Friday, 17 May 2019

CELEBRATING CONTEMPORARY KENYAN ART AT ONE OFF ANNEX



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 16 may for 17 May 2019)

Carol Lees has a lot to show for her 25 years exhibiting Kenyan contemporary art as she illustrated effectively last Wednesday night at the opening of her 25th anniversary exhibition at Rosslyn Riviera Mall.
She’s had long-standing friendships with all sixteen artists whose latest works fill the spacious walls of One Off ‘annex’. She has known some longer than others. For instance, Richard Kimathi is one whose artworks she showed when she was still at Serendipity, the first gallery she opened after leaving McNaughton – West Interiors and heeding advice from her friend, Mary Collis.
It was Mary who encouraged her to meet the need many artists felt in the early 1990s for an art gallery where the best contemporary art could be shown.
“I had just turned 30 and felt I needed to do something for myself,” she told BDLife shortly after the exhibition opened. The idea of opening a gallery made sense to her since she knew many artists through her interior design work. It was work that required her to fill the walls of leading banks, hotels and commercial offices with excellent artworks preferably by locals.
“I started off with works by Mary [Collis], Nadia Kisseleva, Tums Yeshim and one Sudanese artist who’d recently come to Kenya,” she recalls, having opened the first edition of One Off at Viking House in 1994.
“But then I made my way to Kuona Trust and found Richard [Kimathi] and others,” she adds.
Between 1994 and 2000, Carol was a bit of a nomad, moving from Viking House to Libra House and then to Shamneel Court in Westlands.
But by then, she and Mary Collis were already talking about joining hands to establish what would become RaMoMa, or the Rahimtulla Museum of Modern Art. The two women shared a beautiful vision of what their new space would become. And for ten good years, RaMoMa was the leading commercial art gallery in Kenya.
“But as RaMoMa was actually run as a Trust, I knew I would one day hand it over to someone else,” Carol says. “That is why I disassociated myself from One Off, but I didn’t fully shut it down.” She seemed to intuitively know that eventually, she would come back to it,” which of course, she did in 2010.
Initially, Carol ran RaMoMa out of Rahimtulla House where the Rahimtulla family, out of their lifetime friendship with Mary, covered most of the overhead expenses. And with additional support from Ford Foundation, RaMoMa was able to mount regular exhibitions, publish its own art magazine and exhibit painters and sculptors who today are considered some of the leading contemporary artists in Kenya
Then in 2007, the affairs of RaMoMa took a radical turn. Carol and Mary made the decision to move from Rahimtulla House to 2nd Avenue Parklands where RaMoMa became a cultural phenomenon. Mary had always dreamed of its being much more than just a gallery. She envisioned it becoming the equivalent of a MOMA in New York, which it practically did.
Carol recalls that once they got to Parklands, they ran five gallery exhibitions at once plus a print studio, library, gift shop, artist apartment, children’s wing, and a well-tended garden. “We also had to have a lot of security staff,” she adds. There were also theatre and dance performances happening at RaMoMa.
But frankly, once they moved to Parklands, RaMoMa was no longer the exclusive responsibility of Carol and Mary. Members of the Trust began to take a more active role in decision-making which was a challenge to Carol who resigned in late 2009.
It was a difficult decision to make but thankfully, Carol went straight back to her home in Rosslyn and reopened One Off from there in 2010. She hasn’t looked backwards since.
Carol had given much thought to her departure and she invited some of her favorite artists to come along and start exhibiting exclusively with One Off. Many of those are the ones exhibiting currently at Rosslyn Riviera at the One Off ‘Annex’.
In an exquisite exhibition that allows for the full scope of One Off artists to be seen, Carol with assistance from Kui Ogonga, has hung the most current works of artists like Beatrice Wanjiku, Peterson Kamwathi, Richard Kimathi, Timothy Brooke, Fitsum Behre, James Mbuthia, Peter Ngugi, Florence Wangui  Ehoodi Kichapi, Paul Onditi, Elias Mung’ora, Wambui Collymore, Thom Ogonga, Michael Musyoka, Olivia Pendergast and Lisa Milroy. Entitled ‘Celebrating our Collectors’, it’s really a show that celebrates the wisdom, vision and professionalism of Carol Lees.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

ART PROJECTS POPPING UP ALL OVER TOWN



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted May 16 for May 17, 2019)

