Thursday, 28 February 2019


                                 Fulani women photographed by Carol Beckwith & Angela Fisher

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (228 February 2019)

With international women’s day upcoming next Friday, 8th March, it’s well worth taking note of how women artists are making the most of that date to illustrate what they are doing artistically.
On the 8th itself, Polka Dot Gallery which is owned and curated by Lara Ray, there’ll be an all-women’s exhibition that will feature six Kenyan artists. They’ll include Anne Mwiti who also lectures in fine art at Kenyatta University, Joy Maringa, Mary Ogembo, Nadia Wamunyu, Patti Endo and Sebawali Sio.
                                                                                   Joy Maringa's Lip art

But even before the actual day given over to women, their artistry will be on display from tomorrow when the African Twilight Gala takes place at African Heritage House. There the amazing photography of veteran artists, Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher will be celebrated and their beautiful twin-volume book, ‘African Twilight: Vanishing Rituals and Ceremonies’ will be there for show and for sale. Also on hand will be the award-winning photographers, Angela and Carol who will present a film about their incomparable life journey around the region.
                                                              Angela Fisher and Carol Beckwith on their travels

As the Gala will also be celebrating African Heritage House’s owner Alan Donovan’s more than 50 years living and working in Africa, the Nigerian batik artist Niki 77 Okundaye is coming especially to celebrate Alan’s 50 years here. Donovan’s first stop in the region was Nigeria and Niki is the first female artist he met, so they have a special bond, particularly as Niki has gone on to establish the Oshogbo Art Centre where she’s revived the lost art of making Adire cloth.
                                               Niki 77 Okundaye (left) in her Adire indigo fabric from Oshogbo

Then from Monday, in commemoration of UNEP’s Ministerial Conference which is opening the same day, Geraldine Robarts will be exhibiting her colorful paintings at two venues where many of the conference attendants will be staying, namely The Tribe and The Trademark Hotels. Geraldine taught art at KU and Makerere for many years before taking up oil painting as a full-time passion and profession
                                                                                Geraldine Robarts' Parrots

Then on Tuesday evening at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Danda Jaroljmek of Circle Art Gallery will preside over the Fifth East African Art Auction which is where art lovers will want to be. Danda has brought together artworks from all over East Africa as well as from Nigeria and South Africa. There will be excellent artworks up for auction by Kenyan artists as well, including several women: Camille Wekesa, Eunice Wadu, Rosemary Karuga and Tabitha wa Thuku among others.
                                                                       Camille Wekesa's Tsavo trees

At the Roslyn Riviera branch of One Off Gallery, Anita Kavochy’s art is up at that glorious new art space. Meanwhile, at One Off’s home gallery, the portraits of Olivia Pendergast are also on display.
And in Lamu, Yony Waite who’s the co-founder of the acclaimed Gallery Watatu has a beautiful solo exhibition of her paintings, prints and tapestries at her Wildebeeste Workshop Gallery. Situated inside one of the oldest Swahili houses on the island, Yony’s picked the perfect atmosphere to display works that specifically reflect the many dimensions of life in Lamu. 
                                                            Eunice Wadu's prints are in the Art Auction East Africa

They’re in contrast to artworks she recently showed at Polka Dot which were mainly highlighting the busy life of the animals that she sees every day at Athi River where she stays. Also in Lamu, Baraka Gallery is hosting two women artists’ work, the paintings of Helen Feiler and the photography of Corrie Wingate.
Back in Nairobi, Tabu Monyoki has her prints up at Kobo Trust; Moira Bushkimani and Sebawali Sio both have their artwork on display at Brush Tu Art Studio. And over in Kariobangi North, Joan Otieno will be having a recycled-plastic fashion show at Warembo wa Sanii Art Studio.
                                                                        Recycled plastic art painting by Joan Otieno

Wednesday, 27 February 2019


                 Nairobi String Quartet (minus one) at Lamu Fort: David Ralak, Alexandra Stapells, Emmanuael Nacheri

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (27 February 2019)

Festivals are great places for seeing a wide variety of performing artists, painters, sculptors, musicians and multimedia artists of all types.
One of the most refreshing groups to perform at the recent Lamu Arts Festival was the Nairobi String Quartet featuring young Kenyan musicians, David Ralak, Emmanuel Nacheri and Bernadette Muthoni along with the group’s founder Alexandra Stapells.
Invited by Festival patron Herbert Menzer, the quartet performed everywhere from the Lamu Fort to the Baraka Gallery, accompanying one world premiere of ‘Maweni Carriers’ sculptures and one gallery opening of paintings and photography by Helen Feiler and Corrie Wingate respectively. The quartet played everything from works by Mozart, Bach and Vivaldi to Handel and Cesar Franck.

In contrast, the African Nouveau Festival which is opening next weekend at Ngong Race Course is featuring not only music but films, fashion, installations and virtual reality gaming. With a theme like ‘Africans and Outer Worldly Beings’, one can expect a wide range of Afro-futuristic displays.
There will be filmmakers showing sci-fi films like Njeri Karago’s Kui, Mark Maina’s Neophobia and Vaoline Ogutu’ Viral to name a few. There will also be virtual reality games made by David Waweru Kamunyu, Nadoya Adhiambo Oluoch-Olunya and Evans and Salim Busuru to name a few more.

There will be installation artists like Meshack Oiro and Peter Walala working with students from University of Nairobi’s School of Architecture and several British artists to perform an ‘extreme make-over’ on the venue to create a utopian world for visitors to come play, shop, listen and investigate.
The biggest shopping arena is likely to be where the 25 venders will be showing and selling their fashions.
But if fashion will be a major attraction to many, it will be mainly music that will occupy the two stages set up so that musicians from all over Africa and parts of Europe will have opportunities to perform. In fact, there will be nonstop music at the Africa Nouveau Festival from mid-day until late.

