Sunday, 31 March 2019

ART COLLECTING AS A WISE INVESTMENT

First Lady Margaret Kenyatta with Cabinet Secretary for Culture Amina Mohammed with Kisii artist Robin Mbera and behind, Kendiarts' Christine Ng'ang'a at opening of Conference

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 29 March 2019 for BD Life)

When Mutuma Murangu isn’t trading in commodities, he’s pioneering on the cutting edge of art collecting in Kenya.
Specializing in stone, Mutuma is hardly a household name in the Kenyan art world. Indeed, he only started exhibiting part of his large collection of stone sculptures last year at the Nairobi National Museum. Yet the moment he put up Robin Mbera’s impressive exhibition of 26 commissioned (by him) Kisii stone sculptures entitled ‘Afro-Cubism Journey #1’ at the Museum, Mutuma became an inspiration and de facto spokesman for Kenyan art collectors. 

That’s one reason he was invited to the Windsor Hotel to share his insights as a collector during the two-day ‘Art and Finance Conference’ organized by Art at Work CEO Roy Gitahi who is also Chair of the Wabuni Sacco.
          Roy Gitahi, CEO of Art@work and organizer of Art & Finance Conference

“I see art very much like land,” says Mutuma who only started collecting art in 2006. “Both are finite in the sense that there is only so much good art and good land. But both have immense investment potential,” he adds.
The value of art isn’t only measured by its investment potential, according to Dr. Fred Scott, an experienced fine art consultant from South Africa who explained on Day One of the conference that art’s value is both aesthetic and economic.
The economic aspect of art collecting was the main focus of the conference, as was shown in the subtitle of the conference which read: ‘Art as a viable and sustainable investment.’
In this regard, Scott gave a brief history of the global art market which in 2018 had risen to nearly USD67.4 million according to the annual Deloitte Art and Finance Report which keeps a running tally on the financial value of art in its global wealth portfolio. Dr Scott noted that 84 percent of that USD67.4 million had been transacted in just three countries, the US, UK and China. He added however that the African art market has immense investment potential. But both Scott and Mutuma agreed that the importance of growing not just good African artists but also committed collectors of African art as well.


Dr Scott noted that there can be risks involved in buying any fine art. The art could have been stolen; it might also be a fake. And finally, there’s always the risk of overpaying for an artwork that isn’t very ‘good’, meaning it could diminish, not accrue in value over time.
Scott cited a painting by the American painter, Parker Ito who sold his painting in what he called an ‘overheated art market’ at a Sotheby’s auction in 2011 for USD47,000. But by 2017 the resale of that same piece on the secondary market had plunged to only USD4,800.
But Dr Scott also recalled that the most expensive artwork in the world, by Leonardo da Vinci (‘Salvator Mundi’) sold for a record-breaking USD450.3 million (USD450,315,500) at Christie’s Auction House in 2017. It had been bought by the Louvre in Abu Dhabi.


In order to know how much to pay for a piece of art, Scott said that research is essential as is knowing the provenance (or origin) of an artwork.
Unfortunately, he said the value of the global art market is measured by figures derived from annual sales at auction houses, galleries and even art fairs. “That is why I advise young artists to get into art auctions as soon as possible, since those recorded figures provide a benchmark for collectors who might be interested in buying your art.”
He added that even if the sale of an artwork is relatively low at auction, a prospective buyer will know they are likely to pay more than the online figure.
Dr Scott and Mutuma both used pie charts to break down the figures. Scott noted that out of the USD67.4 billion, some USD 29.18 billion derived from auction sales. Then Mutuma said that the subsection of the global art market that interests him most measures post-colonial sales which amounted to USD7.28 billion sales in 2018. And in relation to Kenya, that includes artworks made post-1963.
“Our Kenyan art market is still in its infancy,” says Mutuma who has no doubt that growth in that market is bound to experience what he called a ‘cross-over moment’ when the measurement of Kenyan art’s value explodes.
But for now, he concurs with Conference founder Roy Gitahi, that art institutions need to be both established and strengthened. Roy established the Wabuni Sacco to address the various financial constraints that local artists often face. Negotiating with financial institutions like Stanbic Bank, he says he understands artists often don’t have access to credit because they don’t have consistent salaries. But he hopes to see creatives’ artworks serve as an alternative form of collateral so they can access not only credit but even insurance, pension plans and other financial services that Stanbic already provides to SMEs.
                          First Lady Margaret Kenyatta painting at Conference