The so-called ‘Pop-Up’ Art Exhibition used to be a rare phenomenon, something that was spur-of-the-moment and it had a less formal feel about it.
But nowadays, it is not only art exhibitions that are ‘popping up’ around the town in increasing numbers. There are so many new studios, mentoring projects and workshops as well as pop-up exhibitions happening right now that one can hardly keep up with them all.
In fact, the landscape of the Kenyan visual art world has changed tremendously in the last decade, but even more so in the last five years and even in the past few months.
We still have busy formal gallery spaces like One Off, Circle Art, Red Hill, Banana Hill, Nairobi Gallery, Creativity Gallery inside Nairobi National Museum and occasionally, Muthaiga and Karen Country Clubs. Foreign cultural centres like Alliance Francaise and Goethe Institute have also been consistent gallery sites where visual artists find space to exhibit their art.
But there has been a mushrooming of new gallery spaces in the last few years. British Institute of East Africa (BIEA) got into exhibiting Kenyan artists but not so long ago. Then there is the Art Cupboard and Kioko Mwitiki’s Art Gallery both of which have come up in Lavington, and The Attic which currently has no fixed abode but was based in Nyari up until recently. One Off Gallery also set up an annex gallery at the Roslyn Riviera Mall. And upcountry, the Tafaria Castle even opened its own art gallery a little over a year ago.
Then there are the open houses, which are somehow equivalent to ‘pop-up’ shows. They happen in spaces like the Brush tu Artists Collective, Kobo Trust, Landmark Karen, Karen Village, Studio Soku and even Kuona Artists Collective where monthly pop-up styled open houses welcome local artists to exhibit side by side of the long-time Kuona regulars, like Gakunju Kaigwa, Kevin Oduor and others.
But what is most intriguing about the seismic shifts in the current local art scene is something that, at one level, is not new, since artists have been setting up studios in their homes for as long as contemporary Kenyan art has gotten off the ground.
But certainly, that trend has picked up steam in recent times. In part we saw it accelerating shortly before, during and after the Kuona Trust debacle and Kuona Artists Collective was born. Then more recently, when the GoDown decided to pursue a major re-development program, it led to shutting down the studios, leaving the artists now to fend for themselves. So where else to go to get back to work but in their respective homes.

The scattering of artists back into their home studios has led to some interesting phenomena. For one thing, we’ve seen an artist like Jeffie Magina (formerly at GoDown) move home but then transform his abode in Umoja into a small-scale art gallery itself.
Adam Masava had been mentoring scores of young aspiring artists in Mukuru slum. But when their space (a primary school) was closed, he returned to his studio in South B and reactivated his mentoring only with fewer numbers and selectively.
Mentoring of aspiring artists is another phenomenon that we have seen increasingly, especially since Patrick Mukabi moved out of the GoDown and into the old Railway Museum Art Gallery (which had gone bust) and transformed it into Dust Depo Art Studio where scores of young artists congregate and learn basic skills from the Master Mukabi.

Then in 2017, Brush Tu also started a mentoring program that attracted a wide range of young Kenyan and Pan African artists. It only went on officially for a year, nonetheless, the mentoring continues in the collegiate/cosy/convivial atmosphere of Brush tu.
In any case, the concept of mentoring has picked up more steam. Shabu Mwangi started doing it several years back at Mukuru Art Centre. But now we are seeing everyone from David Thuku, Dennis Muraguri, Meshak Oiro, Adrian Nduma, Phillda Njau, Kuria Njogu, Jeremiah Sonko and Jeffie Magina picking up the role of mentor. In part the trend could be traced back to the fact that Kenya doesn’t have enough teaching institutions that focus on fine art. Whatever the reason, the process has immense potential. The only problem I see is that some of the mentors could use a bit more mentoring themselves.

Nonetheless, these are exciting times in this ever-changing Kenyan art world where we hear about new art events every day. For instance, the Afri-Love Fest is happening tomorrow at Igikai in Westlands.






Adam Masava with Mukuru Art Club

From 'Mrs Lucy Goes to Africa', the 2nd Broadway Extravaganza in Kenya

Wakio mzenge & Mary Mwikali in 'Impervious'

One Off Gallery celebrates 25 years@RRiviera

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

IMPERVIOUS: ANOTHER BIKO-MBEKI SUCCESS


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 15 May for 17 May 2019)

If you are someone for whom the whole idea of a hospice, (the place where sick people go to die) fills you with dread, you might have been tempted to walk out after the first few moments of ‘Impervious’, the Back to Basics’ production, scripted by Jackson Biko, directed by Mbeki Mwalimu and staged at Alliance Francaise last weekend.
But if you decided to stick it out (out of courtesy or cowardice), you would have been pleasantly surprised to find ‘Imperious’ is all about defiance, not death per se. Jedidah (Mary Mwikali) may be bed-ridden, but the doctors can’t even diagnose her main malady.

One reason the play picks up so fast is because Jedidah’s nurse (who doubles as the show’s narrator) quickly turns it into more of a tragicomedy than a morbid weepy drama. Nurse Maggie (Wakio Mzenge) has seen so many people die, she’s ‘impervious’ to fretful feelings about ‘the end’.
She narrates Jedidah’s story in a style that is both chatty and clinical. She gives us the pithy details of her patient’s life. Jedidah, she says, lost both her parents when she was young. She has no sibling, no friends either and no visitors other than the hospice’s therapist (Bruce Makau), the priest (Bilal Mwaura) and the teenage girl (Auudi Rowa) to whom she is donating her heart.

But even if Jedidah had friends, she has requested a block on all visitors. She has also made clear she wants no pity or pretense, no crocodile tears and no free-loaders (the kind who have previously come into her life to off-load their garbage onto to hers).
Jedidah’s perspective may sound cynical, but apparently life has dealt her enough blows to steel her head, soul and heart from feelings of pain. She is also ‘impervious’ to fear, including the fear of death.
Jedidah’s fearlessness in the face of death has a peculiar effect on both the therapist and the priest. According to Maggie, she was supposed to have a speedy demise. The doctors had given her three weeks to live. But three months later, she’s defied their prognosis.
The therapist comes regularly to see her and ask about her mental condition. She finds his curiosity annoying, implying he’s one more pretentious free-loader, trying to penetrate her impervious wall of rock-solid sarcasm. She also accuses him of being a mercenary who only comes because he’s paid by the hour. She makes clear that he is not welcome, yet he won’t stop visiting.
The priest is much more sympathetic character. He’s apparently in awe of her bravery. He even admits he feels more like ‘a man’ in her presence than ‘a man of God.’ Mwaura is marvelous is the timid, fumbling priest who doesn’t know how to handle his feelings for this woman, especially when she toys with his emotions.
Jedidah is also touched by this man, yet she admits she has never ‘given her heart’ to anyone before. In one sense, she means she has never fallen in love with any man. But in another, she literally refers to the donation she’s about to make of her human heart to a 15-year-old girl named Bay whom she has invited to come see her at the hospice.
The girl comes in a wheelchair, looking frail and in need of a new something. Jedidah has already decided to give her heart away to Bay both literally and figuratively, so when she gets the news that Bay has had an incident and she is close to death, Jedidah blames herself. She feels she should have died sooner, as if it’s her choice to make.
Perhaps what has kept her alive is the sweet affection she feels for the priest or possibly the meaning her life has acquired now that she is giving part of herself so that another person can live.