There will be plenty of Kenyan entertainers like H_art the Band, Dagoz Gang, Karun, Bengatronics and the Kaya Collective among others. But there will also musicians from the Central African Republic, Guinea Bissau and South Africa as well as from Tanzania, Uganda, Cameroon and Senegal.
And for those who don’t want to commute during the festival, there will also be a place where people can camp and many places to eat.


                           Maasai ceremony, image in African Twilight, the book and @ Gala by Fisher & Beckwith

By Margaretta wa gacheru (27 February 2019)

Three major upcoming events have been anticipated for months, with one coming early, even today.
At 5pm today at Prestige Bookstore, there will be a pre-official launch of Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor’s new novel, ‘The Dragonfly Sea’. The award-winning author had promised her new book would be available this year. But Prestige completed a so-called ‘literary coup’ in getting exclusive rights to selling the book now. Yvonne will be on hand at the Mama Ngina Street bookstore to sign copies from 5 to 7pm. But as there’s likely to be a long line of fans wanting to buy her book, it might be wise to get to Prestige early.
We have been hearing about the African Twilight Gala and the Art Auction East Africa for months now, but their time has finally arrived. This Sunday, 3rd March from 2:30pm the gala will begin at the Railway Museum. That’s where everyone wanting to attend the gala can board a train that will take them straight to African Heritage House where the festivities will go on throughout the day and night.
The award-winning photographer-authors of the book after which the whole event has been named, ‘African Twilight: Vanishing Rituals and Ceremonies’ arrived early this week. So Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher will be on hand to meet with guest and also sign their beautiful two-volume book.
The book itself tells so many visual stories of an Africa that is changing so rapidly that a myriad of traditions and cultural practices haven’t been able to keep up with the globalizing trends which have suddenly swept across the region, often at whirlwind speed.
Angela and Carol realized this cultural transformation was impossible to stop. But before it shattered social sensibilities to the point where so many ancient rituals and ceremonies lost their meaning, they still had a chance to capture that Pan-African aesthetic that initially had drawn them into the work so many decades ago.
It’s that indigenous artistic genius of the people they met along the way which is captured in ‘African Twilight’ in 750 color photographs and on 872 pages. Included in the book are so-called ‘vanishing rituals and ceremonies’ from Burkina Faso, Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, South Africa and Tanzania among others. But one has to see the books first hand to appreciate the boundless creativity of Africans themselves. It’s that quality, exposed in their photography that ensures I for one will get a copy of this inspired set of books.
Also at the African Heritage will be two wonderful Nigerian artists, both of whom have known Alan Donovan nearly as long as he has been in Africa. Muraina Oyelami’s paintings were the first artworks that Donovan bought in the region, and Niki Seven Seven Okundaye’s adire batiks were also among his first textile acquisitions when he was the buyer for the African Heritage Pan African Gallery. That was the gallery he co-owned with the former Kenyan Vice President Joseph Murumbi.
By sunset, the actual Gala will begin with music by the remnants of the original African Heritage Band and Papillon, the group Donovan most recently helped to form. There will be a dance performance by the Paris-based contemporary dancer Fernando Anuang’a who’ll share the stage with a troupe of Maasai danceers. He’ll also perform a tribute to Ayub Ogada who was meant to perform at the Gala, but his sudden demise rendered that impossible. Fernando will dance to a song specially composed for Ayub by Papillon.
                                      Original African Heritage Band circa 1979 (Job Seda aka Ayub Ogada front right)

The African Renaissance fashion show, choreographed by Mr Donovan will feature indigenous textiles from all over the region, including Royal Kente cloth from the Asante kingdom, Ase Oke cloth from the Ife Kingdom, and Adire cloth among many others which have been transformed into lovely gowns and worn with African jewelry designed by Donovan.
Finally, the following Tuesday at the Radisson Blu Hotel, the 5th Art Auction East Africa will take place courtesy of the Circle Art Gallery. Danda Jaroljmek has been working tirelessly to assemble an outstanding assortment of 58 lots of mainly East African art. But she also has works by contemporary African artists from Nigeria and South Africa.
In addition, she has brought together a stunning collection of East African artists, including Kenyans like Samwel Wanjau, Ancent Soi, Camille Wekesa, Kivuthi Mbuno, Rosemary Karuga and Kamal Shah among many others.
So there is much to look forward to in the field of fine contemporary African art in the next week.

Tuesday, 26 February 2019


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (26 February 2019)

