Kuona Artists Showcased at Village Market

KENYA ART SHOWCASED FOR CHARITY BY Margaretta wa Gacheru Published March 8, 2013 in Business Daily, Kenya There was a spectacular showcase of contemporary Kenyan art at Village Market through the last few days of February. Poorly publicized, the group show, featuring nearly forty Kuona-connected artists, was given way too short a booking for the public to come out in full force to see. Nonetheless, the charity fund-raiser entitled ‘Peace through Service,’ which was organized by Kuona Trust in collaboration with the Rotary Club Nairobi East made the most dazzling usage of Village Market’s Exhibition Hall that I’ve ever seen. That hall is used to showcase everything from Persian carpets and home interiors from the Far East. But increasingly, it is being used as a strategic visual arts venue featuring excellent group and solo shows. It has hosted everything from the annual ManjanoArt Competition to everyone from the Lake Basin and Ngecha artists to individuals like Peter Elungat and Geraldine Robarts. But the Kuonaartists’ showcase was an eye-opening experience, enabling any doubters in the reality of ‘contemporary Kenyan art’ to be liberated from any illusion that Kenya’s only good for sandy beaches, safaris and wildlife. The reality is that Kenyan art is fresh, vibrant, rapidly evolving and diverse. At least that’s what I found at Village Market. Some of the artists whose works were on display are already well known locally, such as the Citizen-TV children’s art teacher and painter Patrick Mukabi, sculptor GakunjuKaigwa whose fiberglass lions graced Nairobi malls and city streets a few years back and sculptress Maggie Otieno who’s currently heading the East Africa branch of the Arterial Network. Many of the others are widely known among fellow artists, yet the public at large may not be well acquainted with, for instance, the MaasaiMbili artists who took part in this show, including Ashif, KevoStero, and Wycliffe Opondo. Others whose names and artworks ought to be well known here are John Silver Kimani (who might be better known in Holland than in his homeland Kenya), Cyrus Nganga (whose wirey, iconic C-Stunner shades are currently on show in Los Angeles). Paul Onditi (whose emblematic character Smokey is featured in nearly all his art work mirroring the artist’s own stroll through life) and Dennis Muraguri whose matatu prints are perfect stand-ins for the mobile matatu art we used to see on nearly all Nairobi streets until Michuki’s Rule came into effect and almost killed the local craft. One aspect of the Peace Through Service show that stood out strongly for me was the distinctly Kenyan flavor of the artistry. As with Muraguri’smatatus, so the Nairobi cityscapes of MaryAnn Muthoni and OmoshKindeh reflected essentially Kenyan contours. Kenyan people were also effectively portrayed in sculptures by David Mwaniki and Anthony Wanjau as well as by the colorful bus and bar paintings by the family team of Michael Soi and his young daughter Mali. Moses Nyawanda’s portrait of middle aged market mamas was very different from the rotund mamas that Mukabi paints and also far removed from the rural mamas who were on the move in Fred Abuya’s stain-glass window-like painting; but they all reflect different dimensions of Kenyan contemporary life. Other artists in the show who exhibited more mundane features of everyday Kenyan life are KephaMosoti whose wooden sculptures of scruffy, well-worn shoes and thread-bare blankets are beautiful in their ‘ordinary’ appeal. So are Kaigwa’s well-shaped stools and the backside of Jackie Karuti’s form-fitting shorts! One stereotypic image of Kenya that was happily absent from this show was that of Maasaimorans. Normally used to entice tourists to come visit the land of the ‘noble savage’, there was just one multi-colored portrait of two Maasai maids by Rosemary Ahoro which was a lovely contrast to the native cliché. But Kuona also opens its doors to visiting artists from elsewhere in the region, such as AdilRouf from Morocco, ErmiasEkube from Eritrea and Ali Yasser Mohammed the Sudanese painter who’s been a resident of Kenya for many years. Finally, some uninformed observers of Kenyan art claim we have few sculptors of merit, yet this exhibition debunks that claim as well, given it not only showcased the sculptures ofKaigwa, Mwaniki and Wanjau. It also amplifies the three-dimensional forms of MeshakOiro, Gor Soudan and Kevin Oduor whose sculpture of Wanjiku, Kenya’s Every Woman currently resides in the Chief Justice’s office to remind the public that Art is one of the best means of expressing the spirit of a people. While the Peace through Service exhibition closes last week, all the art that wasn’t sold to raise funds for Rotary Nairobi East’s pet projects in Korogocho, Thika, Makindu and Kajiado will be on display for sale at Kuona Trust in Hurlingham.

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