Either way, Jedidah now begs both the Priest and the Nurse to help her end it fast so she might still be able to save the girl’s life. When they both refuse, she apparently wills herself to death.
But before she does, she invites him to lay with her which, in spite of his timidity, he does. It’s a touching moment not simply because she’s opened herself to the man, but because she wants to sacrifice her life so the child may have a chance to live.
So while Impervious takes place in a hospice, the story is about how one woman comes alive in the last moments before she goes.



MRS LUCY A ‘MEDEA’-LIKE MISFIT IN AFRICA



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 15 May 2019 for May 17)

Anyone who ever watched a Tyler Perry movie of ‘Madea’, the outrageous African American mama played by Tyler Perry dressed ‘in drag’, would have undoubtedly enjoyed ‘Mrs Lucy Goes to Africa’, the musical theatre staged last weekend at Catholic University.
Billed at ‘The Second Annual Broadway Extravaganza in Kenya’, this Toussaint Duchess production isn’t exactly a show fresh from the Broadway based in New York. But broadly speaking, it is an extravagant tale about an earthy African American woman who gets on a plane, thinking she is heading home to California only to discover she has landed in Kenya.

Upon arrival, Lucy (played by the playwright, co-producer, director Toussaint) collapses in disbelief. But that’s just the first of several ‘culture shocks’ she gets after going home with her Kenyan friend and meeting her family.
Like Madea, Mrs Lucy is a parody on the opinionated America-centric tourist who judges local culture according to the small world that she knows. But she and the Kenyan grandma Neema (Eclay Wangira) have much in common. Both serve as the soulful glue that binds their families together; and both are wise, straight-talking truth-tellers.

There are secrets hidden in Neema’s house and she knows they must come out. But she is ill and apparently has come home to die. She intentionally brings Lucy with her because she knows she might need her help.
Lucy knows nothing of Neema’s plan. But the grannie has told her the darkest family secrets. So as peculiar and misplaced as Lucy might seem, Neema knows she will be perfect (if grannie isn’t able) to bring the truth to light.
The truth is Neema’s daughter Regina (Regina Re) had delivered a stillborn child the same time as her house-help Winnie (Njoki Munyi) delivered twins. Thereafter, Regina did the unthinkable: she took Winnie’s twins and got the hospital to claim they died. Only her husband (Eddy Peter) and Neema know, that is, until she tells Lucy.

It’s Lucy who lays the truth bare, providing the biggest shock of them all. Since Neema is sick and Regina cannot face all the people she has betrayed, including Winnie, her two sons (one being her own, Caleb Kushinda), and the twins, one of whom she raised (Maho Charles), the other she’d sent off to boarding school, Lucy has the wisdom and loving way of revealing the truth while allowing love to conquer the pain.



Monday, 13 May 2019

The Mueller Investigation (full film) | FRONTLINE

TAKE A GARDEN BREAK@121st PLANT&FLOWER SHOW



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 10 May for 17 May 2019)

The 121st Plant and Flower Show opens today at the SSDS Temple Hall on Lower Kabete Road. The show, which is organized annually by the Kenya Horticultural Society, runs through the weekend and features a wide range of displays – everything from roses, orchids, succulents and herbs to ferns, fruits, vegetables and flowers arranged beautifully by the Kenya Floral Club.
The Show opens officially at 2pm through 5 today. But this morning, a team of highly qualified judges (headed by Pauline Balleto who flew in from Malindi) went through the exhibition and gave awards in multiple categories. It’s a tradition that has been going on practically since the Horticultural Society began.

The judging also runs according to international standards that are applied in every country where there’s a horticulture society, including the USA, UK and South Africa, among others.
The awards don’t have an immediate cash value. Nonetheless, the top award winners receive a silver cup that they get to keep for one year. Plus, the prestige of having grown an award-winning plant means a great deal.
“Winning a silver cup is a great source of motivation,” says agricultural consultant Paul Mwai who won several silver cups last year for his prize-winning vegetables. “Winning gives someone added incentive to keep working hard. It’s also gratifying to know that experts appreciate what you do.”
Paul adds that he will be bringing fruits and herbs to this year’s Plant and Flower Show. “But no vegetables,” he says. “Mine are not ready,” he explains, noting that the weather has been hard on farmers this past season.
The weather has also been a problem for this year’s show organizer, Darshna Patel. “A number of our members were not ready to display flowers and plants from their gardens this year,” she says. “We are used to the rains coming in March so that by May, the plants are usually looking perfect for display. But as the rains came late, and before them, we had the drought, our plants have had a hard time,” she adds.
Nonetheless, the 121st Plant and Flower Show is drawing gardeners from Nakuru and Thika chapters of the Horticultural Society who will display their most precious plants. The Kenya Orchid Society will also be well represented. so will Nature Kenya whose working group, ‘Succulenta East Africa’ will be bringing their best desert plants and flowers to enrich this year’s display.
In addition to the displays, there will be a large sales area at the Show where there will be all kinds of flowers and plants (and fresh foods) for sale at ‘affordable’ prices. In addition to the plants, which tend to get swiftly bought out (which is why it is advisable to come early), there will be a wide variety of pots and organic fertilizers on sale.
                                                                                 Darshna's indoor rock garden

