Friday, 10 April 2020

MARVELOUS MAYA 12 April 2020


April 12, 2020 Easter Sunday

Dear Marvelous Maya,

May you have the most joyful & fun birthday of your life
with your 2 most beautiful people, your Mom and Faith.

May you be happy today and always know you are
very much loved by your ShoSho…me!
And your Mom, your Daddy and sweet Faith.

Have a blessed and fun time with your presents
(I hope you like mine!)
And always remember to be kind and joyful with everyone.
And know you make everyone around you happy to be near.

Lots of Love,
Shosho

BEING OPEN TO CHANGE IRRESPECTIVE OF AGE

By Margaretta Swigert Gacheru (10 April 2020)

It’s taken me years to reconcile with being over 32 years old. Now I am twice that age and still feeling like my heart is 32 and I don’t deserve to be treated like a senior. I recall my mother loved being one since she could  get so many bargains, especially at the movies.
For myself, I don’t feel my age; yet I feel I must speak on behalf of my political spirit, not even for my age group or my gender or race, etc. I’d prefer to speak of Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick who I feel must be pitied for being a clone of the most unfortunate Head of State that the United States has ever seen.
I feel Patrick’s comments about us antiques can be understood in terms of the callous ignorance of middle aged white rich men who have no time for anyone but themselves. We see them everywhere.
He is a white man who has enjoyed power and privilege as a life style and material culture that has nourished him from birth. He has only known the life of one who considered himself entitle to life on the top of the heap not just nationally, but internationally as well. We could call him one of the Ruling Class.
But more precisely he is a man who is witnessing a changing world in which he is no longer a member of a white majority. There are too many women, too many brown and black people, too many ‘foreigners’ and immigrants and ‘others’ who are circling his nest and high tower. He is worried and thus, he is dangerous. Being threatened by new circumstances over which he has no control, he would like to banish them all who constitute the ‘others’ who might wish to claim his space or even claim they could rival him with regard to money, power, prestige and even knowledge.
In short, Patrick represents the same body of manhood that President Trump currently leads. They are a minority but they still want to win elections and hold onto power. That is unfortunate since a truly old man like Bernie Sanders knows that the only relevant message that he has to share with the public is to let the rest of us know that the young are coming with their free thought and open minds and techie savvy that far surpasses their own knowledge.
Bernie might not be your cup of tea. Too radical you might say. But there you have a truly old and wise man who knows that Change is a reality of nature and society and life, so accept it and move on. The status quo cannot endure. But us who are 60 and over can, if we care to heed the call to be open to change and to the future. Thanks for this opportunity.

Monday, 30 March 2020

ART ONLINE IS THE WAY WITH OR WITHOUT COVID-19



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted March 25 2020)