“Negotiations have begun with Wabuni, but they have not yet been finalized,” says Ken Gitau, Stanbic manager in charge of workplace banking. Nonetheless, Roy has the vision of Wabuni’s Sacco as enabling artists to not only have access to bank credit through its partnering with financial institutions. He’s even proposing that Kenyan artworks can eventually be traded on Nairobi’s Securities Exchange.
The reason he feels so passionate about Wabuni is because he says it fits into his wider concern that art infrastructures need to be built and strengthened as means of growing the Kenyan art market and establishing its place in the global art arena as well.
The one obvious shortcoming of this Art and Finance Conference was the absence of Kenyan artists. Only two were present. One was Swift the graffiti artist who had created the artwork given to the First Lady Margaret Kenyatta by Roy Gitahi in appreciation for her presence at the Conference. She was accompanied by the CS for Culture, Arts and Sports, Ambassador Amina Mohamed and the Principal Secretary for Culture and Heritage, Ms Josephta Mukobe. The other artist was Robin Mbere whose Afro-Cubist sculpture was exhibited at the conference.  
                              Elephant by First Lady Margaret Kenyatta painted in 3 minutes

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

MANJANO AWARDS IGNORE INNOVATION IN ART


 By Margaretta wa Gacheru (27 March 2019)

Manjano Exhibition and Competition 2019 which opened and announced winners last weekend at Village Market was in some respects one of the best Manjano showcases of Kenyan art displayed since the competition began in 2010.
As GoDown’s managing director, Joy Mboya noted when introducing this year’s judges, Beatrice Wanjiku, Wambui Kamiru Collymore and Maggie Otieno, Manjano grew out of the former Nairobi Province Visual Art Exhibition, previously organized by the Ministry of Culture. But since GoDown took charge of the exhibition, the Kenyan art scene has grown by leaps and bounds. And Manjano has played its part in accelerating that growth process.
What made this year’s showcase special was the striking array of innovation that one could see in works that ranged from Kevo Stero’s Kibera Board Game (‘Kibera Tours’) to Moses Sabayi’s chess board-like clay sculptures (‘Power 1 & 2’) to Peter Walala’s metal-on-rubber ‘painting’ (entitled ‘Nairobi Under Pressure’) which was made with recycled bicycle pressure valves that the artist had carefully kept encased in a rubber square cut from each valve’s original tube.

But that was only the beginning of the innovative works that were featured in this year’s Manjano.
Dickson Nedia’s ‘Form ni Gani’, despite being hung in the VM’s parking lot in a far corner of the show, was still a crowd-stopper with its six super-realistic Kenyan faces, each sporting a pair of sunglasses which reflected a dozen scenes (two per pair) coming straight out of everyday Nairobi life.
Taabu Munyoki’s Third prize-winning painting (in the student category) also played with faces. Only she made hers multicolored and in 43 separate pieces stitched together symbolically, given 43 is the usual number given for how many nationalities exist in Kenya.

Then there was Evans Ngure’s creation of a ‘Conductor’s Seat’, assembled out of various found objects, including two sets of bicycle wheel rims and spokes plus part of a bed frame. Evans wasn’t the only artist in the show to make creative use of junk. Mike Kyalo who normally paints in acrylics on canvas made a portrait of a ‘Housegirl Basking at Veranda’ using recycled tin cans on plywood. And James Dundi designed a ‘Kaunda Suit’ using recycled stitched metal.
The one artist who mixed turmeric with acrylic paint to create two monochromatic paintings, one the ‘Plight of Hawking’, another, “Marikiti Market Day” was Samuel Kamau Kariuki. His wasn’t the only artwork that illustrated street scenes (or elements thereof) in the show which is not surprising since artists’ interpretations of Nairobi is normally the theme of Manjano.

Others who were inspired to paint aspects of the city’s vibrant street life  included among others, Kelly Kinyua who humbly priced his paintings, Manyanja Road and Tom ‘Mboya Street’ affordably at Sh2000 and Sh4000 respectively; Andrew Chege whose ‘Dyu See it? (what got nicknamed ‘The Leaning Towers of Nairobi’) won second prize in the ‘professionals’ category. In the student class, Gohole Otto also won a second prize for his ‘Direct Orders’. Ironically, the street light he painted is rarely heeded in Nairobi.

This year’s exhibition was smaller than in year’s past, despite the number of artworks submitted topped 200. The judges did not award a first prize in the ‘professionals’ category because the one they’d selected got disqualified. They didn’t feel compelled to find a replacement among the remaining works, which didn’t seem quite fair. But as Joy put it, “It was their call.” But that meant no artist won the Sh300,000 first prize this year.
The second and third prizes in the professional class were Andrew Chege and Allan Kioko respectively.
First, second and third prizes in the student class went to Florin Mmkaka, Gohole Otto and Taabu Munyoki.
                        Michael Soi exhibited in Manjano 2019 and several years' back he won the 1st prize, Sh300,000

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

BALLET BLENDS FARCE, FANTASY AND AERIAL ACROBATICS

                                          Silas Ouma as Puck in DCK's A Midsummer Night's Dream in rehearsal

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted for BD 26 March 2019)

Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ was only transformed from a stage play into a ballet in the 1960s, according to Cooper Rust, Artistic Director and Cofounder of Dance Center Kenya (DCK)
which is staging that very ballet this coming weekend at Kenya National Theatre.
“It was George Balanchine who performed it first,” says Cooper who choreographed the version that is being performed tomorrow evening and twice Sunday afternoon.
“Then in the Seventies, it was performed in Los Angeles. And after that, it’s been done everywhere,” says this former prima ballerina who continues to delight audiences when she dances in one of her shows, be it The Nutcracker or Giselle.

