Wednesday, 16 October 2019

ORCHIDS ARE FOREVER

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 16 October 2019)

Orchids are one of the most celebrated plants on the planet. Renowned for their glorious beauty, diversity and complexity, they can grow almost anywhere. But nowhere are more exquisite orchids grown than in Kenya, a fact that will be indisputable for those who attend the 62nd Kenya Orchid Show which opened last Thursday running through Sunday at Nairobi’s Sarit Centre.
The new Exhibition Hall (named after the Loita Forest) is brimming over with more than 20 exquisite orchid displays, all of which were in competition for a wide array of donated trophies.
This past Wednesday, eight judges, headed by one senior judge, Michael Tibbs, spent several hours appraising every flower and floral display. That evening before the trophies were handed out, life-long orchid society members, like Heather Campbell, aged 91, came early to ensure she got a good seat so she could hear the judges’ selections and see if their choices tallied with her own.
“I’ve been a member since 1964 when my family first moved to Kenya,” says the nonagenarian who judged past orchid shows for several decades. “I also won trophies for my orchids, and I still have a lovely garden. But I no longer play an active part in the show. There’s too much hard work involved,” she admits.
Yet Heather fits in well with this year’s Orchid Show theme which is ‘The Vintage Collection.’ For just as she is a ‘vintage’ society member who has witnessed the way the orchid show has matured and changed over the years, the theme was also in keeping with the Orchid Society itself.
“This is the oldest orchid society in Africa,” observes Michael Tibbs who flew in especially for this year’s 62nd annual exhibition. “But what’s exciting about this show is not just its being the oldest. It’s also one, if not the most beautiful show in the region and possibly in the whole world.”
Having been a qualified judge of orchids for many years, Tibbs travels all over the world appraising orchid shows. So he knows what he is talking about.
“This year alone, I have done it in the US, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru as well as in [mainland] China, Taiwan and the UK,” he says. “The Kenya orchid show never fails to amaze me with the quality of members’ orchids and their dazzling displays.”
Noting that he has been coming to Kenya for the past 22 years, Tibbs says he’s observed big and beautiful changes over the years. “One reason the Kenya show has such fabulous orchids is because its members make the effort to bring in new species [and hybrids] whenever they go out of the country and come back with new orchids to plant,” he says.
One other thing that Tibbs finds impressive about the Kenyan orchid show is that it displays plants every year that have been there since the society’s inception. As he speaks, he also points the Dendrobium orchids that are hanging near the entrance of the show. “There are also Ansellia Africana and Cymbidium which, like the Dendrobium, were in the first orchid shows over six decades ago,” he says.
Asked what he thinks has contributed to the longevity of these species of orchids, Tibbs is quick to respond. “It’s because they have been well looked after, well cared for.”
Admitting he has a deep appreciation of those older orchids, he says, “I prefer old orchids that have been looked after well more than I do newer hybrids that are grown badly.”
Tibbs can easily tell the difference since he has been raising orchids since he was six years old. Growing up in the fertile Franschhoek Valley, not far from Cape Town, he recalls how his father built him a green house as a child. “It was just four poles that he covered in plastic sheet, but I loved it and learned early about caring for my plants,” he adds.
Tibbs is like many of the Orchid Society members that I met on the Judges’ day, who grew up surrounded by flowers. For instance, Nishi Raja grew up on a coffee farm with a father who also loved tending orchids. “I grew up surrounded by plants,” says Nishi whose joint display with Nita Shah at the show earned several trophies this year, including one for having the ‘Best Phragmipedium species’.
Anand Savani also comes from a family who loved to grow orchids. His display at the show is beautifully decked out with an elegant array of both exotic and indigenous orchids.
“We call our display ‘The Whiskey Room’,” says Anand who created his exhibit to embody the show’s ‘vintage’ theme.’ Whiskey rooms were popular back in the 1920s during the pre-prohibition days.