A number of organizations will be at the Temple Hall. Among them are the East African Wildlife Society, the Beekeeping Institute (selling lots of Kenyan honey), the Kenya Floral Arrangement Club and even the Kenya Quilting Guild, hanging a few of their finest Kenyan-made quilts.
“The quilts will all reflect the plant and flower theme,” says Darshna who personally has an artistic eye for beauty and has a lovely garden of her own. “I will be bringing cut flowers from my trees and shrubs,” she says a few days before the show. “I can’t say which trees or shrubs I will be getting the flowers from because of the rains,” she adds.
                                                                                Darshna's waterfall garden

Darshna will have a wide variety of healthy plants to choose from since she has been an avid student of horticulture since she joined the Society 16 years ago.
“Membership in the Horticultural Society entitles someone to visit a different garden every month. And once there, we have a knowledgeable speaker who talks about various aspects of gardening,” she says.
The Society also runs weekly courses once a year that are encyclopedic when it comes to gardening. Those courses are how Darshna says she has become relatively well-informed about horticulture. And from the look of her lush five-acre garden, one can see that she has indeed become an expert in gardening.

“I never let a day go by without visiting my garden,” says Darshna who has spent the last 20 years cultivating her family’s grounds. “It gives me peace and keeps me feeling strong and ever-young,” says this woman who looks 20 years younger than her 50-odd years.








EFF 2019: AWARD-WINNING FILMS FLOODING THE CITY THIS MONTH


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 13 May for 14 May 2019)

This year’s 28th edition of the European Film Festival (EFF) is proving to be unprecedented for its quality and quantity as well as its diversity, variety and inclusion of Kenyan as well as international films.
In all, there are 57 films being shown throughout the month of May. The Festival opened on May 4th and is running every day through May 27th. The films are being shown at twelve locations, including two community cultural centres and featuring films from three Kenyan film festivals.
Thanks to the curatorial design of Nyambura Waruinga, this year’s EFF aims to be more accessible to local audiences than ever before. This is partly because films are being shown at many more venues than ever before. (For previous years, films were only shown at Alliance Francaise. But back then, EFF, like the European Union itself, was much smaller and had fewer films to share.)
They are also being screened in several local venues such as the Dagoz Art Bar in Dagoretti, the Huipalas Rooftop Hub in Korogocho and Maasai Mbili in Kibera. At the same time, they are also being shown in various venues in and around the CBD, including Alliance Francaise, Goethe Institute, Kenya National Theatre and Nairobi National Museum as well as The Alchemist in Westlands, Michael Joseph Centre in Safaricom, the August 7th Memorial Park near the Railways and Creative Garage. And this year for the first time, EFF films are also being screened at two IMAX cinemas, one in Diamond Plaza, the other at Kenya Cinema.
All the screenings are free of charge. And this year, there will be far more participation by Kenyan filmmakers, including those coming from Machawood, Slum Film Festival, Lake International Pan African Film Festival and Kenya Scriptwriters Guild.
Local filmmakers are showing films like The Cut, Kidnapped, Kati Kati and 18 Hours as well a wide range of locally-produced film shorts and animations. What’s more, both local and a few international filmmakers will be involved in panel discussions, workshops and master classes being conducted throughout the festival.
The European films are also wide-ranging in their scope and variety. The genres we are having a chance to see range from thriller, drama and comedy to documentary, virtual reality and historically-based films to animation and film shorts.
When the European Film Festival began back in the early 1990s, the films came primarily from European Union countries which were relatively few at the time. But 28 years later, the EU itself has grown by leaps and bounds.
Not all 28 EU countries are being represented cinematically this year, although most of them are. What’s more, several non-EU countries are taking part, including Switzerland, Norway, Turkey, and Ukraine.

The Festival is offering a rare opportunity to get an insider’s perspective on each of the countries – and Kenyan counties – being represented. For example, it will be fascinating to see what’s an Austrian filmmaker’s idea of ‘The Best of All Worlds’ or what an Irish director has created ‘In the Name of Peace.’ The French thriller, ‘The Corporation’ also sounds excellent as do Kenyan films like Jim Chuchu’s ‘Let this be a Warning’ and Samuel Karanja’s film short ‘Chocolate City’.
This year, one should try to see as much of the Festival as possible. It has many award-winning films that are also quite new. However, it won’t be that easy since the screenings are spread out across the city, and given the traffic in Nairobi, one will have to give one’s self extra time if you’re heading to a venue that is new to you.  But at least one can try to explore sides of the Nairobi that you may have never been to before.