International Women’s Day, March 8th, came and went with hardly a ripple of attention or public awareness of the day and its significance.
Yet a few artists took note and prepared exhibitions to run through the entire month. Unfortunately, those shows all got shot down by the coronavirus scare that didn’t just hit Kenya but is a global shutdown.
Nonetheless, a few of those shows can be seen online. Most of them cannot however. In future, more artists are likely to put their works online either with online galleries like KendiArt or One Off Gallery or as solo artists who either have websites of their own or display their work on Facebook as many do.
The shows that we missed were at the Waterfront Mall in Karen and Karen Country Club as well as at Kenya National Theatre’s Cheche Gallery and at the Art Caffe Westminister where you would have found the one-woman exhibition by Taabu Munyoki.
Fortunately for Taabu, Art Caffe has a Facebook page where you will find an interview with Taabu. Sadly, her paintings don’t appear.
If you had gotten to KNT’s Cheche Gallery in time, you would have seen Goddesses and Queens painted by Chela Cherwon and works by Afro-Renaissance artists Steve Ogallo aka Sogallo and Marvin Macharia aka Native.
At Karen Country Club, you could have seen art by Mary Ogembo, Nadia Wamunyu, Kay Sanaa, Rose Mwendwa, Stephanie Otolo and Celeste de Vries as well as by guys like Dickson Nedia, Kibet Kirui, Kamau Kariuki Absalom Aswani and Kenndy Kinyua among others.
Meanwhile, there were a number of major exhibitions that were held this month. There was Manjano at Village Market where Nadia Wamunyu won a top prize, Nairobi Design Week at Lava Latte where Chela and Naitiemu were exhibiting and the Art Auction East Africa which also had a preview exhibition at Circle Art Gallery.
It’s at the website for the Art Auction that you will find artworks by a number of outstanding women artists. Among them are women from around East Africa such as Souad Abdul Rassoul from Egypt as well as Theresa Musoke, Dr Lilian Nabulima, Sarah Wasswa and Stacey Gillian Abe all from Uganda.
Among the Kenyan women whose art can be found online, courtesy of Circle Art Gallery are Rosemary Karuga, Yony Waite, Tabitha wa Thuku, Annabel Wanjiku and Emily Odongo.
The conclusion that artists can draw from our current COVID-19 pandemic is that if they want their art to be seen in this day and age, they had better find ways to exhibit it online.
The easiest way to do that is to go on Facebook or Instagram and expose your art in online venues such as these. Already, many artists and designers are doing this. Some are using YouTube and a few are assembling websites of their own, such as Chelenge van Rampelberg who has her own Home Gallery.
Then there are a number of artists affiliated with specific galleries or online platforms like ArtLabAfrica or OneOffGallery. There are only a few women connected with these sites, such as Beatrice Wanjiku who is at both Art Lab and One Off sites. Florence Wangui is also at the One Off site.
So while a number of artists refuse to show their works online because they are paranoid that someone will ‘steal’ their ideas, especially ‘the Chinese’, the rest may choose to take the risk. But it is more likely those online will have greater opportunities to show and also sell their works. They will have a higher public profile which in the long run will be in their interest.
Ultimately, the easiest way to look up an artist is to google him or her and see their images and art for yourself.




KALOKI’S ART HAS UNPRECEDENTED SHOCK-VALUE



By Margaretta wa Gacheru
Apart from not being able to hold exhibitions in public spaces, most Kenyan artists’ lives haven’t been seriously disrupted by the coronavirus  since many were already working from home.
What with spaces like the GoDown evacuating artists so they could prepare for the ground-breaking of their brand new multipurpose art centre, many have set up studios in their home environs while putting more of their artwork online through multiple social media platforms.
Fortunately, one former GoDown artist already had a plan to be out of the country before the pandemic hit and after he had already moved out of the GoDown.
Kaloki Nyamai was already on his way to South Africa to take part in an inaugural exhibition in the pristine town of Stellenbosch, a short distance outside of Cape Town.
The only Kenyan artist to attend the Stellenbosch Triennial at the Stellenbosch University Museum, Kaloki may or may not have known beforehand that the town is renowned for being an ultra-wealthy, elite and snow white community. It was also a town apparently unprepared for a showcase of contemporary Pan-African artists, curated by the Xhosa feminist, Khanyisile Mbongwa.
Khanyisile had been picked to curate the show audaciously entitled ‘Tomorrow there will be more of us’ by two curators based at the Stellenbosch Outdoor Sculpture Trust, Andi Norton and France Beyers. The two were actually the ones who’d conceived of the Triennial in the first place. Having supported public art exhibitions around the town for the last decade, they had wanted to launch a bigger showcase of African art. And so they came up with the Triennial idea.
They had known Khanyisile through her work with the Gugulective Artists Collective, based in Gugulethu township. What was ironic about their choice is that while their goal was to present art that promoted reconciliation among post-apartheid people, Khanyisile aimed to curate a show that exposed Pan-African art that explored economic and cultural themes which were bound to be implicitly political.
Kaloki’s participation in the Triennial had been complicated even before he reached the town renowned for giving birth to men considered the ‘framers of apartheid’. The materials he required to assemble his original installation idea were beyond the budget he’d been allocated. Then, once he got there, the space allocated him was much smaller than he’d anticipated.
His contribution to the show could have been over at that point. But Kaloki’s a resourceful man. And as he’d gotten to town in good time, he was advised by Khanyisile to ‘make do’ with whatever local materials he could find which he did.
Undaunted, Kaloki took some time to explore the town and visit as many wineries as possible. It was what he found in his local travels that compelled him to create an installation that became one of the most controversial and talked about in the entire Triennial.
Called ‘one of the show’s strongest’ and most evocative installations, Kaloki’s art was aptly entitled ‘Your Comfort is my Discomfort.’
In a word, he was appalled by the racist reaction of the local whites to his presence in their billionaires’ enclave. Having exhibited his art everywhere from London to Paris and beyond, Kaloki had never seen or felt such emotive hostility as he did in Stellenbosch.
His installation was a bold reaction to the many inhospitable encounters he’d had in a town committed to whiteness, wealth and disdain for multiracial democracy.
That was how Kaloki came to collect a huge pile of cow dung and place it at the centre of his installation. The heaping mount of manure was encased in a mabati-styled house which one had to enter first in order to see the artist’s reaction to abhorrent racist glares he had got from the locals discomfited by so many dark people in their town.
The low light inside his ‘house’ meant the mound was smelled before it was seen. The observer could also have been distracted by all the sisal strings hanging from Kaloki’s mabati ceiling. The ropes were reminiscent of the lynchings of blacks in a white supremacist world. But these ropes are all unknotted as if to say black people are no longer bound by your apartheid-system or racist terror tactics.
On the outside of Kaloki’s house hangs a large abstract painting meant to attract one to come see more of the artist’s works. His contribution to the Triennial has had a shock-factor that no other art piece has had.
Kaloki’s gift to Stellenbosch is unlikely to be forgotten soon.