“We only included tiny whiskey bottles since we knew children would be passing through the show. We didn’t want to offend anyone,” says Anand as he sits casually on a cushy leather sofa meant to be a cozy prop in his display.
Anand isn’t the only one who has included aspects of vintage culture in their displays. One extraordinary exhibit features an old (but well-maintained) Mercedes Benz from the late 1950s. The owner has filled the front seat with a beautiful display of orchids. He also has opened up his Mercedes’ boot and filled it with even more pots that host more multi-colored plants.
“I believe this display set the record this year for the highest number of trophies received,” says Nishi shortly before the winning orchids were announced. “I think it won 11 trophies altogether.”
Other displays that have paid attention to the vintage theme include one that has an antique bicycle with carriers filled with exotic species of orchids. Another one has a wooden sculpture of an ancient African man seated amidst a gorgeous orchid display. And right above the old man is a beautiful blood-red Oncidopsis hybrid that also won a trophy.
The other group that has stayed true to the vintage theme is the students who took part in this year’s Orchid art exhibition. Organized by Jackie Guest who’s been running the exhibition for the last twelve years, the entries came in from all over the country from 23 schools. The youngest artists to take part are six years old and the oldest 19. 
“When we launched the art competition, we only received 300 entries. But this year we received 750, all of which we included in the exhibition,” she says with a touch of pride. “The idea is to get young people interested in orchids and the environment generally.”
That interest is evident in the way the youth include all things ‘vintage’ in their paintings, everything from old cars, bikes and an antique Victrola to 19th century ladies fashions and a dusty scull. One student even sculpted an ancient tortoise which reminded us of the 344-year-old Alagba, who died recently, his owners claiming he had been the oldest tortoise in Africa.
Jackie’s young people’s exhibition can be found at the far end of Loita Hall. Fortunately, she had plenty of room to display all the artworks. “But none of us was quite sure how we would fit into the new exhibition hall since this is the first time we held the orchid show in the new wing of Sarit Centre,” Jackie says.
In fact, the new hall is more spacious than the old  space. But it looks just right for the 23 members’ displays. There is even room for a glorious display of Michael Tibbs’ cut flowers that he flew in from Thailand and the Netherlands. “The cut flowers are purely for display, but I do sell plants for a living,” says the man with an encyclopedic mind when it comes to orchids and other plants.
Explaining that every species and hybrid of orchid has a designated name, Tibbs (who also lectures on orchids and other plants all over the world) says there are approximately 25,000 species of orchids and between 300,000 and 400,000 registered hybrids.
Asked if orchid species are more highly valued than hybrids (which are simply the result of a cross-pollination process, when two or more different kinds of pollen are used during the planting process), Tibbs explains that both plants are of value. “What elevates the value of an orchid is its rarity,” he says.
One joint exhibition that displays a type of ‘rarity’ that Tibbs appreciates is made up of only indigenous plants. Nishi says the display by Mr. Konos and Mr Sagoo is receiving a special Firth trophy for each man’s fulfilling the stiff criteria of including no less than six healthy indigenous orchids in their display.
“Most of these orchids come from forests in Kenya. They are classified as Epiphytes or plants that grow on trees, but they are not parasitic,” says Nishi.
What’s extraordinary about orchids that are epiphytes is that they are aerial and never touch soil in contrast to terrestrial orchids that only grow in the ground.
“The one other classification of orchid is the Lithophyte, meaning it’s a plant that grows on a rock or a stone,” adds Tibbs who admits that he like millions of plant-lovers all over the world is deeply fascinated by the infinite variety of orchids.
“But one thing that is not always understood about orchids is that they are not nearly so difficult to grow as some people think. In fact, orchids grow everywhere in the world apart from on permanent snowcaps and in arid deserts,” he says.
That is to say that anyone can grow orchids almost anywhere. The secret to being a successful orchid-grower is looking after your plant with tender loving care. That is how the Dendrobium has lived for many decades and how your orchids can also thrive. 
  