It’s not easy to snap a few photographs of Kinooni House and capture the elegance, simplicity and grandeur of a space originally built to be a palace for the Governor of Lamu, who was then the emissary to the Sultan of Zanzibar.
But it is easy to understand why a successful film producer and virtual reality games and film maker like Michel Reilhac would want to own such a spectacular home, even if he didn’t plan to live in Lamu all the year round.
Like so many Europeans who came to Lamu ‘by chance’ Michel arrived some 34 years ago, fell in love with the place and bought a house on the other side of the island which he named Nyumba ya Pumbao. He lived there with his family for a time, commuting between Lamu and either Paris, Berlin or Amsterdam.
But then in 2006, Michel got the chance to buy Kinooni House from the uncle of a dear friend who wanted to sell. “But it was only five years ago, in 2014 that we began renovating the house,” says Michel who adds that he put in the pool on the second floor and the garden, both of which one easily looks out on from the spacious open-air dining room that has an adjoining kitchen and a ceiling that’s meters above what one normally finds in a home that’s not a palace.
In fact, from the outside, one wouldn’t know Kinooni House had such a dazzling interior. But from the moment you step in the front door, you have to be struck by several astonishing things. First, the initial courtyard you meet is open-air like most houses in Lamu. But then, all the walls are pearly white and practically lustrous. And the ceilings are probably four and a half meters high, with ceilings featuring the typical mangrove poles. There’s also a pool in the center of the courtyard having a beautiful tree sprouting up beyond the ceiling and lush potted plants on every corner of the room.
There’s a staircase leading to an invisible kitchen. But there are also beautiful alcoves covered in white cushions that Michel says will be where yoga students come for classes during the Lamu International Yoga Festival which is happening in a few weeks’ time.
In fact, Michel wants to open up Kinooni House to artists as well as yogis who he feels could make excellent use of his polished coral stone abode that is all of five floors, each one having incredible views both of Lamu town and the Bay as well as the labyrinthine-styled corridors that take you into chambers where whole families could easily live comfortably and peacefully.
“In the past, the Governor would have been Moslem so there was plenty of space for the women to live in one area of the palace, the men and boys to live in another,” says Michel.
The day we went to see Kinooni, Michel had actually called friends for an Open House since he clearly takes pride in the house. It’s a place that offers one surprise after another. For the courtyard, adjoining alcoves and spacious vestibule that leads you into two vast living areas, are just the beginning. Taking stairs everywhere, one has no idea that five steps up and that is where you’ll find the gracious green garden and swimming pool. You’ve already left your shoes at the door but still it’s something of a surprise that in order to get to the pool or around the garden and up more stairs into the dining area, you’ve got to walk on the grass. There are no stepping stone or cement walkway, just grass mixed with healthy green trees, shrubs and even a spice and herb nursery next to another set of stairs.
Then walking up and around the open-air corridors that allow one to see the garden below, one finds spacious bedrooms on every floor along with more lush potted plants. But once you finally reach the top floor you find Michel’s bedroom where windows look out on all four sides of the room, each one featuring geometric patterns that have a clear Islamic-influence.
Before we take our leave, Michel offers us hors d’hoeuvres and lime juice. By now, he has many visitors so we don’t want to interrupt. But Michel is a perfect host and invites us back in early 2020 when he will have a proper opening of Kinooni House. We assure him, we’ll be there!


                 Joachim Sauter, sculptor of the 8 Maweni Carriers in transit to Lamu Fort from artist's studio@Shela village

BY Margaretta wa Gacheru (26 February 2019)

This year’s Lamu Arts Festival had a myriad of artistic attractions. Running from 1-4 February, the four day festival, which was technically the third. But actually, Lamu has been holding international arts fetes since 2011 when the first Lamu Painters Festival was held and painters came from both Europe and Kenya.  
This year’s festival was endorsed by the county Ministry of Tourism and Culture but coordinated by Rachel Feiler of Diamond Beach resort and Herbert Menzer who’s the patron of the arts festivals since 2011. Rachel ensures that there was music by Orchestra Les Mangelepa which performed to massive crowds in Lamu Town Square and at the Diamond Beach.
          Les Mangelepa musicians relaxing at the Dhow Races after performances at Diamond Beach and Lamu town square

Meanwhile, there were visual arts exhibitions galore all around the island, some held in galleries, others in the open air but all attracting crowds of both locals and international visitors who’d come to Lamu especially for the festival. For instance, at the Wildebeeste Workshop Gallery, Yony Waite held a solo exhibition of her paintings, prints and tapestries that amplified the beauty and diversity of the island.
                                              Corrie Wingate's photo of a Maweni coral stone carver @ Baraka Gallery

Baraka Gallery displayed paintings by Helen Feiler and photography by Corrie Wingate who also coordinates artist residencies at Anidan orphanage on the island. The exhibition was accompanied by a live performance of classical music by the Nairobi 
       Nairobi String Quartet (minus one): David Ralak, 1st violin, Alexandra Stapells, cello & Emmanuel Nacheri, 2nd violin

String Quartet who also performed at the star attraction of the festival, the World Premiere of the monumental ‘Maweni Carriers’ inside the courtyard of Lamu Fort.
More on the Carriers in a moment, since there was art all over Lamu town and Shela village. For instance, in a tiny dress shop on the edge of Shela beach, a lovely ‘pop-up’ exhibition of hand-pressed mono-printed leaves by Portuguese artist Juliana Oliveira was held the night before the unveiling of Joachim Sauter’s  eight majestic three-meter high African Mahogany wood sculptures at the Fort
        All 8 Maweni Carriers in the courtyard of the Lamu Fort. Achieng's in center with Ismael, Musa, Mohamed, Michael,                                                                 Bakari, Salim and Hussain standing around her

There were architectural tours as well, like one to Kinooni House on the back side of Shela near the Dunes. Built originally as a palace by the a governor of Lamu who served under the Sultan of Zanzibar, the place has been renovated by its new owner Michele Reilhac who’s now opened it to artists to use for exhibitions and art residencies. We also had the privilege of visiting Herbert’s nearly-completed Casbah which will have a house warming celebration later this year.
                                                    View of Kinooni House's pool and garden from above.

