By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 12 October 2019)
Corporate firms like Ogilvy Africa and McKinsey have finally come to realize that Kenyan art is for Kenyans and their clients to appreciate and potentially to own. That is how both companies have begun mounting art exhibitions featuring up-and-coming as well as established artists in their offices.
McKinsey have been at it a bit longer than Ogilvy Africa, but Ogilvy is a bit more transparent in that when they host local artists, they invite the public to come see the artwork, whereas McKinsey is more exclusive, showing artists’ works to only their office staff and their clients.
Either way, it’s a good idea for young artists, many of whom hunger for opportunities to exhibit their art. The advantage of having a show at Ogilvy is that media is more involved in promoting the artists.
“We try to get the artists on all media platforms,” says Naomi Mutua who’s in charge of this particular Ogilvy project. ‘We strive to get them on television and YouTube as well as onto other digital platforms. We also notify our clients to come by our offices and see the art themselves,” she adds.
That approach is useful to the artists since one part of moving forward in their artistic career is what marketers call ‘building a brand’. It’s what internationally-known artists like Picasso and Salvador Dali understood very well.
At Ogilvy Africa, it was actually a Frenchman, Mathieu Plassard, the firm’s outgoing CEO who initiated the art project that Naomi is now managing.
“It’s actually part of our Ogilvy Give program aimed at giving back to society, both in terms of time and space,” says Naomi.
The space factor is where the premises of Ogilvy are now getting converted into a quasi-art space where local artists can both exhibit and sell their artworks. The first artist selected to showcase his art at Ogilvy was Lemek Tompoika. The second set of artists who currently have their paintings on display on two floors of their offices are Taabu Munyoki and Joseph ‘Ango’ Makau.
“Our selection team couldn’t decide between these two artists, so we finally decided to host them both,” says Naomi who had put out an online call-out to artists to submit their portfolios.
“The team included members of four departments, namely the creative team, public relations, digital and public service,” she says. “None were especially art lovers, but that was okay since we know that appreciation of art is a very subjective experience.”
Both Taabu and Ango have connections with Kenyatta University. Taabu graduated from there in Fine art and Ango is currently in the same program, having already received a KU diploma in Art.
Taabu, whose artworks are also at Nairobi National Museum as part of the Kenya Arts Diary 2020 exhibition, has shared a mixture of works at Ogilvy. They include several silkscreen prints, a few digital artworks, one that is mixed media and the rest are acrylics on canvas. The themes of her paintings are just as eclectic although a large portion of them explores various realms of African womanhood.
A few of Ango’s artworks are also being exhibited elsewhere. But the works he has displayed at Ogilvy haven’t been shown before. Taking a more surrealistic approach to his art, he paints solely in acrylics on canvas. But his art has an almost three-dimensional effect as his color schemes seem to be layered as are his background designs which tend to be either arabesque or circular or doodle-like.
With love as his central theme, Argo’s interpretations of relationships are especially provocative. But while both he and Taabu explore an array of topics in their art, hers more naturalistic, his surrealistic, they both brought one piece each that is subtly political in content.
For Taabu the painting is ‘Oblivion’ and for Ango, it’s ‘Enormity of our Habitudes’. In her case, it’s again a woman as the focus of the work. She’s asleep on the pavement, under a shabby blanket. Behind her are a dozen political posters plastered on the brick wall behind her. The painting seems to ask: Is it she who is oblivious or the politicians jockeying for political power who are blind and dumb to her needs and the conditions of millions of Kenyans who are as impoverished as she could be.
Ango’s ‘Enormity…” is all about gluttony and excess. Both works reflect a subtle sense of class consciousness and the huge gap existing between Kenya’s rich and poor.