One only wished that this year’s EFF film schedule had been widely circulated before or at least on the day the festival opened. Better still, that all the films and their locations had been placed as posters in several strategic public sites as well as on several social media platforms. As of now, I could only find the schedule on Facebook where there is one link labeled ‘catalogue’. But one is better than none. https://issuu.com/eudelken/docs/eff_catalogue?fbclid=IwAR1fS2QZERTyzg0LhvO1Ay4UTq_WTYKiJFmt9GjYQOKJzqDO4mQcx5wNRYs.




Thursday, 9 May 2019

AWARD-WINNING WRITER LAUNCHES SECOND BOOK IN NAIROBI



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (Posted 9 May 2019)

First thing the award-winning Ugandan writer Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi told us after arriving at Nairobi’s Goethe Institute last Thursday night was that it was right here in Kenya that her literary career had been launched. This is where her stunning multi-generational opus, ‘Kintu’, made its official entry into the African and global world of letters.
But she quickly went into a whisper saying her Ugandan audience need not hear such words coming from her mouth. “Don’t tell Ugandans!,” she says. “They are already sensitive about ‘Kintu’ having been launched here. They didn’t like it,” she adds.
Nonetheless, she returned to the centre where it all began, Goethe Institute, to launch her just-published second book. This time, however, ‘Manchester Happened’ is not a novel but a set of eleven delicious short stories, “… plus the Prologue which is a short story in itself,” adds the evening’s Moderator, Zukiswa Wanner who has already read the book and is clearly delighted to talk about her favorite stories with their author.
Zuki sets the evening off by inviting Jennifer to read a portion of one of her short stories. It’s about two sisters, one who follows the other to London and the two eventually have a falling out. The story is vividly told with the older, established diasporan Ugandan already being a lawyer while her 14-year-old sister is a complicated adolescent whose expectations are not met in the life she finds in the West.

Jennifer reads dramatically with the rich dialogues spoken with various voices. But just as the story is about to reach a climax, she stops at Zuki’s signal. We have been captivated by the story and hunger for more. But no, Jennifer’s improvised story telling is just as hypnotic as the reading of her own writing.
A keen observer of especially fellow Ugandans’ behavior, she’s been living abroad for many years and so is very familiar with those living in the Diaspora.
Another story that she reads in part is about a couple of Ugandans who were living in Manchester, but he dies and she is left to bring his body home. She receives no expression of gratitude for acting according to tradition. Instead, she is treated like an outsider, even as she finds the dead man had another family back home and they are living in the house she helped the man to build.
Before she can even consider claiming her territory and her legal status as the dead man’s wife, his father tells her to keep a low profile and not upset the apple cart. She is not to let her identity be known he says. And she obeys. Yet a ‘gang’ of older woman come to her rescue and defend her publicly at the funeral. But what happens next is left a mystery by the writer who again stops just as the plot thickens. Once again, we see the need to get our own copy of the book to find out the story’s end.
Jennifer’s stories mix a large portion of humor with a heavy dose of realism and detailed insight into the quirks of human--particularly Ugandan--character.
Zuki notes, however, that the way Jennifer describes the conduct of Ugandans living in the Diaspora can apply to the conduct of Zimbabweans, Nigerians and most other Africans she has met abroad.
Jennifer shares a snippet of one last story which has more than whet our appetite to get our hands on ‘Manchester Happened’. Surprisingly, it’s a dog story and it’s written from the dogs’ point of view. It’s about two dogs, one a ‘pariah’ who takes pride in living in the street and being self-sufficient, not reliant on any man. The other is a ‘pet’, a tiny, fluffy short thing that the pariah equates with a rat. The Pariah somehow gets into a conversation with the pet who he looks down on, but who is very satisfied living under a master, having a roof over her head and regular meals. It’s a hilarious story of discrimination and class consciousness. But again, Jennifer stops before she gets into the really juicy part. Apparently, the pet’s owner is a human trafficker. But as to the details, Jennifer only says that she does address some political issues in her writing, but never in a sledge-hammer style.

Before Zuki opens the discussion to the audience, she notes that Jennifer is a professor, something the writer hesitates to claim. She notes that when people put you in the category of Professor or Doctor, they tend to bracket you off as somehow separate. But she inadvertently admits that she lectures at the university level.
“I don’t discuss it much, only when a student gets out of hand, I will then remind him, ‘I am a Ph.D, you know!’
Her modesty is impressive, but no more so than her exquisite writing. Nairobi was indeed privileged to have Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi come to launch her second hard-cover book here. But before the evening ends, Zuki reminds us that it is thanks to Prestige Bookshop which teamed up with Goethe Institute to bring Jennifer to Nairobi for the book launch. Also, the following day, May 10th, she is doing another book signing at Prestige for everyone who didn’t get a copy of her books at Goethe.



ODD MAN OUT: HOW POVERTY PAVES WAY TO CRIME


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 8 May 2019 for 11 May)

How many men do we know who find themselves in the same dire predicament as Joseph (Nick Kwach).
He lost his job eight months back and fears telling his wife Brenda about it. Instead, he lies to her and everyone else. But with his few business prospects having flopped, his savings dried up, the bills piling high, Joe looks like he’s nearly come to the end of his rope.

He owes the landlady, the house maid Eunice and various other Shylocks. Meanwhile, he’d lent a bundle to someone who’d promised to pay back but instead, disappeared.
What makes things worse is his uppity wife who detects there’s something fishy about her hubby’s behavior, but she doesn’t know what. She suspects it’s another woman. So when she accuses him of having a second wife, he doesn’t deny it quick enough. Instead, he says “I confess…’, not completing the sentence since that’s enough to trigger her jumping the gun and concluding she was correct. She fumes, fusses and finally walks out.