But it was the eight Maweni Carriers that held centre stage at this year’s arts festival. Developed out of an idea Herbert had after working with the carriers whose coral stones he’s been using to build no less than six elegant Swahili-style homes, all equipped with modern amenities but retaining the feel of old Lamu.
Herbert had proposed the idea generally to Joachim (aka Joe) who he’d invited to the first Painters Festival. Initially, Joe was hesitant even to come to Africa. But once he spent several weeks sculpting at Shela and then traveling across the bay to meet the Maweni carriers, he was deeply impressed with the work these men do. By 2012, he was working on the first Maweni carrier which he sculpted at Maweni harbor as a way of familiarizing the men with the work that he did. That first one is still there at the Harbor’s edge.
After that, Joe has come every year to work with Herbert and the carriers. “I’ve come for six weeks before Christmas and six weeks after,” says the Stuttgart-based sculptor who admits he wasn’t always easy persuading carriers to work with him. Ultimately, he found seven men who agreed to be photographed, sketched and even to seat in Joe’s studio so that Joe could sculpt finishing touches on each man’s face.
Joe and Herbert had planned to premiere the seven sculptures in February this year and even booked with the National Museums of Kenya to exhibit in the Fort’s courtyard. But then towards the end of 2018, Joe was feeling the work was incomplete. In a dream, he says he remembered a woman carrying firewood. She made him think twice about having one carrier be a woman.
“One can’t really talk about Africa without speaking of the woman,” he says. Fortunately, his friend Achieng Andabwa volunteered herself to be his model.
So now, at Lamu Fort the one woman carrier stands at the center of the courtyard surrounded by the other seven. It’s truly a tremendous feat, but not just because African mahogany is such a hard wood. It’s because what Joachim’s created is a magnificent ensemble of larger-than-life fine art, even a monument to Maweni.
   Joachim Sauter's first Maweni carrier which he left at the Harbor as a gift to the carriers. Now the community sees the         sculpture can serve the community providing them with a tourist attraction.
Lamu art festival Patron Herbert Menzer at the world premiere of Joachim's Maweni Carriers on Friday, 22 February 019

Tuesday, 19 February 2019


 By Margaretta wa Gacheru ( 19 FEBRUARY 2019)

Xavier Nato’s tragi-comical adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic love story, Romeo and Juliet, came back to the Kenya National Theatre last weekend after doing well the first time ‘round late last year.
It’s no wonder Opiyo and Juliet was called back by insistent audiences, some who loved the sound track of Nato’s musical, especially the voice of Opiyo, which was played by Ken Aswani. Others especially liked the lovely choral background that harmonized beautifully with Aswani and Opiyo’s cousin cum ‘body guard’ Kevin (Don Odero). Or possibly they were partial to the rapper-storyteller (Sao Mukombo) who injected an especially vibrant and contemporary rhythm and sound to the show. Either way, you could hear people actually singing along as the musical progressed, so clearly they’d seen the show at least once before.
The public call-back for Nato’s musical theatre also must have come from people who simply loved the original Shakespearean story and liked the way the playwright reinterpreted it within a Kenyan context. But even those who were unfamiliar with Shakespeare said they appreciated the show because of the way it hit the nail hard on outmoded cultural barriers even as it exposed the reality that many of those unfortunate biased attitudes still exist among certain segments of both the Kikuyu and Luo communities.
I appreciate all of the points noted above; although I confess, I did not see the production the first time it came to the National Theatre. Now I say ‘my bad’ and not just because I was told, after the fact that I’d missed one of the finest Kenyan musical of 2018. That didn’t mean much to me at the time although I did feel sad for missing the production. I also appreciate that ‘Opiyo and Juliet’ was the only authentically Kenyan musical of 2018, meaning it was scripted, scored and staged all by Kenyans. All the others, however outstanding, were imported from the West. The castings were all Kenyan, but the shows were scripted either by Westerners or in Sarafina’s case, by a South African. So while last year was spectacular in terms of seeing several outstanding musicals, only O & J was a fully Kenyan one.
To me the production was indeed a major achievement in Kenyan theatre. It was a feat pulled off because Nato himself is not only an excellent director. He also did a fine job casting key characters. For instance, the show couldn’t have come off as effectively as it did without Aswani having such a captivating voice. Both he and Don Odero who played cousin Kevin, are professional musicians (Aswani is even involved as a contestant in the TV competition ‘I can sing’.)
 The rest of the cast, especially the principles Juliet (Fulky Akinyi), her brother Wachira (Brian Irungu) and the lovers’ parents, the Otienos (Robinson Mudavadi and Letty Valarie) and the Mwauras (Andrew Smollo and Shirleen Kadilo) were also excellent.
And given Nato’s background in theatre—he started writing and directing plays back in secondary school, and he’s been writing scripts for Schools Drama Festival candidates since 2003, one shouldn’t be surprised by the way the production itself flowed seamlessly from one scene to the next without a break or time lapse or even an uncomfortable hiccup or pause.
Having founded Milliz Productions in late 2017, Opiyo and Juliet is actually Xavier’s third production with a fourth one in the works for May. The previous two (‘Our Father is Naked’ and ‘Dello is Dead’) were both comedies, since Nato says he knows how Kenyan audiences are more attracted to light entertainment than to serious stuff. But he took the risk of adapting the Shakespearean tragedy by injected enough comedy into ‘Opiyo and Juliet’ to allow audiences to laugh at the same time as the show grappled with the serious theme of tribalism. Fortunately, the risk has paid off.
The original concept of Milliz Production came out of Nato’s extensive experience working with the Schools Drama Festival and especially with the young talents who he saw had very few places to go with their creativity once they graduated from school. So the idea of the company is largely to recruit youth (who he calls ‘raw talent’) to produce shows and at the same time, mentor them into becoming outstanding performers and thespians generally.
Nato’s idea of assisting the youth ignited the interest of his long-time friend and fellow theatre-lover Senator Cleophas Malalah. So much so that the Senator has been assisting in the production of Millez’s show from the beginning.