This is the first time this enchanting ballet will be staged in Kenya, but Cooper has trained a marvelous troupe of youthful dancers who have clearly had fun learning to dance to one of Shakespeare’s most farcical love fantasies.  
Cooper admits the story itself can be slightly confusing, just as the Bard seems to imply, falling in love can also be. But to make it crystal clear, she’s combined graceful ballet movement with a bit of physical comedy and a touch of magic mime in her choreography. 
There’s even be a healthy dose of acrobatic dance by Silas Ouma who plays Puck, King Oberon’s (Lawrence Ogina) playful court jester who practically flies across the stage, doing cartwheels that cascade through this enchanted fairy land.
Last weekend, DCK held an unusual sort of ‘Press Conference’ at its Lavington Mall branch. For apart from Cooper offering a brief summary of the ballet’s prologue and first act, Cooper had her team of talented dancers give us a preview performance that definitely whet our appetite for seeing the whole ballet.
In the past, DCK’s ballets and modern dance performances have been heavily populated with parents of cast members and dancers. But after almost five years of giving remarkably professional dance performances, the Centre now has a track record of not only producing beautiful programs but also training a slew of young Kenyan dancers who have gone on to study at some of the best ballet schools in the world.
What’s more, a good percentage of them have come from underprivileged backgrounds, but through dance and DCK, they’ve been able to excel. For instance, Lawrence Ouma who was orphaned at age ten, is soon to take his place at University of South Carolina where he’ll study both engineering and dance.



WAMBUI'S MULTIMEDIA INSTALLATION EXPLORES KENYAN HISTORY

                    Wambui Kamiru Collymore at doorway to her cucu's Kariko at Rosslyn Riviera 

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted for BD 26th March 2019)

Wambui Kamiru Collymore combines her talents as an historian and fine artist in her current installation at Rosslyn Riviera entitled Wakariru.
The show is named after a song that rural Kikuyu women still sing as they go about their daily business. But over the years, the lyrics have been lost, so only the tune remains.


Lost language is one of the central themes that Wambui addresses in this multifaceted assemblage of ideas and tangible forms, deriving from her quest to document African history and culture.
“A people’s history is embedded in their language, so when the language goes, the history goes with it,” says Wambui who, through her research, has been trying to retrieve what’s been lost of Mau Mau history in order to rectify some of the common misconceptions held by scholars and laymen alike.

One of those misconceptions is that women didn’t play an active role in the Mau Mau struggle. To disprove that myth, she interviewed a myriad of Kikuyu women, starting with her own cucu (grandmother) whose kariko (woman’s kitchen) is replicated and situated at the center of the Riviera’s large exhibition hall. Made of mabati, it’s equipped with all the essentials items Wambui found in her cucu’s kariko, including a live chicken whose abode is next to the three-stoned fire place, the two charcoal stoves, half dozen drying maize cobs that hang from the ceiling, and all sorts of other sundry items. There’s a stool where the cucu sits and cooks as well as a bench outside her front door for visitors. “It’s outside because only women [and small children] are allowed into a kariko,” Wambui adds.

The twelve female freedom fighters whose faceless portraits are framed and featured in Wambui’s show, backed in every case by an 1893 map of Kenya. “The women are faceless because, [in addition to being portraits of specific women], they represent countless Kikuyu women who were committed to Mau Mau,” she says as she explains the process of creating each portrait.
After taking photographs of the 12, she conscientiously cut out their faces, so as to make the point that each image could have more than one meaning. For instance, she identifies Mukami Kimathi as having been a messenger, informant, soldier and recruiter, roles that many other women played. Others were arrested and detained for years, while many lost loved ones in the war.
In the process of removing a face, what remains is a portion of the colonial map, as if to suggest the colonizer would have deleted the women’s identities while colonizing their minds.

The issues of cultural identity and lost language are further illustrated by three ‘tin-can telephones’ which are hooked up to the women’s singing the Wakariru. Their voices are muffled, which apparently is Wambui’s intent since the actual meaning of the song’s lyrics is long gone.
Having already interviewed many Mau Mau women, BD asked her if she was planning to write a book. The challenge she says is that the project is ongoing. She hopes to get to other parts of Kenya to interview more women who were involved in the anti-colonial struggle.