 


 











The new Expo Hall (named after the Loita Forest) is brimming over with more than 20 exquisite orchid displays, all of which were in competition for a wide array of donated trophies.
This past Wednesday, eight judges, headed by one senior judge, Michael Tibbs, spent several hours appraising every flower and floral display. That evening before the trophies were handed out, life-long orchid society members, like Heather Campbell, aged 91, came early to ensure she got a good seat so she could hear the judges’ selections and see if their choices tallied with her own.
“I’ve been a member since 1964 when my family first moved to Kenya,” says the nonagenarian who judged past orchid shows for several decades. “I also won trophies for my orchids, and I still have a lovely garden. But I no longer play an active part in the show. There’s too much hard work involved,” she admits.
Yet Heather fits in well with this year’s Orchid Show theme which is ‘The Vintage Collection.’ For just as she is a ‘vintage’ society member who has witnessed the way the orchid show has matured and changed over the years, the theme was also in keeping with the Orchid Society itself.
“This is the oldest orchid society in Africa,” observes Michael Tibbs who flew in especially for this year’s 62nd annual exhibition. “But what’s exciting about this show is not just its being the oldest. It’s also one, if not the most beautiful show in the region and possibly in the whole world.”
Having been a qualified judge of orchids for many years, Tibbs travels all over the world appraising orchid shows. So he knows what he is talking about.
“This year alone, I have done it in the US, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru as well as in [mainland] China, Taiwan and the UK,” he says. “The Kenya orchid show never fails to amaze me with the quality of members’ orchids and their dazzling displays.”
Noting that he has been coming to Kenya for the past 22 years, Tibbs says he’s observed big and beautiful changes over the years. “One reason the Kenya show has such fabulous orchids is because its members make the effort to bring in new species [and hybrids] whenever they go out of the country and come back with new orchids to plant,” he says
One other thing that Tibbs finds impressive about the Kenyan orchid show is that it displays plants every year that have been there since the society’s inception. As he speaks, he also points the Dendrobium orchids that are hanging near the entrance of the show. “There are also Ansellia Africana and Cymbidium which, like the Dendrobium, were in the first orchid shows over six decades ago,” he says.
Asked what he thinks has contributed to the longevity of these species of orchids, Tibbs is quick to respond. “It’s because they have been well looked after, well cared for.”
Admitting he has a deep appreciation of those older orchids, he says, “I prefer old orchids that have been looked after well more than I do newer hybrids that are grown badly.”
Tibbs can easily tell the difference since he has been raising orchids since he was six years old. Growing up in the fertile Franschhoek Valley, not far from Cape Town, he recalls how his father built him a green house as a child. “It was just four poles that he covered in plastic sheet, but I loved it and learned early about caring for my plants,” he adds.
Tibbs is like many of the Orchid Society members that I met on the Judges’ day, who grew up surrounded by flowers. For instance, Nishi Raja grew up on a coffee farm with a father who also loved tending orchids. “I grew up surrounded by plants,” says Nishi whose joint display with Nita Shah at the show earned several trophies this year, including one for having the ‘Best Phragmipedium species’.
Anand Savani also comes from a family who loved to grow orchids. His display at the show is beautifully decked out with an elegant array of both exotic and indigenous orchids.
“We call our display ‘The Whiskey Room’,” says Anand who created his exhibit to embody the show’s ‘vintage’ theme.’ Whiskey rooms were popular back in the 1920s during the pre-prohibition days.
“We only included tiny whiskey bottles since we knew children would be passing through the show. We didn’t want to offend anyone,” says Anand as he sits casually on a cushy leather sofa meant to be a cozy prop in his display.
Anand isn’t the only one who has included aspects of vintage culture in their displays. One extraordinary exhibit features an old (but well-maintained) Mercedes Benz from the late 1950s. The owner has filled the front seat with a beautiful display of orchids. He also has opened up his Mercedes’ boot and filled it with even more pots that host more multi-colored plants.
“I believe this display set the record this year for the highest number of trophies received,” says Nishi shortly before the winning orchids were announced. “I think it won 11 trophies altogether.”
Other displays that have paid attention to the vintage theme include one that has an antique bicycle with carriers filled with exotic species of orchids. Another one has a wooden sculpture of an ancient African man seated amidst a gorgeous orchid display. And right above the old man is a beautiful blood-red Oncidopsis hybrid that also won a trophy.
The other group that has stayed true to the vintage theme is the students who took part in this year’s Orchid art exhibition. Organized by Jackie Guest who’s been running the exhibition for the last twelve years, the entries came in from all over the country from 23 schools. The youngest artists to take part are six years old and the oldest 19.

