Thursday, 11 April 2019


                                                             TUK Design students display projects at Railways 

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted originally 11 April, revised 12 April 2019)

Technical University of Kenya, formerly known as Kenya Polytechnic, has spawned a number of important artistic figures in our time. Among them are Patrick Mukabi and Waweru Gitahi and others.
And now, after seeing what senior Design students are doing at TUK, one can forecast there are young Kenyan artist-designers coming up who’ll maintain the ‘tradition’ of creative excellence established by their Poly predecessors.
Granted TUK students were working more in multimedia than paint, charcoal, palette knife or pen. But similar artistic skills plus a fertile imagination are required in both careers nonetheless. And these were apparent in plenty last Thursday when both diploma and degree students displayed their final projects inside the Kenya Railways Museum and out among the vintage railway cars.
For instance, fourth year Design students like Joseph Musyoki and Anthony Waweru Kamuru created animated short stories on film for their final projects. Meanwhile, Mercy Mwangi created a magic carpet using recycled cement bags and scraps of multicolored kitenge. Having stitched an abundance of the scraps onto multiple layers of the cement bags, Mercy created a soft thick carpet that could be used either as a decorative floor mat or an attractive wall-hanging.

Mercy wasn’t the only TUK student to create functional designs out of recycled materials. Anne Wangari made an attractive lampshade out of plastic cups and a blossoming flower (complete with vase) out of plastic spoons spray-painted silver to look like stainless steel. Her floral design reminds one of the twelve-foot steel-spooned ‘Coffee Tree’ that currently stands in the central plaza of the Hub mall in 
Karen, created by the Thika-based artist, Peter Ngugi. Hers is on a much smaller scale but we applaud her upcycling plastic waste. Nonetheless, her plastic lampshade, while being decorative, doesn’t seem functional since the heat generated from lightbulbs is bound to melt the lampshade in no time.
Purity Igoki also upcycled ‘useless’ waste, transformed discarded cotton t-shirts into handbags, shoes and her idea of Maasai bead jewelry.  The ‘defective’ shirts had been rejected by clients of silkscreen printers who Purity says were happy to be rid of the ‘rejects’. So Purity took them home, tie-dyed them (as she had been taught at TUK) using bright sunny colors. After that, she sliced up the shirts according to the shapes she required to make matching sandals, clutch bags and necklaces.
Then there were designers like Stan Manthi whose full-time job keeps him on his computer throughout his working day. That’s how he knows about dysfunctional mouse pads. Noting that when the pads are made out of rubber, they tend to buckle rather than lay flat. Suspecting he was not the only one who found that tendency to be a nuisance, (especially when you work under serious time constraints), he decided to create a series of denim ‘jackets’ for several mouse pads. Then as a way of decorating the denim, he used a dual-purpose kitenge border, one side of which had pen-sized pockets so you could have all your essential tools literally at your finger-tips.
But it was the animated film shorts that attracted the most wide-spread attention at the TUK exhibition. Even the TUK Vice Chancellor, Professor Francis Aduol voiced his enthusiasm for the inventiveness of the animators who were required in their course to not just produce a finished short film. They also had to create multiple story-boards that illustrated the film’s screenplay. Plus they had to create visual profiles of their characters.
Joe Musyoki’s short film, entitled ‘Lost’, is about three characters: a paint can, a palette knife and a paint brush all of which are wide-eyed and fully-dressed when they wake up one day and find themselves in ‘a strange place”.
(“Their home was in the art room, not the living room where they had been left,” says Musyoki).
The story unfolds with the three characters stumbling from one obstacle to the next as they struggled to find their way home.
Since Musyoki was constrained by time, the film ends with a ‘To be continued’ as the three take a rest, exhausted by their difficult day.
The imagination that Musyoki displayed in his film could easily serve as a pilot to a charming children’s television series that one of Kenya’s TV station ought to pick up. In the meantime, one hopes this ingenious animator will follow through and create a sequel to “Lost’ in which the trio carry on with their journey, wherever it leads them.

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