Now he’s seriously desperate. It doesn’t help when Zebediah (Victor Nyaata), the landlady’s messenger comes for the rent. Knowing he’s not going to get it, this wily peasant has secretly put Nick’s flat online for rent at a much higher price than the landlady asks. In any case, she doesn’t know and neither does Nick until a Stranger (Cyprian Osoro) shows up with a bag of cash, ready to book Nick’s flat there and then.
Once Nick’s figures out the Stranger’s intent and sees six-months’ worth of rent plus deposit money in the bag, Nick can’t resist. He pretends to be the landlord and takes the cash as if it’s manna from heaven.
All hell breaks loose after that. First the Stranger’s wife shows up, followed thereafter by Brenda who is now prepared to forgive her spouse. But before he has a chance to explain the Strangers who have already moved into their bedroom, a cop shows up and the jig is up!

It turns out the Stranger is actually a big-time crook who’s got a warrant out for his arrest. He not only forges money; he also launders the fake stuff.
Obviously, the cash the Stranger has handed Joe is fake, but Joe still tries to defend the Stranger. The cop picks up on Joe’s allegiance to the crook and assumes he must be an accomplice to the crook’s crimes.
This means Joe will go to jail along side the Stranger. But he doesn’t mind since he sees it as a form of justice. Besides, he’s got nothing better to do.

It’s a stark finale, especially since Joe is just a good guy who’s down on his luck. Nick Kwach does a good job blending humor and pathos and making you feel from the outset that Joe may be a charmer but he is also a desperate man.
Like so many poor people who feel they have no recourse other than resorting to crime as the most basic survival tactic, Joe gets caught before he even gets a chance to make amends.
Heartstrings may not look like they produce political theatre, but definitely ‘Odd One Out’ is a critical comment on the current economic conditions in Kenya where millions are jobless and needing hope for how to make a productive life for themselves..
In the end, Joe tells Brenda he lost his job many months ago but didn’t dare tell her. She now claims she’ll support him no matter what. But sadly, that is easier to say now that he is on the way out the door.










Wednesday, 8 May 2019

STUDIO SOKU HAD MIGHTY YET MINIMALIST PUNCH ON OPEN DAY

                                                    Open Road by Daisy Buyanzi

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 8 May 2019)

Njogu Kuria, Jeremiah Sonko and Jeffie Magina are not impatient men. But they are artists on the move, who weren’t prepared to wait for some donor organization to decide art was a worthy project to support for a time. Nor did they want to ‘do their thing’ with someone else’s ‘strings attached.’
They had a purpose, a plan and the passion to carry them through. They wanted to bring up a new generation of young Kenyan artists, sharing their knowledge and artistic skills with young ones willing to be mentored by guys more seasoned in the local Kenyan art world than themselves.
                                                                  Mombasa by Joyce Kuria

And so, what did they do? Kuria and Sonko had already established Studio Soku (So for Sonko and Ku for Kuria = Soku) in South B some months before Jeffie Magina joined in. Following in the footsteps of artists like Adam Masava of Mukuru Art Club and Boniface Maina, Michael Musyoka, David Thuku and the rest of Brush tu Artists Collective, they found a cozy corner in suburban Nairobi and rented a flat.
                                                                                    The Musician by James Kagima

Their upstairs three-bedroom apartment might have seemed an unlikely space to set up what was soon to become a mentorship training centre and burgeoning artists community. But that is what has happened since last June last year, after the trio had put out an open call on social media for artists to come join Studio Soku’s free three-month self-funded Mentorship Program.
“We were ten from the start and we have been together ever since,” says Joyce Kuria, who is busy putting last minute touches on the ‘Affordable Art Exhibition’ that is one facet of Soku’s Open Studio Showcase on 4th May that is also featuring ‘custom-made’ apparel including hand-painted denim jackets and appliqued jeans.
                                                         Handpainted denim jacket modeled by Joyce Kuria

It might be difficult to imagine how the ten (plus several more) young artists, including writers, musicians, sculptors, photographers and painters could all be exhibited in the minimalist flat originally meant for Railway workers. But clearly, the group had given much thought to ways they could all fit into the space.
For instance, several artists including Joyce, Daisy Buyanzi and Husna Nyathira all painted miniature pieces that fit comfortably on the first wall that you see as you climb the stairs and enter Studio Soku. Meanwhile, Jeffie also took the minimalist route, creating colorful ‘monster’ stickers that look like aliens emerging out of his darkest fantasies.
                                                                                   Monster by Jeffie Magina

Just next to their works are several portraits by Kagima Njeri, including one he says replicates one local musician friend, but which could easily pass for an African-conception of Jesus Christ.
One of the artists has put his art on a banner that stretches across one wall, leaving room beneath for other artists like Austin Adika to exhibit his sculptures.
Then there are the three bedrooms which have been transformed into rotating studio cum storage spaces that still manage to have room where paintings by Sonko and mixed media pieces by Njogu can be seen.
                                                                              Elephant by Jeremiah Sonko

But it’s Magina whose inspired hand and heart may be the most conspicuous on Open Day since he has selected walls, ceilings and doors as his ‘canvas’ of choice.  In the kitchen, for instance, he’s spray-painted colorful designs that seem to be telling graphic stories. They are not quite in a graffiti-style but they translate the mood of Studio Soku which is one of exuberance, freedom and joy.
So despite the mentorship program having technically ended after three months, the mentees continue to learn much from the resident artists who continue to keep them appraised of the exhibitions going on in town and where to go to meet fellow artists at work much as they are.
                                                                                          Beauty by Daisy Buyanzi

