Tabitha wa Thuka & Zihan Hassan at Talisman

[Backtracking on my arts stories because my blog would be incomplete without taking note of Tabitha and Zihan’s art at the Talisman] Veteran artist and Nairobi newcomer join hands to bring worthy women’s show to Talisman By margaretta wa gacheru Published in late 2012 in Business Daily Nairobi Talisman restaurant in Karen is one of the most fashionable venues for showing contemporary Kenyan art. It’s also one of the most sought after spaces among local and global artists since many of its patrons like to buy art, especially when the price is right. “Some local artists have been spoiled by people who persuade them to jack up their once affordable prices,” said the restaurant’s new manager and chef Marcus…”They seem to forget that our customers are also locals who aren’t inclined to pay fortune for a work of art.” Tabitha wa Thuku and Zihan Hassan both seem to have learned that lesson as they’ve kept the paintings in their current joint exhibition at Talisman fairly affordable. This is especially good news in Tabitha’s case since the veteran artist’s paintings’ prices shot sky high while she was showing exclusively at Gallery Watatu where management insisted her works sell for prices comparable to those seen atinternational art fairs like the ones held in Maastricht, Basel or Venice. In spite of the high prices, Tabitha’s monumental mixed media paintings sold quite well at Watatu. Nonetheless, she moved on in 2011, first to Alliance Francaise to feature prominently in the International Women’s Day show, then to Vogue Gallery in Westlands, and now to link up with newcomer to the Nairobi art world, Zihan Hassan. Making up for lost time, since the University of Western Ontario sociology graduate only returned to Kenya late in 2010, [having spent half her life in Canada], Zihan took part in no less than ten group exhibitions in 2011plus one solo show also at Talisman. “I started painting Kenyan landscapes while living abroad since I was homesick for the country,” said the art correspondent for The Star. “The paintings in this show are similar to the ones I painted back then. All of them were inspired by my love of nature,” she added. Her most striking expression of that affinity for me is Zihan’s Blushing in the Light. Tabitha, on the other hand, says she “went wild over the color red” most recently. Walking through Talisman’s front door confirms that fact. Her monumental Red Blanket is a stunningly beautiful semi-abstract statement of the power and passion conveyed through that hue. She has several other flaming hot red paintings in this show. The rest are older, more subdued and subtle works, like her Honeymoon in which she blends muted earth-tones in a landscape that’s practically pastoral, idyllic. Zihan also has several landscapes in this show which she curiously entitled Shelter for a Sage. She also features trees in paintings like Golden Haze and Cinders; however, her scenes are stark, her tree branches are graceful, but leafless, naked and somber. The artist admits those paintings reflect what she calls “the dark side of nature,” which she feels has a beauty all its own. Two of the most charming of Zihan’s works are watercolors. The simplicity of her Apple Tree and Wheelbarrow both reveal a bright luminosity and fresh transparency that is absent from much of her other artworks. Both women have been painting practically all their lives. Both prefer mixed media and both paint using everything from the palms of their hands to palette knives, but rarely with actual paint brushes. Zihan also uses her fingernails, bits of hard cardboard and recycled rusty nails to etch into thick layers of acrylic paint. Meanwhile, Tabitha can use anything from kitchen cutlery, wooden sticks and tree twigs to woolen blankets to get a desired effect. Her eclectic and improvisational approach to art is one reason Zihan says she wanted to exhibit with her, adding she’s admired Tabitha’s art ever since her return to Kenya. But if Tabitha’s art looks effortless, it belies years of training, first as a textile designer coming out of Kenya Polytechnic, then as a ceramicist who studied at Buru Buru Institute of Fine Art (BIFA), then as a glass artist learning from Nani Croze at Kitengela Glass, then as a sculptor inspired by Morris Foit, and finally as a painter inspired by the likes of Rosemary Karuga, the grandmother of contemporary Kenyan art, who once taught in the same village where Tabitha was born. Zihan has also taken art courses all her life, although she majored in Sociology and Literature, not art. Her main source of inspiration she says is the unnamed ‘sage’ noted in their show’s name. Shelter ofthe Sage will be on through November.

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