Monday, 18 February 2019



Anne Gichuku (aka bissu_art on Instagram) is one of our next generation Kenyan artists who can fairly describe herself as being truly ‘self taught.’ Or perhaps more accurately, you could call her ‘YouTube taught’ since she’s learned all she knows about digital art (which is her medium of expression) through YouTube tutorials.
Her exhibition of digital art currently on until 24th February at Alliance Francaise is evidence that Anne is proficient in her chosen field of expression. ‘A girl like me’, the title of her first-ever show, is dedicated to young ‘girls’ like herself. The exhibition of 30 digital works on canvas is filled with images of girls who are black, fun, free spirited and unpredictable. There’s only one guy in her show and he is drawn inside a fruity ice popsycle that a girl three times his size is getting set to lick the life out of!
Otherwise, her girls come in all sizes, shapes and activities. Some are beautiful, others  have TV sets for heads, while others are ‘aliens’ coming from outer space, although one alien girl who didn’t make it into the show is green and coming ‘out of the ground’, says Ms Gichuku. “That’s because she’s already here among us.”
Her aliens girls tend to have a third eye and hair that is either turquoise blue, pink, purple, green or white. It doesn’t matter to her. But as far as she’s concerned, they’re all black girls even if they’re from outer space.
‘I love drawing girls and girls who are black since we are always marginalized and this is my chance to turn the tide,” says Anne who’s quite fearless about her feminist cause.
What I find fascinating is the fact that no digital artist on the local scene inspired her to develop her artistic skills in the IT field. But she did discover some women digital artists online and sought to buy them. “But as they would have come from overseas, the shipping would have been expensive,’ she says. So rather than forget this new-found interest, she decided she ought to create digital art of her own.
That’s how she discovered programs like Photoshop and Painttool SAI, IT programs that after discovering their potential for use in creating digital art.
But Anne is actually an artist who’s quite modest about her own capabilities as an ‘analog artist’, meaning an artist who can draw lovely imagery with paper and pen. But after she’s drawn the basic image that she wants to develop, she scans it and then completes the artwork with photoshop and painttool.
Placing most of her art on her Instagram account, Anne says she also likes digital art for an economical aspect. Going to shops and buying art materials can be extremely expensive, she says. But once she’s bought those essential programs, she feels there’s no end to her creative capacities.
Anne even posts short videos on the web that illustrate the way her computer, armed with yet another IT program, can retrace her artistic steps that led to her development of a specific piece.
“After I complete a work, I transform it into a PDF and then take it to a printer off River Road that takes my painting and prints them on canvas,” says Anne who found this particular printer just walking around Nairobi’s back-streets till she found this ‘reasonably priced printer’.
Anne admits there’s nothing really deep in her digital art. “I originally made my digital art for myself. But then I realized that somebody else might like it too. That’s when I decided to sell some of it and also have an exhibition of mine.
Anne just started doing digital art in 2017, but she’s already won one of the Sondeka 2018 awards in the ‘Digital Art’ category. 2017 is also the year she graduated from Daystar University with a major not in art but in music

February features Art in Abundance

                                African Twilight at Intercontinental Hotel tuesdays and Book Launch Gala 3rd March

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (18 February 2019)
There can never be too much art in Nairobi. But there can be too little space in the media to do justice to all the exhibitions, installations, workshops and even art festivals underway at the present time.
Leaving aside the Lamu Festival that opens Thursday February 21st with the world premiere of Eight Maweni Carriers by German sculptor Joachim Sauter at Lamu Fort, there are a number of new art spaces to celebrate.

 They include Paul Onditi’s Art Cupboard which is situated deep inside the artist’s new Lavington lounge and restaurant, Kwa Wangwana. That’s where Onditi just launched his new gallery featuring his own paintings plus those by Peterson Kamwathi and motorcycle-chain sculptures by Meshack Oiro. There are also two new spaces in South B, both of which are thriving with young Kenyan artists, many of whom are mentored by Jeffie Magina at his Soku Studio and Adam Massava at the Mukuru Art Club.
                                                                      Anne Gichuku's outer space odyssey

Then Anita Kavochy has a one-woman show at One Off’s new Rosslyn Riviera gallery entitled ‘Thresholds’ and Anne Gichuku also has a solo ‘digital art’ exhibition at Alliance Francaise entitled “A Girl Like Me.” And Kenya’s ‘original’ contemporary female artist Yony Waite just had a one-woman show entitled “Game’s Up’ at Polka Dot Gallery. Yony cofounded Gallery Watatu in the late 1960s and founded Wildebeeste Workshop sometime later in Lamu where she often runs print workshops for young Kenyans. Most recently several came from Brush Tu Artists Studio and Polka Dot Gallery.

Gloria Muthoka’s one-woman display at Nation Centre also just had a run where she inaugurated the new 7th floor offices of Business Daily’s Managing Editor Ng’ang’a Mbugua. Currently, Mike Kyalo’s art has just replaced Gloria’s on the 7th floor where Mbugua (who authored ‘Different Colours’ about the life of an artist) will host various Kenyan artists’ works from February onwards.

Ogilvy’s Africa is also hosting art by Kenyan artists as from January, starting with the painting, prints and installation by Lemek Tompoika. One must congratulate both Nation and Ogilvy’s for their corporate support of Kenyan artists and the creative economy in general. One hopes to see many more corporate offices, headquarters and hotels opening their walls, courtyards and conference rooms to Kenyan art.
And while One Off is exhibited the artworks of Olivia Pendergast in the new wing of the gallery, Samuel Githui’s fascination with bicycles continues in the one-man show he’s having concurrent with Olivia’s in the original Loft wing of the gallery.