“We have been to places like Brush tu, Dust Depo and Kobo Trust,” says Joyce who has been happy to also learn about art marketing and management at Soku, given Njogu studied project management at Moi University and Magina is a certified public accountant.
In fact, Joyce and Daisy already have their own brand of painting which they call ‘Wet Paint’. One of their works is giving visitors to the Open Studio an opportunity to see what they do, combining their creative resources to make interesting paintings.
                                                                       One Line painting by Husna Nyathira

Meanwhile, Studio Soko is showcasing artworks the Rwandese artist Jean Baptise Rukundo in a show entitled ‘The Sheep and the Shepherd’ which will open 12 May and run for the month.








DOC FILM CAPS OFF 50 YEARS OF AFRICAN FASHION



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 8 May for 10 May, 2019)

‘African Twilight’, the documentary film that premiered at Alliance Francaise last Monday night was indeed ‘a forty-year odyssey [meeting] the return of a legend’.
It was a two-hour movie mix that capped off almost 50 years of African-inspired fashion, 40 years of photography recording regional rituals and ceremonies, and several lifetimes of African musicians, models, designers and dancers, all of whom have been closely associated with the doyen of Afro-fusion culture and founder of African Heritage House, Alan Donovan.
The film is also a cornucopia of African culture that was originally meant to document an amazing gala evening dedicated to celebrating the double-barreled opus, ‘African Twilight: vanishing rituals and ceremonies’ by veteran photographers, Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher. In the documentary the two women provide a fascinating thumb-nail cinematic sketch of their brilliant and adventurous careers, including filmed footage of some of the ceremonies they recorded, 40 percent of which no longer exist, having literally vanished with the sweeping changes brought about via colonization and globalization.
But the film features much more. It also covers Donovan’s reconstruction of the glamourous African Heritage fashion and music festival which he took on tour all over Europe and the United States in the 1980s and 90’s. Included in those tours were members of the African Heritage Band, which had been founded by the late Ayub Ogada (aka Job Seda) who was meant to be one of the stars in the film. But as he passed on just days before the event, Donovan paid tribute to him by dimming the lights that night and turning on the recording of Ayub singing his original composition, ‘Koth Biro’ which became the haunting theme song of the award-winning film ‘The Constant Gardener’.
The only shortcoming of ‘African Twilight’ the film, was the lengthy cat-walking of models adorned in gowns all made out of indigenous African textiles, most of which had been collected over the years by Mr Donovan. The gowns themselves were beautifully made with materials that came from all over the region, from Ethiopia, Ghana and Cameroon, and from Congo, Guinea, Nigeria and even Kenya.
For those who attended the actual gala, the doc film felt quite authentic, although the vibrancy of dancing by Rare Watts, Fernando Anguang’a and his team of Maasai dancers as recorded in the film couldn’t compare to what we saw at their live performance. Nonetheless, the film confirms the Gala was an unforgettable night.


BUSOLO'S FAMILY SAGA REVEALS UGLY SIDE OF PETTY SIBLING


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 8 May for BD 10 May)

Just because a theatre group is called ‘wholesome entertainment’ doesn’t mean it can’t produce spicy, sassy and socially relevant productions like the one they staged last weekend at Alliance Francaise.
‘Poison Ivy’ is a family saga that digs deep into the human drama of sibling jealousies and joys, loyalty and betrayal, rivalry and the ritual of putting blood ties before love. Seth Busolo is one Kenyan playwright who sees the dramatic value of local news and its potential for being reshaped and then staged as powerful productions like ‘Poison Ivy.’ Not that one can point to a particular local family and identify how it correlates with the play. Instead, Busolo draws upon local sagas and then adds his own insights, characters and inciting emotions.
The play also has its criminal elements, two of which are all too common in Kenya today. One is the problem of bribery and the ease with which people expect shortcuts to get them out of serious crimes, such as hit-and-run accidents which are one of the cruelest, most careless criminal deeds that often gets ignored, especially when it affects poor people who rarely have  recourse to honest justice from police.
In ‘Poison Ivy’, the driver who tries to run after hitting someone on the road is Ivy (Njeri Ngige), sister to Chris (Brian Ogola), the ‘man in the middle’ of what becomes a sort of ‘civil war’ between Ivy and his newly-wedded wife, Olive (Anita Damiaro).
Ivy was speeding and carelessly hit someone who dies, but she doesn’t even stop to see if there is something she can do to help the person she knocked. Nonetheless, in this case, the cops do the necessary and nab Ivy who gets taken to the cells.
It’s in the opening moments of the play that we get the first inkling that all is not well at Chris’s house, the home where he and Ivy grew up and where Olive has recently moved in. Chris is about to bail out his sister, but Olive suggests he leave her at the station overnight since it will ‘teach her a lesson.’ But it’s Friday and if he doesn’t help Ivy now, she’ll sleep in the cells all weekend. Olive doesn’t seem to care, but Chris does. Not heeding the advice of his wife, he favors his sister. He takes the short-cut and gets Ivy released, paying a little ‘extra’ to the cops for letting her out in spite of the lethal damage she has caused.
What we don’t yet  know is that Chris feels obligated to assist his sister since he supposedly was told to do so by his dad from his death bed. According to Ivy who claimed to have been with their father in his final moments, the dad’s last words were instructing Chris to always take care of his little sis. Chris never questions the veracity of Ivy’s version of their dad’s last words.
Because the daddy’s words, Chris cuts Ivy a lot of slack, even when she openly airs her hostility towards Olive. He doesn’t even blink as Ivy abuses Olive and lets it be known that she wants this woman to be gone. She clearly wants her brother all to herself, as if there’s a latent element of incest in her feelings for him. It’s only when it looks like he is about to see Ivy’s wish come true that he begins to show his genuine feelings for his wife.
Feeling sorry for the family whose daughter died in the hit-and-run, Olive goes to see them and share her condolences. But the family, thinking Olive is Ivy, the driver of the culprit-car, beats Olive senseless. She almost dies, and it’s only then that Chris begins to question his own rock-solid loyalty to Ivy.
But what really turns the tide of his emotions comes when he meets his uncle, the brother to his dad, in hospital. (Both are visiting Olive.) The uncle tells Chris that Ivy was not even there at the father’s death bed. Nor did the dad say Chris was responsible to take care of Ivy for life.
Ivy’s selfish contrivance jolts him to realize he has done his wife wrong. But it may too late for him to make amends with Olive. The cops take Ivy away to jail but the play ends without us knowing if Olive forgives him or not. Would you? There’s the open question each of us is left to answer himself.




