By Margaretta wa Gacheru (April 2020)
Feeling depressed, bored, lonely or simply claustrophobic. Maybe you even feel an affinity with those protesters on the American streets, marching without masks, some even sporting guns and insisting that the ‘shutdowns’ be lifted so everything can ‘go back to the way it was’.
Well, one sure way to lift your spirits is to get into Facebook, Instagram or Twitter and not read the news, be it ‘fake’ or genuine and true.
Look for the visual. You may have to work a little bit since your algorithms may not be periodically sending you images of visual art by Kenyan painters, sculptors, cartoonists, mixed media or graffiti artists like Michael Soi, Bertiers Mbatia, Gado, Evans Ngure or Swift 9.
But once you take a moment and stick in names like Patrick Mukabi or Elizabeth Mazrui or Mary Collis or Victor Ndula or even Bankslave, you will begin to see an extraordinary array of artworks that will fill your day with colors, creativity, light and surprises to rouse your interest in a field you may not have paid attention to before now.
In this time of boredom or blight when many are yearning to get back to work or at least get into something that excites them while they are stuck indoors, the visual arts online have come alive. They might even serve as a panacea to your boredom.
And not only with artists who we have seen regularly on either Instagram or Facebook, like Soi who often shares his paintings ‘in progress’ with photos or short videos.
There’s also the graffiti artist, one of the trio of BSQ based behind the Kenya Railway Museum, Msale who also regularly shares his graffiti art.
So does Bankslave who is another one of Kenya’s great graffiti artists. Both painters use spray paints as well as acrylics, mainly on massive walls which they share online either in short films or as still photos. Either way, they exemplify the creative expression that hasn’t stopped even under our current cramped cultural conditions of mostly sticking indoors for fear of getting hit by that crazy and mysterious viral killer, CVD-19.
We have also seen an artist best known for her colorful abstract expressionist art, Mary Collis, give us a daily ‘exhibition’ on Facebook of one of her glorious paintings. She might have painted one canvas in a friend’s colorfully floral backyard, or another outside in Cape Town overlooking the sea, or yet another in Zanzibar exploring the fascinating features of its Swahili architecture.
Some of the artworks online have been created in the past but have never before been seen in public, like a sculpture shaped long ago by Wambui Collymore which compels us to recommend she go back to that genre and get serious about what she can produce sculpturally right now.
Another set of recent, but pre-CVD-19 art, visible mainly on Instagram is coming out under the name, DreamKona since that’s the venue (inside Uhuru Garden) where many Kenyan artists have come in the last two years to create artworks in a kind of open-air gallery space, created by T.I.C.A.H (Trust for Indigenous Culture, Art and Health). They include everyone from Anne Mwiti, Patrick Mukabi, Gloria Muthoka, Nadia Wamunyu, Sane and Eunice Wadu and BSQ’s KayMist, Thufu B and Msale.
Other works are being created as we speak or at least since the lockdown began. Many of them speak directly to our current conditions like Drishti Vohra’s ‘Opening Doors Within’ on Instagram in which the artist suggests we take this time to be more introspective and think deeply about all the good things we have to be grateful for.
Other new works that we have the opportunity to see are experimental pieces that some Kenyan artists are working on as they use this time to be daring and innovative. Like Moira Bushkimani[m1] who’s been discovering the artistic possibilities of mixing sculpture, photography and visual art, and sharing it on Instagram.
The other thing that is exciting about Kenyan visual art in this age of lockdown is that individuals best known for being something other than an artist are coming out and revealing what has been there all along, namely their artistic inclination.
One such Kenyan is the financial analyst, Ritesh Barot who apparently has been quietly painting watercolors for several years, but only recently exposed his generous talents on Facebook this week. One reminds me of Claude Monet’s ‘Waterlilies’ only his ‘lilies’ look like sun shine, radiant reminders this too shall pass.