In the interim, her installation is multimedia. For not only are photography, portraiture and three-dimensional rural architecture included in Wakariru. Wambui also has a website www.maumau.co.ke that includes all the women’s stories plus other things,
Then too, she’s created a video based on a promise she made to Mukami Kimathi, the widow of Mau Mau leader Dedan Kimani. It was to take her letter and deliver it to the Queen of England, asking her to please identify where the remains of her late husband are buried so he can be given a proper burial.
The video shows Wambui trekking to landmark spots in UK, including Buckingham Palace. Apparently, she didn’t succeed in delivering the letter but the effort was definitely made.

Finally, the other medium that Wambui uses in this informative and evocative installation is the sound track of a session including three generations reflecting on various aspects of Kikuyu culture that might otherwise be lost to future generations. The cucu speaks to Wambui in Kikuyu who then translates the cucu’s story into English so her daughter can understand and one day pass on the information to the next generation.


Wakariru will continue until April 15, then to be abridged and included in the East African Visual Arts Trust, which is in Carol Lees’ custodial care and curated by James Muriuki and Marc van Rampelberg.


Monday, 25 March 2019

KENYAN ACTORS STAR IN POPULAR NETFLIX FILM


by Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 25 March 2019)

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is a beautiful but bitter-sweet African story set in Malawi in 2001.
It’s based on the true story of 13-year-old William Kamkwamba whose agrarian community is in the throws of famine brought on initially by intense flooding followed by a devastating drought, coupled with a corrupt government’s intentional neglect.
The boy, who grew up and wrote the book, wanted to find the means to save his community. But his family’s failed crop meant there’s no money for school fees, so he’s unceremoniously kicked out. This means he can’t even read the science books he yearns to learn from.
Yet William (played by Maxwell Simba, one of several Kenyans in the film)  is unrelenting and finally figures out how to construct a ‘jua kali’ wind turbine that can power a water pump so his family’s forsaken land can be irrigated, thus enabling crops to grow, food to be harvested and the whole community eventually fed.
It might sound like a common-place or even tragic tale, but it nonetheless illustrates how one tenacious person, with his people’s support, can overcome impossible odds. It also graphically shows how climate change hits the most vulnerable the hardest.
The book itself is what touched the heart of Chiwetel Ejiofor, the British actor of Nigerian descent. So much so that this award-winning actor who starred opposite Lupita Nyong’o in ‘Twelve Years a Slave’ chose to write the screenplay for the film which he also directed and co-starred in. He even learned the Malawian language, Chetewa, to enhance the film’s authenticity.
Playing William’s father, Ejiofor has previously starred in films like Amistad, American Gangster, The Martian and Dirty Pretty Things. But he’d never directed before; never made a film in Africa before, specifically in Malawi where he first scouted out the actual land, home and school where William had lived, farmed and schooled, again to give the film a genuine sense of being there in the country with the peasants who were willing to struggle and invent ingenious means to stay alive and finally triumph over intense adversity.
In William’s case, his efforts to sneak back into the school library to read books about sustainable energy, including wind power, was risky business. He was severely reprimanded by his stern headmaster, played by another Kenyan actor Raymond Ofula who’s amazingly hardcore until his character finally relents.
Among the other Kenyans in the cast are Martin Githinji, best known for his TV series, ‘Sue and Johnnie’, Melvin Alusa, for his part in the reality TV show, ‘Big Brother’, Eddie Mbugua and Robert Agengo.
The Boy who Harnessed the Wind, despite its brilliant acting, authenticity and suspenseful story, could easily have been overlooked as just another Third World film. But probably, Ejiofor’s star-power played a role in getting the film screened at the Sundance Film Festival and picked up by Netflix which has pitched in on the film’s marketing.
This past week saw the Kenya Film Commission open its third Kalasha film market where we hope Kenyan films got similar attention to ‘The Boy’s.
  

KIOKO OPENS GALLERY TO EXHIBITING ARTISTS

                                                                                    Kioko's Blue Eland

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 25th March 2019)

Kioko Mwitiki has set the bar very high for what the Kenyan artist might aspire to once he or she has made it to ‘heaven’ and back. For not only did this original scrap metal sculptor (one of the first in the land) get so good at creating life-sized Kenyan wildlife out of scraps that he had to send whole containers-full of his sculptures abroad just to meet his clients’ desires for his art.
Kioko often had to accompany his elephants, rhinos and giraffes to sites like the San Diego Zoo where he also had to serve as curator, tasked with transforming part of the zoo into an art installation, even an ‘African Savannah’ filled with his metallic wildlife. He’s done similar work at the Sonoma Desert Museum in Arizona and even in Tanzania’s Seregeti Park where he created a ‘Nature Trail’ to educate school children about the value of wildlife.
At the same time, Kioko has also trained young Kenyans to create creatures like his. Only theirs are usually smaller in scale, soldering warthogs rather than rhinos. But Kioko says he’s never let his apprentices leave until they look assured of earning a livelihood from their art.
Now that Kioko’s sculptures can be seen everywhere from airports to world-class zoos and five-star hotels, he’s opened his own gallery in his name. He’d actually opened Pimbi Gallery some time ago, but originally, Pimbi doubled for both a gallery and workshop where he fabricated all his art.
Now that he’s opened the spacious Kioko Mwitiki Art Gallery next door to Lavington Mall, the sculptor not only has sufficient space to exhibit his own art, including his porcupines, ballerinas, elands and totems of all types.
He also exhibits other artists’ works. Some are established like Justus Kyalo; others relative newcomers like the six whose group exhibition opened in mid-March and runs through to mid-April. The six include painters who work in acrylics and watercolors as well as a print maker and a photographer.
                                                                                By Annabelle Wanjiku