Tuesday, 24 March 2020

KINOONI HOUSE, A PALACE EMBODYING ELEGANCE AND SIMPLICITY


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (24 March 2020)

It’s not easy to snap a few photographs of Kinooni House and capture the elegance, simplicity and grandeur of a space originally built to be a palace for the Governor of Lamu, who was then the emissary to the Sultan of Zanzibar.
But it is easy to understand why a successful film producer and virtual reality games and film maker like Michel Reilhac would want to own such a spectacular home, even if he didn’t plan to live in Lamu all the year round.
Like so many Europeans who come to Lamu ‘by chance’ Michel arrived some 35 years ago, fell in love with the place and bought a house on the other side of the island which he named Nyumba ya Pumbao. He lived there with his family for a time, commuting between Lamu and either Paris, Berlin or Amsterdam.
But then in 2006, Michel got the chance to buy Kinooni House from the uncle of a dear friend who wanted to sell. “But it was only six years ago, in 2014 that we began renovating the house,” says Michel who adds that he put in the pool on the second floor and the garden, both of which one easily looks out on from the spacious open-air dining room that has an adjoining kitchen and a ceiling that’s meters above what one normally finds in a home that’s not a palace.
In fact, from the outside, one wouldn’t know Kinooni House had such a dazzling interior. But from the moment you step in the front door, you have to be struck by several astonishing things. First, the initial courtyard you meet is open-air like most houses in Lamu. But then, all the walls are pearly white and lustrous. And the ceilings are nearly four and a half meters high, with ceilings featuring parallel mangrove poles. There’s also a pool in the center of the courtyard next to a beautiful tree sprouting up beyond the ceiling and lush potted plants on every corner of the yard.
There’s a staircase leading to an invisible kitchen. But there are also beautiful alcoves covered in white cushions that Michel says is where yoga students came for classes during the Lamu International Yoga Festival which just took place a few weeks ago.
In fact, Michel wants to open up Kinooni House to artists as well as yogis who he feels could make excellent use of his polished coral stone abode that has five floors, each one having incredible views both of Lamu town and the Bay as well as the labyrinthine-styled corridors that take you into chambers where whole families live comfortably and peacefully.
“In the past, the Governor would have been Moslem so there was plenty of space for the women to live in one area of the palace, the men and boys to live in another,” says Michel.
The day we went to see Kinooni, Michel had actually called friends for an Open House since he clearly takes pride in his home. It’s a place that offers one surprise after another. For the courtyard, adjoining alcoves and spacious vestibule that lead you into two vast living areas, are just the beginning. Taking stairs everywhere, one has no idea that five steps up is where you’ll find the gracious green garden and swimming pool. You have already left your shoes at the door. But still it’s something of a surprise to discover that in order to get to the pool, around the garden and up more stairs into the dining area, you have to walk on lust green grass. There are no stepping stones or cement walkways, just grass mixed with healthy green trees, shrubs and even a spice and herb nursery situated beside another set of stairs.
Then walking up and around the open-air staircases and corridors that allow you to see the garden below, one finds spacious bedrooms on every floor along with leafy potted plants. But once you finally reach the top floor, you find Michel’s bedroom where windows look out on all four sides of the room, each window featuring geometric patterns that have a clear Islamic-influence.
Before we take our leave, Michel offers us hors d’hoeuvres and lime juice. By now, he has many visitors so we don’t want to interrupt. But Michel is a perfect host and invites us back in early 2020 when he will have a proper opening of Kinooni House. We assure him, we’ll be there!

