Ex-priest in bid to revive gallery
By MARGARETTA WA GACHERU
Posted Thursday, July 26 2012 at 17:42
Marco Grieser and Roger Sanchez came to Kenya with a specific agenda in mind, to assist in the reconstruction of Paa ya Paa Art Centre after the historic fire of 1997.
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The photography of both men, one a German from Munich, the other a Latin American from Costa Rica, is currently on show at the centre as from last Sunday, July 22nd.
The exhibition, including a collection of 47 selected framed images, was opened by the Centre’s Director Elimo Njau, with a musical prelude by the amazing blind Kenyan musician, Michel Ongano.
All 47 photographs reflect post-inferno impressions of Paa ya Paa. Some aspects of the centre that survived the fire, like the steel wire and cement sculptures – one by the renowned Kenyan artist Samuel Wanjau of the Mau Mau Freedom Fighter, the other by Elimo himself of an eight foot tall Celebrant of Life.
The other photoprints focus on the ruins and the way the spirit of artistry never died despite the destruction of countless works of art and priceless texts that the Njaus had collected over more than half a century.
The big difference between Greiser and Sanchez, is that one is currently living in the south of France while the other is very present, having curated the entire exhibition entitled Urembo wa Jana na Leo (The beauty of yesterday and today).
Urembo is meant to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the first post-inferno exhibition. The photography of Grieser represents urembo wa jana, the beauty of yesterday, and the images taken more recently by Sanchez are urembo wa leo, the beauty of today.
Jana refers to the year 2000 when Grieser came to Kenya with funding from UNESCO, the UN agency concerned with cultural development and keen to help Kenya’s first indigenous African-owned art gallery survive and thrive.
The young German constructed sculptures out of the scraps that remained after the inferno, and then moved on once he’d showcased his art at the UN headquarters in Gigiri. He left behind negatives of his artworks with Elimo for future exposure.
Photoprints developed from those negatives are what constitutes Grieser’s part of the current show.
Meanwhile, Sanchez came in 2012, having previously lived in Kenya for more than a year while serving the Catholic Church as a Comboni Brother.
Coming first to work with youth suffering from drug and alcohol addictions, Sanchez served everywhere from Kibera and Korogocho to Pokot and Turkana, before finally landing at Paa ya Paa where he came with a fellow priest to help fix a computer for the Njaus.
Sanchez accepted the invitation to stay in one of PYP’s artists’ studio flats. Since then, he and the Njaus have become like a family who share similar values on a more ecumenical level.
It was during his stay at Paa ya Paa that he found a whole new kind of soulful calling: the expression of [Christian] spirituality through the visual arts.
That new calling is, in a sense manifest in the Urembo wa Jana na Leo exhibition, since the show launches a whole new chapter in Sanchez’s life, now as a layman as he resigned from the Comboni brotherhood after he went back briefly to Costa Rica late last year.