Then this Sunday, 24 February at The Alchemist in Westlands, Kuona Artists Collective will have an art sale of works by all the worthy artists from Kuona who deserve our wholehearted support. Among the artists whose works will be featured are Dennis Muraguri, Alec Njoroge and Ngene Mwaura.
There’s also quite a bit of Pan-African art on show in Nairobi currently. At Red Hill Gallery, Hellmuth Musch-Rossler mixes up paintings by Kenyan artist Kivuthi Mbuno with sculpture from all over the region.
 The sculptures include works by Kenyans Morris Foit, Gor Soudan and Dennis Muraguri together with an array of Tanzanians, Zimbabweans, Sudanese and even one Zambian Tom Phiri. The Tanzanian sculptures are the most intriguing since they reflect three different periods in Makonde sculpture. 

The earliest Makonde works (which are part of Hellmuth’s private collection) are renowned for their somewhat scary ‘shitani’ figures intricately interwoven in the ebony wood sculptures. The later period has only a hit of the grotesque though still quite figurative. The most recent works are by Simon Nyedi Dastani.
Then at Hotel Intercontinental, there’s a lavish collection of contemporary Nigerian art. Most notably there are works by Bruce Onebrakpeya, Niki Seven Seven Okundaye and her former husband the late Twins Seven Seven. They are located all over the Hotel, in the lobby, the business centre, in the corridor on your way to the pool and upstairs in the Executive Suite.
Then on the remaining February Tuesday evenings at the Intercon poolside, there is a colorful video previewing of the African Twilight Gala (which will happen March 3rd at the African Heritage House, including the launch of the fabulous book, ‘African Twilight’ by American and Australian photographers, Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher). Those same Tuesday nights, the Kenyan trio, Papillon, will also play to accompany the video. They will also perform at the Gala.
And finally, immediately following the African Twilight extravaganza (which will include Pan-African fashion, foods, artwork and artifacts) the annual Art Auction East Africa 2019 will be held on 5th March at the Radisson Blu Hotel.
                                              From African Twilight book by Angela Fisher and Carol Beckwith


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 18 february 2019)

The Modern and Contemporary Art Auction East Africa is coming upon us faster than imagined. March 5TH, when the Auction is held at the Radisson Blu Hotel, will be here in no time flat.
This became obvious this past Wednesday night when the Circle Art Gallery held a public ‘Preview’ exhibition of the artworks to be auctioned at the Upper Hill ballroom from 7:30pm on that first Tuesday in March.
The gallery’s co-owner and curator Danda Jaroljmek put this year’s resplendent catalogue online for the public to see in advance of both the auction and preview exhibition. She sent a handful of hard copies out to a few people who’d helped to make the upcoming auction one of the most exciting yet seen since Circle Art organized its first East African Art Auction in 2013.
For me what makes this year’s 58 lots (artworks) so special is not simply that the art is coming from seven African countries including Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Sudan, Ethiopia, Nigeria and South Africa. It is that this year we’ll see Kenyan art in its finest light. For not only will we see almost 20 Kenyan artists with their works represented and up for auction, including such important artists as sculptors Samwel Wanjau, Edward Njenga and newcomer Dickens Otieno as well as great painters like the late Robin Anderson, Ancent Soi, Camille Wekesa, Peter Elungat, Rosemary Karuga, Richard Kimathi, Sane Wadu, Tabitha wa Thuku and Michael Musyoka.
There will also be a slew of Pan-African artists represented in the auction who spent some of their most productive years living in exile and painting in Kenya. They include artists like Theresa Musoke, Charles Sekano, Jak Katarikawe, Fitsum Berhe Woldelibanos, Ash Uman, Yasser Ali, Hussein Halfawi and even Francis Nnaggenda whose ‘Mother and Child’ stand at the main entrance of Nairobi’s National Museum of Kenya.
And then there are several Kenyans, like Annabel Wanjiku and Tahir Carl Karmali who got their start artistically in Kenya but who have moved out across borders (and in Tahir’s case, across oceans) to other harvest fields. But through the art auction, they are reclaiming their artistic roots back home in Kenyan soil.
Another special thing about the curatorial work that Danda and her staff has done is to unearth artworks by artists who we know best for their practicing one specific style of art. But their work in this year’s show is revelatory in that it reflects a period of their artistic evolution that we were unaware of before.
I put the ‘Kneeling woman’ by Peter Elungat in that category. Tabitha wa Thuku fits in there as well since both of their paintings reflect earlier periods when their artistic experience was still fresh, new, experimental and sweet. The same could be said for Kamal Shah’s ‘Village Diva in Red’ and John Kamicha’s untitled piece. All four of these paintings feel like they blend in well with the quality prevailing in the show as a whole.
Even Robin Anderson’s oil on canvas painting is a discovery since she’s best remembered for her lovely hand-painted silk batiks. But before she developed that popular style, Robin painted in oils on canvas which is what we’ll find at the auction.
And even an artist like Francis Nnaggenda is better known in Nairobi as a sculptor than a painter, like the one who created ‘The flute player’ that will be auctioned. Nnaggenda’s sculptures are scattered around Nairobi, at the entrance of Nairobi National Museum, inside the Nairobi Gallery and even at Nairobi City Park next to the graves of the former Kenyan Vice President and his wife, Joseph and Sheila Murumbi since they were great admirers of Nnaggenda’s art. So his ‘Flute Player’ will be an exceptional piece reflecting the artist’s versatility.
The Nigerian contribution to this year’s auction is also a bonus, largely thanks to a shipment of paintings sent from Oshogbo by the brilliant batik artist Niki Seven Seven Okundaye to Alan Donovan of the African Heritage House. It was a gift of sorts to commemorate Donovan’s fifty years living in Africa, which had begun in Nigeria. Donovan hadn’t been well enough at the time to showcase the art as he normally does. So now, the art auction has this opportunity to show some of Nigeria’s finest veteran artists such as Bruce Onobrakpeya, the late Twins Seven Seven, Wole Lagunju and Muraina Oyekmi.
No one can foresee which artworks will generate the greatest interest at this year’s auction, but it will be well worth attending just to watch and find out. And preferably, also to bid and buy!

