Collaborative Creativity at Kuona with Mbuthia & Njoroge

COLLABORATIVE CREATIVITY AT KUONA By Margaretta wa Gacheru Published in Business Daily,May 24, 2013 It’s an understatement to say that Mbuthia Maina’s and Andrew Njoroge’s current exhibition of creative works is something out of the ordinary. Mbuthia Maina’s collaborative art and Andrew Njoroge’s ‘Girl of my Dreams’For one thing the show isn’t stationary; it’s been in motion ever since it first opened two weeks ago in Kibera at Gor Soudan’s studio, a place nicknamed the Jolly Guys Social Club. Then the artists shifted strategically to the gallery at Kuona Trust so they could share their art with a wider audience. It was also to see how the work would evolve since the show has gotten increasingly interactive and collaborative. In fact, the most striking feature of Mbuthia’s and Njoroge’s exhibition is that it reflects the creative energies of so many local and international characters. This is partly due to the fact that both men are part-time art teachers: they instruct and inspire children (from age seven up to 17) in Kibera and have done so ever since the post-election violence of 2007—8 struck slums like Kibera with such mindless and life-threatening malevolence. Mbuthia has been working with around 30 children every weekend over the last five years. Initially, there was some donor support for the project, but that quickly dried up. Still the former philosophy major from Egerton University continued to work weekends with the little ones. Initially, the workshops were based at Maasai Mbili art studio but then shifted with the artist to Jolly Guys where a few of the children still come every day after school to draw and create, using whatever materials they can find around the place. The artistic expression of three of those little people (aged 7 through 10) is quite conspicuous on Mbuthia’s side of Kuona’s mini-gallery. In fact, all of his multi-media art have the children’s work at the heart of it. “All of the drawings are theirs,” said the teacher who’s well known for using found materials and other non-traditional media to make his eclectic art. In this case, he uses drawings that the children took home but somehow got tossed in the trash. These got collected by Mbuthia who then incorporated them into his larger art project. Mbuthia affixed the children’s art onto cardboard boxes to create a hanging snake-like effect. In one sense, his creative contribution to this show is his choice of mountings and frames which make each piece a collaborative event. For instance, most of the drawings by either Steven Juma, 7, Savior Omondi, 10 or Stacy Buda, 10, are affixed by Mbuthia onto either dismantled cardboard cartons or charred Styrofoam blocks or raffia grass. The synthesis is stunning, especially as the Teacher adds color, shape, texture and design to each of the drawings, some of which were once no more than crumpled scraps of paper. Njoroge (no relation to the African Colours A.N.) has also been working with Kibera youth (like Shado, 17, whose style is quite mature and reminiscent of Jackson Pollack’s spatter-paint style). However, he came to the slum project a few years after Mbuthia since he’d been away in the States studying interior design and animation in Georgia and New Jersey. What brought him back to Kenya was one trip to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. “MOMA had a profound impact on me,” he said. “It made me want to come back home to Kenya and to concentrate on my art.” By that time, his artwork was not just design-related. He had come to love animation and had learned the basics after shifting from Savannah School of Art and Design to the Jersey City University. “Growing up, I’d always loved animation, but it wasn’t until I’d gotten to the States that I realized I could do it myself.” Njoroge came home in 2006 and went straight to Shangtao Media College to learn more of the fine point of animation. One will see a sampling of his ‘cartoons’ which he co-constructed with another multi-media artist, Jackie Karuti. In this show, he also experiments with multi-media and tries his hand at several genres, including surrealism and impressionism. The mini-gallery at Kuona Trust where one panel has drawings by Stacy, 10, Simon, 10 and Steven, 7, all art students of Mbuthia and on the left hand wall is a painting by Andrew’s student, Shado, 17.One of the more conspicuous collaborator in this multifaceted exhibition is the Japanese artist, Yukiharo Taguchi whose specialty is something called ‘stop motion video’. In Kenya with the Nairobi-based Nishio Art Workshop from Japan, the Mohawk haired videographer walked into Kuona on the day Mbuthia and Njoroge were putting up their show (with assistance from Gor Soudan). Instantly, he not only got involved hanging the exhibition; he also began shooting the process. Thus his ‘stop motion video’ will become one more collaborative aspect of this curiously engaging show which will run through the end of the month.

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