“When we launched the art competition, we only received 300 entries. But this year we received 750, all of which we included in the exhibition,” she says with a touch of pride. “The idea is to get young people interested in orchids and the environment generally.”
That interest is evident in the way the youth include all things ‘vintage’ in their paintings, everything from old cars, bikes and an antique Victrola to 19th century ladies fashions and a dusty scull. One student even sculpted an ancient tortoise which reminded us of the 344-year-old Alagba, who died recently, his owners claiming he had been the oldest tortoise in Africa.
Jackie’s young people’s exhibition can be found at the far end of Loita Hall. Fortunately, she had plenty of room to display all the artworks. “But none of us was quite sure how we would fit into the new exhibition hall since this is the first time we held the orchid show in the new wing of Sarit Centre,” Jackie says.
In fact, the new hall is more spacious than the old Expo space. But it looks just right for the 23 members’ displays. There is even room for a glorious display of Michael Tibbs’ cut flowers that he flew in from Thailand and the Netherlands. “The cut flowers are purely for display, but I do sell plants for a living,” says the man with an encyclopedic mind when it comes to orchids and other plants.
Explaining that every species and hybrid of orchid has a designated name, Tibbs (who also lectures on orchids and other plants all over the world) says there are approximately 25,000 species of orchids and between 300,000 and 400,000 registered hybrids.
Asked if orchid species are more highly valued than hybrids (which are simply the result of a cross-pollination process, when two or more different kinds of pollen are used during the planting process), Tibbs explains that both plants are of value. “What elevates the value of an orchid is its rarity,” he says.
One joint exhibition that displays a type of ‘rarity’ that Tibbs appreciates is made up of only indigenous plants. Nishi says the display by Mr. Konos and Mr Sagoo is receiving a special Firth trophy for each man’s fulfilling the stiff criteria of including no less than six healthy indigenous orchids in their display.
“Most of these orchids come from forests in Kenya. They are classified as Epiphytes or plants that grow on trees, but they are not parasitic,” says Nishi.
What’s extraordinary about orchids that are epiphytes is that they are aerial and never touch soil in contrast to terrestrial orchids that only grow in the ground.
“The one other classification of orchid is the Lithophyte, meaning it’s a plant that grows on a rock or a stone,” adds Tibbs who admits that he like millions of plant-lovers all over the world is deeply fascinated by the infinite variety of orchids.
“But one thing that is not always understood about orchids is that they are not nearly so difficult to grow as some people think. In fact, orchids grow everywhere in the world apart from on permanent snowcaps and in arid deserts,” he says.
That is to say that anyone can grow orchids almost anywhere. The secret to being a successful orchid-grower is looking after your plant with tender loving care. That is how the Dendrobium has lived for many decades and how your orchids can also thrive.