Thursday, 14 February 2019


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 14 February 2019)

This year’s Lamu Art Festival will be unprecedented for its celebration of the beauty, diversity and inspiring culture of this unique and beautiful island. For four days, from 21st through 24th February, this UNESCO World Heritage Site will come alive with world class music and art, all of which will be free to the public.
Organized by the Lamu Painters Festival in partnership with Music on the Islands, the festival will be happening up and down the island from Peponi and Shela to Lamu town and also at Maweni Village on Manda Island. Events will take place at Lamu Fort and in the Town Square, on the beach and in the Diamond Beach resort, as well as in various art centres like the Baraka and the new Kito galleries. It will be capped off on Sunday with the excitement of the traditional Dhow races that tend to draw multitudes to Shela and Peponi beach to watch this highly competitive and beautiful local race.
In years past, the Lamu Painters Festival brought together European and Kenyan visual artists to paint the stunning beauty of Lamu’s everyday life. But this year compelled the Painter Festival organizer, German philanthropist Herbert Menzer to focus on one European artist who he’d invited to Shela back in 2011 and who’s been returning to Lamu regularly ever since.
                              Herbert Menzer, founder of Lamu Painters Festival & cofounder of Lamu Arts Festival

Joachim Sauter hadn’t planned to make Lamu his second home. But once he arrived (the only sculptor among a slew of painters) he, like Herbert, got enchanted by the beautiful contrasts between his bustling hometown of Stuttgart and the easy, much slower rhythm of life on the island. But what captivated him most was meeting the Maweni workers while visiting Manda Island.
Manda has an active coral mining industry and an army of Kenyan men whose work is to carry the heavy coral stones to the mainline where the coral is shipped abroad or used locally to make traditional Swahili houses. To Sauter, these men embodied the essence and dignity of hard work. It was with that appreciation of their unsung labor and work ethic that he embarked on the project that has taken him almost eight years to complete.

Sculpting seven of those laborers in a style that could be said to rival the anatomical accuracy and beauty of Michelangelo’s ‘David’, Sauter’s exhibition includes not only larger-than-life sculptures hewn out of African mahogany wood. The world premiere of his art on Tuesday, 22nd February at Lamu Fort will also feature paintings and drawings that he created in preparation for his own arduous but enjoyable task of making the Maweni Carriers.
For several years, Sauter had planned to sculpt just seven 2.5 meter men. But late last year, he felt his collection was incomplete without at least one working woman. It was a surprise both to himself and to friends who’ve been waiting for the world premiere of his seven sculptures. But he identified the person who he felt would be a perfect eight, Kenyan model and teacher Achieng Andabula. 
Completing her sculpture in a record-breaking three months, Sauter’s exquisite exhibition will be officially launched by the German curator Augustin Noffke and immediately following, the Nairobi String Quartet will give a preview of classical music concert that they will give on Friday afternoon.
In musical contrast, there will be open-air concerts from Thursday through Saturday by the ‘godfathers of Kenyan music’, Les Mangelepa who have just returned to Kenya from a worldwide tour of Europe. They’ll be giving three free shows, one at the Maweni Village on Manda Island, one in the Lamu Town Square and their final free show on Saturday will be at the Diamond Beach Village. Les Mangelepa will be accompanied by the local Tarab band, Ali Noor Sunny, other musicians and a variety of local and international DJs.

On Friday, from 4:30, the Nairobi String Quartet will give their concert of works by Haydn, Brahms and Vivaldi. It will be followed at 6:30 by another painting and photographic exhibition opening at the Baraka Gallery focused on Manda Island by Helen Feiler and Corrie Wingate.
On Saturday, the German artists Mark Einsiedel and Felix Jung will present an interactive exhibition entited ‘Fabrics in Monsoon Keskazi Winds’ on Shela and Peponi Beach. Finally, during Sunday’s Dhow Races there will be lots of music on the beach before the Festival ends with the dhow race winners receiving a tidy purse and the public looking forward to next Lamu International Festival, this one in March focusing on Yoga.

Goethe Curatorial Project

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (drafted 14 February 2019)

My dream curatorial project would be a multimedia and interactive installation focused on one concept that united all the media and artists involved. The concept could be ‘women working’ and feature music (both live and audio taped), film/video, painting and sculpture.
If the unifying concept was ‘women working, various female musicians would be involved. Ideally a composer would create a theme tune; alternatively she would collaborate with a singer or female rapper. There would be scheduled performances as well as a female DJ to play Kenyan women’s recorded music. The musicians could also coordinate with a female videographer who could make a documentary film of various Kenyan women working. Among the images in the film would be the collaborative process between the women musicians involved in the musical component of the project. The video would also include filming of Kenyan women painters, sculptors and print-makers, several of whom would take turns being physically present to paint or sculpt using various media. Women writers can also be in the video, especially if they are published they can be reading from their books in the video. Otherwise, there can be room for women storytellers to perform as well.
The installation could also involve female performance artists who could take turns with their performances. Scheduling of all the live events could either be concurrent or sequential, but the curator would have to be on duty when performances were live. Otherwise, the documentary film could also include a music video or videos including women musicians of various genres, some singer-songwriter-guitarists, others classical musicians, others rappers and spoken word poets.
Women technicians would also be the ones in charge of the lighting and the sound systems. These will be critical components. Plus the underlying concept of the installation must be clear. In this case, it would be that women are exceedingly competent in many artistic and technical fields. And not only are they competent; they excel in all the aspects of creativity reflected in the installation.
This installation might seem to be ‘too busy’ but if the curator works closely with the artists, there can be a seamless scheduling so every artist gets her moment to shine and to express herself as time permits.
My curatorial project was conceived by Margaretta wa Gacheru, arts correspondent for the Nation Media Group.
14 February 2019