There’s one among them who’s been well-established since the 1980s. That’s Annabelle Wanjiku who brought her colorful semi-abstract paintings from Uganda (where she now stays) to Kioko especially for this exhibition.
At the other end of the spectrum is Shilpi Deb, 24, who recently graduated from art school in Mumbai, the same school that both her father and grandfather went to. She’s only been back in Kenya a year, so this is her first exhibition since she’s been back. 
                                                                                               By Shilpi Deb

She’s contributed a variety of genres to the show. Her woodcut prints cover a whole wall at Kioko’s double-decker gallery. She also displays a series of paintings on etched wood plates which have a Cubist angularity to them.
The one photographer in the exhibition is Billy Miaron who, like Shilpi was given a whole wall to fill with his black and white photographs, some portraits, others landscapes.
                                                      Mount Kilimanjaro from Illasit by Billy Miacon ole Nkumama

But his most striking image is a multiple-exposured view of Mount Kilimanjaro shot from his home village of Illasit near Loitokitok at the Tanzanian border. Billy admits to touching-up his multi-layered image using Photoshop, but only to enhance the magnificence of the mountain and the earthy texture of village life.
Another one of the painters is Kevin Ndege who actually trained at Egerton University in mathematics. But once he got a job doing illustrations for MacMillan Publishers, his fate was sealed. Painting full-time since 2016, his art is still illustrative, only now it’s more psychological. It reflects on modern maladies of the mind, referencing common fears, some illusory, others cautionary but all needing to be addressed before they can be overcome.
                                                                              Indecision by Kevin Ndege

Finally, Thomas Gatura is a watercolorist who paints both abstract and realistic works which are miniature in scale compared to Shiku Wang’ombe’s bright and bold acrylic paintings, several of which practically fill one wall each.
These six will have their artworks up for the month. Meanwhile, Kioko opens his gallery every Wednesday to artists who’d wish to exhibit there.
It’s one more way Kioko says he’s happy to  contribute to the development of Kenya’s creative art world.
                                                                                  Art by Shiku Wang'ombe

“We still run apprenticeship programs at the workshop,” says Kioko who’s also run re-cycling workshops in the States.”
But now that he’s moved into his own gallery in one of the city’s busiest commercial areas, he’s happy to offer fellow artists yet another spacious venue to expose and potentially sell their art.
“One big advantage we have is that since we’re working with wildlife organizations like the Jane Goodall Foundation, we get many visitors from abroad.”






Wednesday, 20 March 2019

COOKIA THIIRII: MORE THAN MAKING FUN OF CORRUPTION

                                               The MP, the fellow Drug dealer and the driver in Cookia Thiinii

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (post for BD 20 March 2019)

Fanaka Arts Theatre only presents Kikuyu plays like the one they produced last weekend and which I (a non-Kikuyu speaker) had the audacity to attend.
Staged before a full house at Alliance Francaise ‘Cookia Thiinii’ is a comedy about corruption and the extremes people will go to, just so they can keep playing the corruption game.
Even humble peasants like Wangechi (Mercy Thairu), the house-help can get caught up in it. She’s even deemed an ‘accessory’ to a crime once the drug dealing of her boss, the MP Gitahi (Maina Ndambiri) gets discovered by his straight-arrow lawyer wife Jane (Maryanne Nyamburu, who also co-directed the show with Mercy Thairu).
        The maid (Mercy Thairu co-directs), the lawyer (Maryanne Nyambura also co-directs) and the office aid (Shiru Kiarie)

‘Cookia Thiini’ makes fun of corruption, but by exposing its reality, it’s revealed to be just like a plague that can infect and bring down anyone. That includes everyone from the boss’s cheeky driver Joram (Njomo Nyathira) to his office supervisor Agnes (Shiru Kiarie), and especially to Jane’s old friend Wariara (Wangari Nguri) who’s in cahoots with Gitahi, the spouse that Jane vows not to spare once she sees what’s been happening in her home while she’s been away.
                                                                The MP Gitahi and the crooked business woman

Jane had left the country to start up her law practice elsewhere since she can’t stand the extent to which corruption had seemingly seeped into every nook and cranny of the society. Returning home for a visit, she’s initially no wiser since everyone’s prepared to cover up their dirty deals.
But then when a comedy of errors occurs that goes beyond Gitahi’s or anyone’s control, it doesn’t take long for Jane to catch on and quickly declare the jig is up.
The first thing that falls apart is Gitahi and Wariara’s drug deal. That occurs when the maid accidentally picks up the boss’s bag, thinking it belongs to the returning wife. 

