Le Rustique’s more than an elegant eatery.

Le Rustique has become a regular venue featuring artworks by some of Kenya’s finest contemporary artists, like Kota Otieno

Restaurant showcases local and global art

Piece of art on show at the Le Rustique. Photo/ Xavier Verhoest

Yarn on canvas art by Kota Otieno at Le Rustique in June. Photo/ Xavier Verhoest  
By MARGARETTA WA GACHERU  
Posted  Thursday, July 5  2012 at  19:46

Le Rustique isn’t the only restaurant in Nairobi to display contemporary Kenyan art. Nor is the Westlands eatery the first to transform itself into a quasi-art gallery.

But for the past eight years out of the 10 that Maike Potgieter has been managing the café/creperie, her restaurant has consistently hosted mostly local Kenyan artists on a monthly basis.
The first art exhibition at Le Rustique was of works by Geraldine Robarts, the former Kenyatta University fine art lecturer, who saw the venue’s immense untapped potential for showing the best of contemporary Kenyan art. That was in 2004.
Since then, the leafy-green open-air space has consistently been curated by the Belgian artist and former refugee aid worker, Xavier Verhoest.
The former Medecins sans Frontiers volunteer worker who came to Kenya early in the new millennium has helped promote a wide range of resident artists by arranging group and solo exhibitions for them at the restaurant.
“Actually, the second exhibition here was of my work together with the art of [Sudanese artist] El Tayeb,” recalled Verhoest whose art is currently back up at Le Rustique together with works by 10 other mainly Kenyan artists.
He also has a solo show of his art addressing the theme of IDPs in Kenya, displayed in the home of another Belgian curator, Samantha Ripa di Meana.
Impressive
Eleven in one day is an impressive showcase of some of Xavier’s favourite local artists, most of whom he’s exhibited before at the restaurant.
That includes Peterson Kamwathi and Shabu Mwangi, Kota Otieno and the Japanese artist Yoshirari Nishiro who’s been a resident of Nairobi for several years.
In addition, 11 in 1 day also features the art of Alan Githuka, Ato Malinda, Beatrice Njoroge, El Tayeb, Philippa Ndisi-Hermann, and Godfrey ‘Gado’ Mwampenbwa, the esteemed Daily Nation cartoonist.
It’s an eclectic mix of everything from photography, cartoons, and paintings that are mostly oil paints or acrylics on canvas, although El Tayeb’s latest iconic images are all painted on wood.
Meanwhile, paper is the preferred medium of both Peterson Kamwathi (who draws with charcoal) and Ato Malinda (who uses pen and ink as well as oil paint).
Apparently having no unifying theme other than Verhoest’s appreciation of the other 10 artists exhibiting in 11 in One Day, the show actually came into being as a kind of farewell gift to a European friend who owns artwork by nearly all the 11 artists.
The exhibition’s opening coincided with her farewell party, so the evening became a celebration of Kenyan art as well as a parting gift to a good friend.
But the show is also a confirmation of the cosmopolitan character of contemporary Kenyan art. For there must be few capital cities in the world where Japanese and Belgian, Sudanese and Tanzanian artists exhibit side by side with Kenyans coming from Nyanza, Ngong, Ngecha and Nakuru as well as from Karen and Kileleshwa.
The fact that practically all the East Africans in the show have traveled studied and exhibited both within and outside the region is as much a testimony to the quality of the artists’ creative capacity as it is about the possibilities that art generally can open up to imaginative individuals.

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