  










GEL PENS REVEAL ASHWIN’S ARTISTIC APPEAL



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted for SN 16 Octobere 2019)

Ashwin Patel is what you’d call a ‘late bloomer’, someone who discovered his calling after fulfilling his first life-time career.
“I’ve been forty years in paper manufacturing,” says the grandfather who only realized he had real talent as an artist after giving his grandchild a birthday card. “I hadn’t wanted to give her something ordinary so I embellished the card with my doodles,” he adds.
Drawing with just a gel pen, Ashwin still prefers that kind of pen. “I have boxes of them,” he says during the last day of his first solo art exhibition at Village Market.
“It was my family who insisted I had talent,” says the CEO of Paper Converters Ltd. “My daughter Phera even curated this exhibition,” he explains, noting he had 60 paintings and drawings in the show he aptly entitled ‘Awakenings’.
One way he was able to include such a variety of artworks in his premiere exhibition was by putting up a long row of panels which he and Phera lit with overhead lighting that was carefully focused on the painting beneath.
The lighting made all the difference to the success of his showcase since one could see how meticulously he both drew and painted his artworks.
“I’m fortunate in that when I draw, my hand is steady and doesn’t stray from the [alignment] I am trying to make,” he says, accurately expressing the fact that his lines are delicately drawn and aligned like the grain of ancient trees.
I jest that perhaps he learned that refined alignment from the bonsai trees that he keeps in his garden. It is visible in all of his drawings, be they filled with trees, leaves, flowers or human beings and be they semi-abstract or naturalistic.
What Ashwin does not hide is his affinity for Hinduism. It’s visible in his multiple drawings of elephants, reflecting his appreciation of Ganish, the elephant-headed son of Lord Shiva.
It’s also apparent in a sweet painting of a couple who he says represent Lord Krishna and his sweetheart Radha. “They never married but they’re a symbol of enduring love,” he adds.
What’s also noteworthy about the couple is that theirs is one painting that reveals Ashwin’s branching out to use, not just the gel pen, but also acrylic paints, colorful African fabrics, sand and glittery beads.
“My family sent me a whole box of ‘master markers’ to experiment with,” he says. This partly explains why so many of the works in his show are brightly colored in yellows, oranges, pinks and purples.
For me, his black and white drawings are the most effective works in ‘Awakenings’. But what his color pieces prove is that he’s artistically adroit whether using a pen, paint brush or even a sponge.
The contrast between the two styles-of black and white versus color-is best seen on one of the well-lit panels that has one drawing of Ganesh and the same one (which had been scanned and reprinted by Phera) which Ashwin painted with a rainbow array of colors. Initially, one might not notice that they were the same Ganesh. But then, on further scrutiny one can see the similarities as well as the differences between the two. My favorite would be the unfettered drawing which provided a clarity of feeling.
But then, the beauty of his first exhibition is that Ashwin is only embarking on a new career. And while his company is still producing all paper, he is sparing himself a bit more time to doodle, draw and experiment with color.
“I’ve even begun painting on photographs. They might be in my next exhibition.”

DOCUMENTARIES ILLUMINATE AFRICA’S PAST AND PRESENT


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 16 October 2019)

The 7th Human Rights Watch Film Festival has been running all this week with only one more day and two more film remaining to see.
After watching three remarkable documentary films since Tuesday, all of which have relevance in their addressing current issues and social injustices on the African continent, the last two continue in the same vein. Only they both take the form of fiction which is set against the backdrops of civil wars.
Today from 6:30pm the festival will shift from CBD to Kibera and Anno’s One Fine Day (next to Olympic Primary School). ‘The Plight’ and ‘Struggle for Family’ will both expose the pains of war from a deeply personal perspective.
Fortunately, once the Festival is done, Alliance Francaise will again play host this coming week to four more documentary films.
‘Slavery Routes’ is actually one documentary split into four parts, two of which will be shown on Monday and the other two the following day. Created out of a UNESCO ‘Slave Route Project’ with support from a slew of other international agencies, the series traces the history of the slave trade from the fifth century up to the late nineteenth century.
Based on extensive historical research, and directed by Daniel Cattier, Juan Gelas and Fanny Glissant, the project involved both European and African historians as researchers and consultants.
One of them is Professor Samuel Nyanchogo who’s Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the Catholic University of East Africa. He will lead discussions following the films together with Emeritus Professor Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch, from University of Paris-Diderot.
The first film with trace slave trade routes between 476 to 1375; the second, from 1375 through 1620 and the latter two from 1620 to 1888.