Not knowing what’s inside, she tosses it over the family fence to retrieve after a while. But somehow it disappears, picked ironically by the escaped convict Kanyi (Charles Maina) who Gitahi had scapegoated and got thrown into jail as a convenient means to cover up his own crime.
The other thing that hastens the MP’s downfall is the arrival of Kanyi  at his home. The convict has escaped from Kamiti prison so he can come back to Gitahi with a gun and demand restitution. He wants big bucks for the ruining of his reputation and an air ticket out of the country.
Kanyi’s only crime had been to be poor and to want to get rich quick. He applied for and got a government tender. But he had no cash to cover the fees required. When he goes to Gitahi for a loan, that’s when his vulnerability makes him easy prey for a shark like the MP.
                                                       The MP and the driver who he blames for losing his bag

But Kanyi doesn’t get what’s he’s come home to collect. Once Jane arrives, there’s a mad scramble to make everything look normal. Kanyi is made the ‘new cook’ and the financee to Aggie, who in the play is a sister not a bride to be.
Ultimately, it’s Kanyi’s cookery that literally explodes in his face and rouses eye-popping suspicion on Jane’s part.  After that, the ruse unravels and Jane’s appalled to find the cancerous corruption having invaded her own house.
Her reaction is refreshing since she clearly takes a firm stand against the immorality and illegality that she now sees with clear eyes. She embodies the sort of ethical position that many Kenyans wish they could see manifest among people in positions of authority, be they lawyers, women leaders or Members of Parliament. For Jane doesn’t just charge everyone as accessories to Gitahi’s crimes. She vows to see they get convicted and then sent to jail. Perhaps Kanyi will get a reprieve, but it looks unlikely since he too played along with those trying to cover up their dirty deals.

Cookia Thiini is a show that kept the audience in stitches from the outset, thanks to the cheeky, and slightly salacious banter that went on between Joram the driver and Wangechi the maid. They set the stage for the story to unfold seamlessly. And with a cast that was fully conversant with their roles and a story that had multiple twists and turns, one has to say that Fanaka Arts has a few things in common with Heartstrings Entertainment.

Both companies have seasoned casts who’ve got chemistry and charisma that derive in part from the way they operate. For the scripts are collectively devised, allowing everyone to be part of theatrical process. Also, both groups derive many of their themes and actual incidents from everyday Kenyan life. 
                       Jane (Maryanne Nyambura) and Wariara used to be good friends, until Jane discovers her dirty game

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

ART SENDING A MESSAGE

                                Maliza Kiasuwa with 'The Fourth Wife, an installation of luffa, wool & porcupine quills

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted for Saturday Nation 19 March 2019)

Four women artists whose creations are specifically meant to send a message are exhibiting at Alliance Francaise (AF) and the Trademark Hotel.
Coincidentally, all four have chosen the month of the International Women’s Day to send their first mutual message, that women have a diversity of artistic interests and devise various forms of expression to communicate what they care about.
In several respects, the artistic interests of Maliza Kiasuwa, Lilo and Gus Chaumont and Geraldine Robarts overlap. They are all concerned about the environment, both its beauty and the need for its preservation in light of global forces like climate change and pollution of multiple sorts. And all four work with both conventional and unconventional art materials.
                                                                                        Kaleidoscope by Geraldine 

Geraldine Robarts is the one who’s most inclined to create art using ‘conventional’ media such as oil paints on canvas. Nonetheless, the former Makerere and Kenyatta University lecturer in fine art is always experimenting and exploring new subjects, styles and media through her art. At the Trademark for instance, she has more than half a dozen abstract paintings created with a mix of bees wax and watercolors on Chinese rice paper. She also paints on linen and wood, adding elements like gold leaf and crystal chips fixed with glistening resin.
The majority of her art highlights her theme and the title of her exhibition, ‘Oneness’. For her the reference is both about our oneness with nature and the universe as well as oneness with a higher power. Large works like ‘Tolerance’, ‘Beauty,’ and ‘Kaleidoscope’ reveal her love of nature’s bright, explosive colors while her ‘Global Interconnectedness’ confirms her concern that we’re all in this life together and need to take care of it.
                                                                                    Geraldine's Oneness

