Thursday, 7 February 2019


                                      Lemek with Ogilvy's CEO Mathieu Plassard in front of Lemek's Installation 

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 7 February 2019)

Lemek Tompoika is the first Kenyan artist whose work has been selected to be part of the new Ogilvy Africa initiative aimed at giving young African artists a broad platform on which to share their artwork.
Located inside Ogilvy’s global headquarters in Nairobi, Lemek’s collage art and installation are scattered around/(hanging in) conference rooms and ‘open plan’ work spaces where the advertising firm’s own creative teams are hard at work.
                                                   From Lemek's Wrong Number series

Aiming to be supportive of Creativity in the broadest sense, the company’s CEO Mattieu Plassard says their artistic initiative, launched 24 February and named ‘Give’, is intent to ‘Give Time’ and ‘Give Space’ to support the arts. And not only in Kenya. With offices in 24 African countries, ‘Give’ will soon be launched in Dar es Salaam, Accra, Lagos and Lusaka as part of their CSR program to ‘give back’ to African communities that have inspired the firm to produce some of its finest creative work.
Lemek was selected out of more than a dozen local artists who responded to a call that Ogilvy sent out. His work was chosen, says Mr Plassard, because the themes seen in his art and the cultural tensions he addressed are especially relevant and though-provoking.
                                                                           Lemek's Places, Paths and Red Tie

Coming from the Maasai community, Lemek was raised to be well aware of Maasai culture and traditions. But at the same time, he received a Western education and doesn’t conform to the common stereotypical perceptions of these nomadic people.
“Culture is all about change,” he says in an interview at Ogilvy’s. “One doesn’t have to wear the shukas or herd cattle to be a Maasai.” Nonetheless, he grapples with issues associated with identity including stereotypes, status and the struggle of being ‘in-between’ the traditional and modern lifestyles.
                                                                                           Lemek's Of Gods

Those deep cultural contradictions/conflicts are what Mr Plassard says intrigued Ogilvy about Lemek’s art, especially as he uses symbolism in surprising ways. For instance, there are no shukas, dreadlocks or ornamental beadwork in his largely monochromatic art. Instead, the one hint that he’s exploring aspects of specifically Maasai culture can be seen only in the human forms that he draws. Those are long, lanky and lean, which in a sense is stereotypical in itself.
But because Lemek cares to transcend the stereotypes (he says he shaved his head rather than wear dreadlocks), his images veer towards the abstract and symbolic. And in that way, they no longer seem to be exclusively about Maasai.
                                                                                        The In-Between

They’re more about a larger human condition that he seems to find troubling. It is the tendency of modernity to dehumanize individuals to the point of turning them into statistics, mere numbers.
It’s not surprising then that to find one series of Lemek’s work is entitled ‘Wrong Number’ which is also the name of an exhibition he had several years ago. In all his series he returns to his concern for identity, although h expresses it in various ways.
Most recently, he explores how identities can change according to changing circumstances and needs. Symbolized with a coat hanger and flowing lines seeming to symbolize what could be a gown, shuka, coat or simply flowing lines blackened with charcoal, these reflect Lemek’s current way of interrogating the concepts of culture and identity.

The one installation at Ogilvy’s, occupying nearly one board room wall, contains approximately 30 collages conceived out of newspaper clippings and layered with paintings that graphically illustrate a headline, political trend or personality who’s making a point in that day’s paper.
These are the most overtly political pieces at Ogilvy’s since the press clips have been carefully selected and then human figures drawn which seem to be characters discussed in that day’s social discourse. Painted with acrylics and expressive of a time before Lemek began experimenting with the technique called image transfer, these are works that effectively reveal the artist’s anatomical eye for human forms and gestures.
                                                                                        The In-Between

Hard to believe that Lemek almost became a chef, not a visual artist. But he studies for two years at Utalii Culinary College before leaving to take a course at the Creative Arts Centre in Nairobi. He’d been drawing from childhood often on his father’s old newspapers since they were the most accessible materials on which to work.
Since he made the commitment to the visual arts, Lemek has been in numerous group exhibitions, including ones at Circle Art, Shifteye and Kuona Trust where he was based for several years as well as at the Attic Art Space, ArtLab Africa, Kobo Gallery, Manjano and Kenya Art Fairs.

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