Tuesday, 15 October 2019

'MAN MOMENTS’S FRESH ‘TAKE’ ON GENDER RELATIONS



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 14 October 2019)

‘Man Moments’ takes its title from one of the best segments of the previous show staged by Back to Basics earlier this year. In ‘Breeze 2’, Ian Mbugua, wearing an elegant lounge jacket, introduced us to ‘Man Moments’ which were witty, worldly, insightful and wildly funny scenes satirically exposing the man’s perspective.
These were the moments that the show’s producer, Mbeki Mwalimu chose to be the springboard for devising an entire show around a similar concept, only adding several twists and turns of tongue.
Premiering last night at Alliance Francaise and running through the weekend, these ‘Man Moments’ are very different from the Breeze 2 type, except that they too will bring to light the inner thoughts of men, but also of women. They too will be worldly, witty and uproariously hilarious. But the show itself could very well come down as the most contested and controversial play of 2019.
No one should shy away from seeing it, however. It’s bold, brilliant and steeped in a satirical view of male-female relationships.
Designed as a sort of live reality show in which the first act takes the form of a flashback on current events, the second act morphs into a marvelous game show moderated by Wakio Mzenge.
I don’t want to be a spoiler and give away the plot, but I will say the show is provocative. It also pushes boundaries on various notions of respectability and protocol. But then, act two caters for that concern. There’s a character, again played by Ian Mbugua who, like the rest of the cast, is ‘double booked’ as more than one character in the play. So be forewarned and not confused.
For instance, Ian comes back at the end of the show, again playing the venerable anchor of ‘Man Moments’. But in act two, he plays one of the three male contestants (Bilal Mwaura and Tim Kingoo are the other two) who have come to play the game and try to win big bucks in the process.
But clearly, all three guys don’t have a clue what they are getting themselves into. They will essentially be put through a mental meat-grinder by the ‘female experts’ who are the judges in this game. Mary Mwikali and Auudi Rowa conspire with lively moderator Wakio to take on countless gender stereotypes.
I won’t say much more except to note that many women have complained about the way they are typically treated by men, either as sex objects or second-class citizens who don’t get their fair share of respect. So in act two, the tables are turned.
“We expect some people to feel uncomfortable about the second act, but that’s okay,” says Mbeki who trusts the show will be illuminating.
The first act will also be full of surprises. But unlike Act two, it takes shape as a series of impactful vignettes, each of which reveals various challenges that couples face in their relationships.
In the process, multiple facets of men’s relations to things other than their women crop up. Director Nick Ndeda (who also directed Breeze Two) took time off during one weekend rehearsal to share some of the concepts the group wanted to address in ‘Man Moments’. They included everything from men and money to men and social expectations to infidelity and what happens between men and women as a consequence.
‘Nick is the one who actually wrote the script,” says Mbeki, acknowledging that he had to artistically assemble and refine all of their brainstorming ideas. But it was she who set the whole creative process in motion.
In the actual writing, Nick uses media as a metaphor for the nature of social relations and how few secrets are kept in a society where social media are combined with ‘breaking news’ TV and radio broadcasts that the public are attuned to.
Back to Basics is one of Nairobi’s youngest theatre troupes. But they have been consistent in creating fresh, illumining shows that challenge us to think deeply at the same time as we have great fun. We appreciate their originality as well as the quality of their shows.  It’d be wise to get tickets in advance so you will be assured to get a seat.
Meanwhile, this evening at Hillcrest School from 6pm, the Youth Theatre Kenya are teaming up with the National Youth Music Theatre to stage a performance to display what they’ve learned in a recent workshop.
 

Saturday, 12 October 2019

CORPORATE SUPPORT FOR KENYAN ARTISTS TAABU & ANGO



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.