Geraldine’s message is similar to Maliza Kiasuwa’s in that both artists pay tribute to Mother Nature and both do so using a range of mixed media. The big difference between them, apart from Maliza’s role in celebrating her Congolese roots during AF’s Francophone month, is her exclusive use of organic materials in her art. From raffia grass, luffa sponge and hessian (gunia) cloth to woolen yarn, porcupine quills and a bit of cotton printed in African designs, Maliza’s committed to celebrating the purity of Mother Nature.
                                                                            Maliza's The Third Wife

Yet her disdain for the patriarchal world’s disrespect of the woman is implied in the title of her work. ‘The Fourth Wife’ refers both to men’s legal entitlement to have up to four wives, without regard for women’s wish. It also refers to her wonderful luffa, wool and quill installation in which each element has symbolic value, particularly with respect to women’s role in the home. She says the luffa sponge is traditionally used by women for keeping their family clean; the wool symbolizes the woman’s warmth and the porcupine quill represents the role she plays in defending the home.  
                                                            Maliza and Harsita Waters of Alliance Francaise

Maliza says she put ‘The Fourth Wife’ on Instagram once. That was sufficient to elicit an invitation for her installation to be included in the 2019 Venice Biennale.
Finally, ‘L’Equipee’ is that part of AF’s Francophone exhibition that displays the jua kali furnishings produced by the French mother-daughter team of Lilo and Gus Chaumont working closely with 19 Kenyan artisans. Lilo and Gus are product designers whose ideas for creating contemporary tables, chairs, sofas and lamps are effectively translated into tangible furnishings by local artisans who the women respect for their resourcefulness and adaptability.
L’Equipee’s steel wire wildlife sculptures are adaptations of scrap-metal designs that Lilo and Gus requested be revised using only the skeletal, wire forms, which the women easily market both in Europe and across Africa.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

SIX WOMEN ARTISTS AT POLKA DOT

                                                                                              mary ogembo

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (margaretta.gacheru@gmail.com)
(posted 14 March 2019)

Six Kenyan women artists are just the tip of the iceberg as far as women artists working in Nairobi are concerned. But at least Polka Dot Gallery took time out from their ongoing exhibition of Ugandan artists to give the women a hearing for International Women’s Day and several days beyond.
For this exhibition, simply entitled ‘Women and Art’, only painters were picked, although we also have women sculptors like Maggie Otieno and Chelenge van Rampelberg, printmakers like Taabu Munyoki and Yony Wa-ite  and installation artists like Jackie Karuti and Wambui Kamiru Collymore. Still the six that were selected by the Gallery’s founder, Lara Ray, showed the diversity of styles that women are currently exploring in their art.

                                                                                             Patti Endo

The one thing they all have in common, at least for this show, is their focus on the subject of women. Nonetheless, the women took on a variety of shapes, styles and sentiments. For instance, some seemed fun-loving, fresh and focused on either her hair, her lips or simply her funny face.
Mary Ogembo is a veteran in this regard. She’s been painting happy-faced African women for years. She also has a fascination for ladies’ braids and their hair generally. Having started to paint the African woman in advance of most other female artists, she’s been widely recognized and awarded internationally. She’s had many solo and group shows both at home and abroad, so it’s appropriate for her to be in one meant to highlight ‘Women and Art’.
Joy Maringa has been a make-up artist for a while. It’s only in the last few years that she’s chosen to take her talent to another level, seeing it not solely as a functional skill to make-over plain-looking people into black beauties. Joy recognized that there’s a magic to what she does, which is how she came to create her own art form, calling it ‘lip art’.
                                                                                           Joy Maringa, lip artist

The one art form that the four remaining female artists develop in this show is the nude. Anne Mwiti, who’s the most prolific painter present doesn’t dwell on the subject. Her few nudes are semi-abstract, blended into streams of bright bold shades of blue, then brightened with yellow streaks.
                                                               Anne Mwiti

Sebawali Sio only has one nude in the show. Called ‘Barely Barely’, Seba seems more intent on exploring her women at a more cerebral and psychic level. Most of her female portraits are buried behind layers of paint, suggesting she sees women from a deeper perspective, possibly concealed behind layers of cultural sanctions and stereotypes. Yet their eyes keep peeking out of her frames as if to say ‘I’m here, intent on coming out.”
                                                                                               Sebawali Sio

That’s especially true of the one portrait that Seba says is a ‘selfie’. She’s still buried under colorful streaks, but her visage is clearer as if she too is coming out into her own. That makes sense since she had many careers before realizing her calling was fine art. That caused her to drop the rest and now concentrate of her artistic development.
In contrast, Patti Endo seems very clear about her focus. Her nudes are carefully outlined in curves and lines suggesting she is confident and clear about her minimalist approach to the female form.
                                                                                      Patti Endo