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

NGUGIS’ BANNED PLAY POSTPONED INDEFINITELY



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 17 March 2020)

Twice banned play by Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Ngugi wa Mirii, ‘Ngaahika Ndeeda’ was finally coming back to the Kenya stage for the first time in over 40 year.
Nairobi Performing Arts Studio was scheduled to stage both the Kikuyu and English versions of Ngugi and Ngugi’s controversial play in mid-June.
It would have been the world premiere performance of “I will marry when I want”. But for now, everything about the productions are on hold indefinitely.
Kenyan theatre generally has been especially hard hit by the Government directive to cancel all group gatherings, including public performances like plays, concerts, festivals and public debates of all kinds.
“This situation [meaning the COVID-19 pandemic] will have to end at some point, but no one knows when,” says Stuart Nash, the producer-director of both plays who is also the founder and artistic director of the Nairobi Performing Arts Studio (NPAS).
Mr. Nash had already begun rehearsals for the shows, starting last Saturday at Kenya National Theatre with the music. He had invited Wakonyote Njuguna, who was a student at Nairobi University when Ngaahika Ndeeda was banned, Kamiirithu Theatre and open-air stage bulldozed by the Government and both Ngugis detained overnight, to come teach NPAS students the traditional Kikuyu songs from the play.
Wakonyote, who in the 1970s and ‘80s was an actor in his own right, had already come to the Studio to talk to the students about the historical context and background of the play.
“We had planned to hold auditions for several parts this past Wednesday,” says Nash who has already filled several key roles, but is still looking for several more actors to fill the remaining roles.
The actors now committed to play some of the lead characters include Martin Githinji, Bilal Mwaura and Martin Kigundo as well as Anne Stellah and Nyce Wanjiru.
But there are several women’s roles available as well as a number of men’s. There are also parts available for Mau Mau Freedom Fighters, British soldiers, African home guards and workers as well as for singers, dancers, musicians and children. However, most of those will be filled by NPAS students since participation in the production provides credits towards the students getting certified by NPAS.
“We’d like to continue preparations for staging the plays online,” says Nash. But so far, he is still working out the details. One option is for actors to send in short videos to NPAS for casting consideration. But performing artists will be notified, again online.
“Initially I had planned to stage only the English version of Ngugis’ play. But then it dawned on me to put on both versions, the English and the original Kikuyu,” says Nash whose decision generated heaps of local enthusiasm and interest.
“But there was no way NPAS could work with two different casts,” Nash continues, noting both the finances and time constraints made it virtually impossible.
“I had no choice but to find actors with a command of both English and Kikuyu,” he says. But that has proved to be a challenge since some actors he had hoped to work with claimed their Kikuyu wasn’t good enough to be in the show.
But as there is no shortage of theatrical talent in Kenya, Nash is optimistic about getting his full cast together even if auditions have to continue online. The issue, of course, is when the shows will open.
“Even if the ban was lifted after 30 days, that would provide too little time to be ready by June,” says Nash who had also had plans to take the productions to Nakuru, just as he did last year with the cast of Sarafina.
This weekend, the widow of Ngugi wa Mirii, Margaret Wairimu will come to Nairobi to see Mr Nash. “We had planned to have her share with our students about the historical background as well as her personal experiences from that time since she was in the original cast,” says Nash who has produced musicals in Kenya since he was invited in 2015 to come from the West End of London (UK’s version of Broadway) to stage musicals for one international school in Nairobi.
Since then, he started NPAS in 2016 and staged musicals like Jesus Christ Superstar, Grease, Caucasian Chalk Circle and most recently Sarafina.
When he originally chose to do the Ngugis’ play, he hadn’t known much about the historical circumstances of Ngaahika Ndeeda. But having learned more, he is still keen to stage both plays for Kenyan audiences.