Thursday, 10 October 2019

STAINED GLASS WINDOWS DEDICATED TO SOPHIE'S GRANNY


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 10 October 2019)

For centuries, the Catholic Church has been a great patron of the arts, which is one reason Florence Wangui and John Kenneth Clark were commissioned to create beautiful stained-glass windows in the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Kericho in 2015.
But John doesn’t discriminate. So when he met the Kenya-based artist Sophie Walbeoffe who was planning to create stained glass windows in a Protestant church in South Devon in the UK, he was happy to come work with her.  
“It’s been a wonderful collaboration,” says John who is the specialist in stained-glass while she is a superlative colorist whose paintings have been exhibited everywhere from London and Dubai to Jerusalem and Nairobi.
“We’ve worked together on the drawings for the windows,” says Sophie who was in the process of tracing their original (charcoal) drawings onto special tracing paper that John was getting set to take back to his studio in Germany where he would make the actual glass pieces, after which he and Sophie would install them in the Saint Nectan Parish Church in Ashcombe, Devon.
(His other studio is at Karen Village where he has imported a large glass-fusing kiln for use in two glass projects he started with Kenyan artists, one called Encompass art, the other Nakshi glass.)

John will also take along a miniature replica of their original design, which like the windows is three meters tall and one and a half meters wide.  The ‘miniature’ is actually a small-scale duplicate of the drawn design but painted by Sophie with all the vibrant colors that she wants in the three-panel window that she is dedicating to her grandmother Lady Elizabeth Rayner.
Sophie knew her grandmother well since she grew up in Devon and lived near Lady Elizabeth whose village, Ashcombe is where the church was built in the 13th century.
“Last year I remembered my grandmother had left a stipulation in her will that a lump sum be set aside for either a church carpark or a stained glass window,” says Sophie who was trained as a painter at the Wimbledon School of Art in London, but started working in glass with Nani Croze of Kitengela Glass Trust several years ago.
It was serendipitous that she met John Clark sometime back in Tigoni when she was painting in the open air with another Kenyan artist, Mary Collis. “I’d been told another artist was working nearby so I went over to say hello,” Sophie recalls.
They have been friends ever since and began collaborating on the windows over a year ago. Explaining that there are several narratives in the windows’ design, Sophie points to Jesus Christ who is illustrating the Parable of the Sower as seeds drop from his hand as he stands on a globe. “That’s to say we must take care of our planet,” she says.
Then she points to the seed which lands on fallow ground, among thorns and thistles and finally, on good soil that bears a beautiful floral harvest. But then in the upper part of the design, there’s another narrative, of the village founder after whom the church at Ashcombe was named, Saint Nectan.
“Nectan is said to have come over to Devon from Wales by coracle and established the village,” she says pointing to Nectan and his circular sailboat in the upper left lancet (or panel). Sadly, she adds his life ended tragically.
“As the story goes, he was attacked by thieves and beheaded. But it is said that wherever his blood fell, foxgloves [flowers] grow. These are also in the windows,” she adds. So are the hills and rocky ridges of Devon that overlook the sea.
There are other elegant details in Sophie’s design, such as the rainbow above Jesus’s head, which she says was inspired by the British artist Winifred Nicholson who loved radiant rainbow colors as much as Sophie does.
The one feature of the windows that gives them a personal touch will be found in the four oval windows above the larger body of the stained glass. Sophie describes them initially as ‘musical windows’ since each one contains a musical instrument. Explaining further, she adds that the windows represent the four sisters in her family. There’s Sabrina on flute, Julia on trumpet, Sophie on cello and Emma on banjo.   
And above them is the fleur de lis, which she says is nod to her grandmother’s French Huguenot background.
“Best of all,” adds Sophie, “is that in addition to the windows, the church is getting a carpark.”




