Tuesday, 19 March 2019


                                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.

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