By Margaretta wa Gacheru
My dream curatorial project would be a multimedia and interactive installation focused on one concept that united all the media and artists involved. The concept could be ‘women working’ and feature music (both live and audio taped), film/video, painting and sculpture.
If the unifying concept was ‘women working, various female musicians would be involved. Ideally a composer would create a theme tune; alternatively she would collaborate with a singer or female rapper. There would be scheduled performances as well as a female DJ to play Kenyan women’s recorded music. The musicians could also coordinate with a female videographer who could make a documentary film of various Kenyan women working. Among the images in the film would be the collaborative process between the women musicians involved in the musical component of the project. The video would also include filming of Kenyan women painters, sculptors and print-makers, several of whom would take turns being physically present to paint or sculpt using various media. Women writers can also be in the video, especially if they are published they can be reading from their books in the video. Otherwise, there can be room for women storytellers to perform as well.
The installation could also involve female performance artists who could take turns with their performances. Scheduling of all the live events could either be concurrent or sequential, but the curator would have to be on duty when performances were live. Otherwise, the documentary film could also include a music video or videos including women musicians of various genres, some singer-songwriter-guitarists, others classical musicians, others rappers and spoken word poets.
Women technicians would also be the ones in charge of the lighting and the sound systems. These will be critical components. Plus the underlying concept of the installation must be clear. In this case, it would be that women are exceedingly competent in many artistic and technical fields. And not only are they competent; they excel in all the aspects of creativity reflected in the installation.
This installation might seem to be ‘too busy’ but if the curator works closely with the artists, there can be a seamless scheduling so every artist gets her moment to shine and to express herself as time permits.
My curatorial project was conceived by Margaretta wa Gacheru, arts correspondent for the Nation Media Group.
14 February 2019

Wednesday, 13 February 2019


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (13 February 2019)

Yony Wa-ite never fails to amaze. The octogenarian who cofounded Gallery Watatu in the 1960s is still the mistress of savannah wildlife art. She’s also the painter whose mastery of the monochromatic defies the stereotypical view of Africa as a land of flame trees and sun-drenched floral gardens. Instead, she prefers to paint the bush and tangled branches behind which hide giraffes and water buffalo, hedge hogs and hyenas in dramatic shades of black and white.

Her specialty has always been wildebeests, which may be one reason why she named her old Swahili house in Lamu the Wildebeeste Workshop. It’s literally where she occasionally runs art workshops, especially as artists care to come from Nairobi and overseas just to develop their printmaking technique using her precious printing press and guided by this printmaking master.
Yony came to Kenya when wildlife, especially wildebeests, were so plentiful she could paint them, not from photographs, but from real life. And even now, despite the numbers of wildlife having diminished significantly since the 1960s, she still has a place looking out on the Kapita Plains where she can practically reach out and touch them, as if they were good friends. Her paintings illustrate the affinity and affection that she feels for all of them.

 Today, Yony still paints in part from memory but also from real life since the animals are still her neighbors.
In her current exhibition at Polka Dot Gallery entitled ‘Game’s Up’, Yony has several exquisite paintings of wildlife migrations. But she’s indicated many times that she sees migration not simply as something to be taken literally, as merely a phenomenal and physical annual event. To her, all living creatures, including humans, are migrants in transit from one place to another.

For Yony, migration is a metaphor she wishes politicians would understand applies not just to wildebeests, but even to Anglo-Saxons, Mexicans and Swedes as well as to Libyans, Syrians and Hondurans.
In her Polka Dot show, Yony doesn’t stick to the bush although her bigger canvases highlight her love for her savannah neighborhood and its occupants. She also paints miniature portraits of virtually every creature that frequents the Kapita Plains and what remains of Nairobi National Park.
She’s drawn elegant portraits of everything from a horny hedgehog, hungry hyena and galloping horse to elephants, baboons (Sikes Monkeys), camels and even a racing cheetah.
It’s rare to see Yony painting miniature pieces as she has in this show. More often her exhibitions feature expansive canvas works like the few she has here.
But her miniatures are not only of wildlife. She also includes a number of wonderful caricature-like drawings that almost look like doodles she’s effortlessly sketched, as if drawing came to her as second nature. Which, of course, it did, given she’s been an artist virtually all her life.
Long before she came to Kenya from Somalia where her scientist father worked for the US government, Yony had studied fine art at the University of California at Berkeley as well as in Japan where she was mentored by masters of the ancient art of Japanese brush painting.

Born in Guam and brought up in various parts of the world, Yony’s absorbed all sorts of artistic influences in the course of her globetrotting. Yet the delicate Japanese style, including its frequent use of black, white and blended greys has definitely left its mark on her. 
Her fluid doodling pen and ink drawings resemble (for me) the style of the great 19th century artist Honore Daumier who like Yony was skilled in sculpture, painting and printmaking. But he’s probably best remembered for his delightful caricatures which playfully critiqued the politics and politicians of his day.
Yony’s caricatures aren’t necessarily social commentaries although she draws cameo scenes from everyday life, all of which are gems worth owning, which is do-able since Yony’s prices, especially for her drawings, are affordable. In fact, they are outrageously inexpensive, especially for an artist of Yony’s genius and longevity.
‘Game’s up’ is well worth a trip to the Souk in Karen where you’ll find the gallery.