Wednesday, 9 October 2019

PLAYS REFLECT ON CORRUPTION, BOTH PERSONAL AND POLITICAL


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 9 October 2019)

It’s fascinating that while the two plays staged last weekend, namely ‘Cat and Mouse’ and ‘All I ever wanted’ are very different scripts, they ironically have much in common. Both performed to packed-houses, Heartstrings’ ‘CaM’ at Nairobi Cinema, Hearts of Art’s ‘AIEW’ at Braeburn Theatre.
Both have at their emotional core a teenage girl sent home from school, not because she’s a bad student. Her perceived misconduct is the consequence of family pressures resulting from differences between her parents.
In ‘Cat and Mouse’, the parents have split and she (Bernice Nthenya) is left with her wayward mom (Mackrine Andala). Other issues are raised, including a horrible education system that leaves not only students in the dust but teachers ignorant of the ever-changing curriculum so they con their kids as a consequence.

Heartstrings has little sympathy for teachers whom they showcase as either buffoons, tricksters, tyrants or all three. It’s the bursar (Jerry Mokua) who is the most brutal towards children, especially towards our girl whose mom’s neglect is manifest in her failing to pay school fees. That is why the girl gets sent home.
In Hearts of Art, the young girl, Tricia (Suzzie Joanitah) also has grievances with parents who don’t get along. In both plays, the parental issue relates (as usual) to infidelity. In Heartstrings, it was the mom who got caught cheating by the dad (Sammy Mwangi).
In ‘All I ever wanted’, the philanderer is Judge Harvey (Sam Psenjin) who’s had an affair with one of the advocates, Laura (Ellsey Okatch) whose cases often end up in his court. After his wife (Grace Waihuini) finds out, he tries to make amends for the sake of his kids, but the wife doesn’t let him forget.
Their arguments disturb the girl terribly, leading her to send her dad anonymous Biblical text messages castigating him for his sin of infidelity. He believes they are sent by the wife, so before he learns the truth, he says he’s given up trying to make their marriage work.
When he makes one last half-hearted effort to return home, he finds they are all gone and he’s alone. Except for Laura who’s been waiting in the wings to snatch the man for herself.
Ultimately, the judge supposedly maintains his integrity rather than compromise it when threatened by the Mafia-like Special Agent (Ramsay Njire). But he apparently caves in when it comes to his personal life.
Fortunately, Tricia makes amends with her mom which somehow fulfills the sentiment expressed in the show’s title, ‘All I ever wanted’. It was a parent’s love.
Heartstrings’ girl also gets that parental love, although hers comes from her dad, as she announces over social media, one of the sub-themes of both plays. For in addition to the theme of bad parenting causing countless social problems, both scripts highlight the all-pervasive and obsessive nature of social media, digital technology, and how they damage human relationships which have largely been replaced by the cell phone.
The best evidence of the damage social media can do comes in Walter Sitati’s script where a young woman (Ann Wanjiku) is charged with killing her mom. She had been lost in her cell phone, so when it died, she mindlessly unplugged her mom’s life-support system in order to recharge her phone. She apparently had no malice, only ignorance of the consequences of her actions. The Judge finds her guilty as charged; not even her clever advocate (Sitati) can save her from a 15-year jail sentence without a cell phone. The jail term being less of a torture to her than life without her precious smart phone.
The case of the heart-broken lover (Allan Sifuna) who takes his ex-lover (Azziad Nasenya) to court gets resolved once she remembers his sweetness and readily dumps her social media-obsessed boyfriend (Rextone Saul), Judge Harvey’s son on the spot.
But the most political case facing the Judge, and the one that gets the local Mafia after him, is that of the dissident woman (Traci Amadi) who has good reasons for not paying her taxes and refusing to take part in the census count and registering for Huduma Namba since they are all related to a corrupt political system that gives politicians free reign to exploit ordinary people rather than serve them like good public servant should do.
In end both plays leave us disillusioned but sadly more aware of how far some Kenyans have gotten off the track of caring for others and instead, serving themselves.