oppressed.

Yet what Niko explores in many of his drawings are the ways individuals internalize their own oppression. He has one series of five drawings revealing one person growing from toddler to pre-teen to student and then into a businessman dressed in a Western suit. Each stage of that person’s life, Niko says, is programmed to conform to restrictive social conventions, That programmed conformity is why the fifth fellow in the series has removed his clothes, symbolizing the artist’s desire to be free from that oppressive mentality and lifestyle.
Whether one understands or even agrees with Niko’s point of view, what also makes this exhibition exceptional is the meticulous manner of his drawing human forms. They come alive despite their all wearing gas masks.

Niko says the masks are meant to reflect the anonymity of his characters, all of whom apparently represent concepts and types rather than specific characters. For example, one of his works entitled ‘Resentment’ conveys the impact that such a negative emotion has on one’s psyche. The one resented is virtually implanted in the resentful one’s head like a tick or parasite.
The psychological nature of oppression is implicit in most of Niko’s drawings. It can be seen in works like ‘In the Box’, ‘Behind Bars’, ‘Human Beam’ and ‘Bondage of Will’ although all of his art challenges the viewer to grasp the meaning of every work. For indeed, all of the drawings make statements about Niko’s perspective on life, humanity and the ways we’re entrapped even though we’re mostly unaware of how we’re confined.
Of the four works just mentioned, probably ‘In the box’ is most transparent. There’s a slovenly-looking guy sprawled in a chair beside a TV that’s got another guy locked inside behind bars.
‘Behind bars’ seems to have a double meaning as the two guys are also behind [prison] bars, but the same bars resemble lines of a bar code which seems to symbolize their being trapped in a consumerist lifestyle.

‘Bondage of Will’ is more obtuse. Yet if you see the man seated in front of a sand clock showing the time running out and the man’s brains are being pulled out on either side of his head by more torso-less hands, you might ‘know the feeling’. He could be struggling to make a decision while his deadline is looming large.
Finally, ‘Human Beam’ is, for me, the most provocative of all. It’s got two men boxed in frames. One’s tied up like a hostage. The other’s holding a gun and looking like the hijacker. But no, Niko says. The two represent the subconscious and conscious mind ever in conflict although the conscious mind (the gunman) is dominant. The soul, he says, is trapped inside the vessel, (representing the body) at the centre of the painting.
Finally, Niko’s ‘Social Purgatory’ speaks volumes about men’s aspirations and desires which are literally represented in their eyes.
In all, Niko’s show requires a bit of thought, but it is well worth the effort.
 Peterson Kamwathi, Margaretta, Evans Mbugua and exhibiting artist Niko Odhiambo at Alliance Francaise December 2018