Tuesday, 7 May 2019

WILD EARTH BOTANICS: 100 PERCENT KENYAN PLANT-BASED BEAUTY PRODUCTS


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted May 7 for May 17, 2019)

Tessa Fraser might have been content spending the rest of her life landscaping people’s gardens and riding thoroughbred horses on weekends. After all, she’d grown up surrounded by plants, her father having managed a flower plantation in Naivasha. She’d also grown up surrounded by horses since her mother trained thoroughbreds and taught Tessa how to ride up to a prize-winning standard.
Yet something happened several years back to ensure that wouldn’t happen. She saw how more and more family and friends were getting cancer.
“Then I read a report from the Environmental Working Group (EWP) that said women on average are typically hit by nearly 150 toxic chemicals every day,” says Tessa who started straight away to research ways of making pure and natural skin care products. “I wanted to eliminate that risk [of getting cancer] or at least lighten the load of toxins that hit women directly.”
Reasoning that many women unknowingly use skin care products (such as certain make-ups and synthetic gels made from petroleum) which are detrimental to their health, Tessa says the skin itself is an organ that absorbs chemicals in the atmosphere which go straight into the blood stream.
But if she could create organic skin care products that were 100 percent natural, clean and unadulterated, she knew that could make a difference in many women, and men’s lives.
Tessa didn’t launch Wild Earth Botanics until 2017 although she started her research back in 2015, almost immediately upon her return home from studying and working eight years in South Africa.
“There are a few other natural skin care companies, but most of them ship their products overseas,” says Tessa, noting that Baobab oil is especially popular abroad which is why it’s mostly exported.
She has found that her own Pure Baobab oil is also one of her best-sellers. But so are her Pure Jojoba oil, Pure Moringa oil, Anti-Aging Beauty Balm and Anti-Aging oil ‘for mature skin.’
Having studied the properties of all the plant oils that she packages in glass (“Not plastic,” says Tessa who is a passionate environmentalist), she can tell you all you want to know about the nutritive and rejuvenating value every Wild Earth Botanics product. That includes the oils of moringa, avocado, black cumin seed, jojoba, coconut and baobab among others. And in the case of her Anti-Aging oil ‘for mature skin’, Tessa can detail the virtues of Clary Sage, Lavender, Geranium, Frankincense and Vitamin E, all of which are blended with Baobab oil.
One point that she is particularly proud of is that all the ingredients used in her products are sourced locally. “Kenya is most fortunate for having so many tropical plants,” says Tessa who adds one more positive attribute to her products: “They are all completely traceable, meaning I can trace back every ingredient to its source.”
That is a remarkable statement to make, but that is how well-versed Tessa is in about all her products, be they ‘cold press oils’ or ‘essential oils.’
Explaining that ‘cold press’ is how oils are removed from seeds and pods and ‘essential oils’ are steamed out of herbs and leaves such as rosemary, lavender and lemon grass, Tessa adds that oils are just one of her products. Wild Earth Botanics also makes facial and body blends, balms, pure butters, bath soaps and even organic room sprays.
One of Tessa’s personal favorites is the ‘Facial mister’ which she keeps in her handbag all the time. “If I am stuck in traffic or generally feeling stressed, I can take out the mister and spray my face with refreshing oils,” she says.
To date, Wild Earth Botanics has 40 natural skin and home care products which someone can either buy online at the website or at sales outlets like Spinners Web and Elixir Harmony in Nairobi, farm shops in Naivasha and Nanyuki, and in various lodges and hotels.
It’s easiest is to buy online since Wells Fargo makes door-to-door deliveries and even picks up empty WEB glass bottles and jars which get recycled.
“We give a discount to customers who return the glass,” says Tessa who adds she feels so strongly about environmental issues that she’s taken part in numerous anti-plastic and plastic-pickup campaigns.
Right now, Wild Earth Botanics is still relatively small, and Tessa says she doesn’t mind if it never gets ‘huge’ since she “prefers quality over quantity”. But she does hope her products do have the effect of improving women’s health by helping them have healthier, more beautiful skin.