Finally, Nadia Wamunyu, like Patti, only presents nudes in this show. But unlike Patti’s who mostly drafts her models’ back sides in suggestive lines, Nadia mixes both back sides and the ‘full frontals’ of the female form. It’s the frontal poses that stick in one’s mind. Possibly that’s because their poses are more provocative and shameless than all the others in the show. Possibly it’s because they’re also the most intimate and intense portrayal of the female form.
                                                                                         Nadia Wamunyu

Nadia doesn’t give her nudes specific faces, only abstract shadows suggestive of their beauty. But hers, like all the others in this show, present idealized forms of the body. They’re shapes that drives some women to starve themselves so as to achieve that ‘Vogue’ notion of ‘body beautiful’. Indeed, all their nudes are devoid of excess fat; they’re trim and shapely, lean yet curved in all the desirable spots.
                                                                                      Nadia Wamunyu

The one thing that can be said about all six women artists at Polka Dot is that all are proficient painters who are clearly proud of what they do. The only pity is that their show couldn’t have run longer. But at least theirs was a sign that Kenyan women artists are very present and perfectly able to articulate their soul and message through their art.
                                                                         Anne Mwiti


SIX WOMEN ARTISTS AT POLKA DOT (revised)
By Margaretta wa Gacheru (revised/posted 18 March 2019)
Six Kenyan women artists are just the tip of the iceberg as far as women artists working in Nairobi are concerned. But at least Polka Dot Gallery took time out from their ongoing exhibition of Ugandan artists to give the women a hearing for International Women’s Day and several days thereafter.
For this exhibition, simply entitled ‘Women and Art’, only painters were picked, although Kenya also has women sculptors like Maggie Otieno and Chelenge van Rampelberg, printmakers like Taabu Munyoki and Yony Wa-ite and installation artists like Jackie Karuti and Wambui Kamiru Collymore. Still the six that were selected by the Gallery’s founder, Lara Ray, show the diversity of styles that women are currently exploring in their art.
The one thing they all have in common, at least for this show, is their focus on the subject of women. Nonetheless, their work takes on a variety of shapes, styles and sentiments. For instance, some seem fun-loving, fresh and focused on either her woman’s hair, lips or funny face.
Mary Ogembo is a veteran in this regard. She’s been painting happy-faced African women for years. She also has a fascination for ladies’ braids and their hair generally. Having started to paint the African woman in advance of most other female artists, she’s been widely recognized and awarded internationally. She’s had many solo and group shows both at home and abroad, so it’s appropriate for her to be in one meant to highlight ‘Women and Art’.
Joy Maringa has been a make-up artist for a while. It’s only in the last few years that she’s chosen to take her talent to another level, seeing it not solely as a functional skill to make-over plain-looking people into black beauties. Joy recognized that there’s a magic to what she does, which is how she came to create her own art form, calling it ‘lip art’. (Incidentally, Joy’s also got work at The Attic with Wanjohi Maina.)
The one art form that the other four develop in this show is the nude. Anne Mwiti, who’s the most prolific painter present doesn’t dwell on the subject. Her few nudes are semi-abstract, blended into streams of bright bold shades of blue, then brightened with yellow streaks.
Sebawali Sio only has one nude in the exhibition. Called ‘Barely Barely’, Seba seems more intent on exploring her women at a cerebral and psychic level. Most of her female portraits are buried behind layers of paint, suggesting she sees women from a deeper perspective, possibly concealed behind layers of cultural sanctions and stereotypes. Yet their eyes keep peeking out of her frames as if to say ‘I’m here, intent on coming out.” That’s especially true of the one portrait that Seba says is a ‘selfie’. She’s still buried under colorful streaks, but her visage is clearer as if she too is coming out into her own arena. That makes sense since she pursued multiple career paths before realizing her calling is fine art. That caused her to drop the rest and now concentrate of her artistic development.
In contrast, Patti Endo seems very clear about her focus. Her nudes are carefully outlined in curves and lines suggesting she is confident about her minimalist approach to the female form.
Finally, Nadia Wamunyu, like Patti, only presents nudes in this show. But unlike Patti’s who mostly drafts her models’ back sides in suggestive lines, Nadia mixes both back sides and ‘full frontals’ of the female form. It’s the frontal poses that stick in one’s mind. Possibly that’s because they’re more provocative and shameless than others in the show. Possibly it’s because they are also the most intimate and emotionally intense portraits of the female form.
Nadia doesn’t give her nudes specific faces, only abstract shadows suggestive of their beauty. But hers, like the others, present idealized forms of the body. They’re ideals that drive some women to starve themselves so as to achieve that ‘Vogue’ notion of ‘body beautiful’. Indeed, all their nudes are devoid of excess fat. They’re trim and shapely, lean yet curved in all the desirable spots.
The one thing that can be said about all six women artists at Polka Dot is that all are proficient painters who are clearly proud of what they do. Fortunately, their show got extended until March 23rd, which is one more sign that Kenyan women artists are very present and perfectly able to articulate their soul and message through their art.