EDWARD NJENGA’S AMAZING MAU MAU TERRACOTTA DETAINEES AT MUSEUM’S 50TH

http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/Museum-celebrates-Kenya-50th-with-clay-and-oils/-/1248928/1933936/-/sy4uqdz/-/index.html…/ PORTRAITS OF KENYAN PEOPLES IN CLAY AND OILS AT NATIONAL MUSEUM/// By Margaretta wa Gacheru. Published August 2, 2013 in Business Daily, Nairobi/// At 91, Edward Njenga is the elder statesman of Kenya’s burgeoning art world. Less renowned today than his junior, octogenarian artist Elimo Njau, Njenga had his heyday in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties during his tenure as director, first of the Friends Community Centre and then at the Eastleigh Social Centre. Those were the sites where this self-taught sculptor observed and assisted the underprivileged who would subsequently become the subjects of the life-like miniature sculptures that he is currently exhibiting at Nairobi National Museum’s Cultural Dynamism Gallery. The show is called ‘A Son’s Dedication.’ Teaming up with the Ugandan painter Leonard Kateete who is also exhibiting art work that he created some time back, both Njenga and Kateete realized long ago that it would take time before the true value of their art would be appreciated and understood. Hopefully that time is now! Kateete’s art features a wide representation of Kenyan communities, most of which were commissioned by the Nation Media Group and lent to the Museum especially for this exhibition, entitled ‘Humanity through My Eyes’ and situated next door to Njenga’s in the Ecology Gallery. Most of the paintings are normally displayed on various walls inside the Nation Centre. “The original idea was for me to paint all 42 Kenyan communities, but then the project got stalled before I was done,” the artist had told BD Life back then. The roadblock apparently had to do with critics contending the project ought to be carried out by a Kenyan not a Ugandan. Unfortunately, there was no follow up to find a Kenyan artist to complete the work, which is not to say that no one existed who could fit the bill. The current NNM show reveals why Kateete was sought after in the first place. Like Njenga his works are realistic and reflective of Kenyan people’s culture and physical features at certain moments in time. Kateete’s art attempts to depict Kenya’s pre-colonial cultures while Njenga’s derives from his own experience of everyday life when he served as a social worker living among impoverished Kenyans whose lives he’d sought to improve through the activities of his community centres. Njenga’s art features everyone from parking boys and mkokotene carriers to nursing mothers and the infirm who came to Eastleigh’s health clinic for help and relief. Each ceramic sculpture is poignant and unsettling as their realistic depiction of the challenges poor Kenyans face on a daily basis give one pause. Interestingly while the two artists can be seen as visual chroniclers of Kenyan culture, both past and present, their backgrounds are very different. Kateete is a graduate of Makerere’s Margaret Trowell School of Fine Art while Njenga’s formal education was cut short by the Emergency and his two years detention in colonial concentration camps. Nonetheless, his linguistic and administrative skills enabled him to navigate through the Fifties and subsequently find work, first through the Friends and then with the Presbyterians as a skilful and sensitive social worker. Having been raised by a mother who made pots to earn her son’s school fees, Njenga used to prepare her clay, although he never created one sculpture until he went to the UK in 1963 to study social work with the Friends. It was there that he found an art school where he was encouraged to create with a different kind of clay. The artist still retains that first sculpture of a Kenyan child as it was the work that enabled him to actually see his own latent artistic talents. From then on, he employed those inherent gifts to create art that merits being kept intact and retained in a public collection, possibly the one established by the National Museum. Also showing currently are artworks at Alliance Francaise by GoDown artists such as Patrick Mukabi, Tom Mboya, Dickson Otieno, Dixon Kaloki and Charles Ngatia among others. At Kuona Trust, original prints by Kuona artists who attended workshops conducted by the Swedish printmaker Anki Kallstrom who also curated the exhibition entitled ‘Discoveries Within’. She’s just completed an art residency at the Trust. At Le Rustique, Oliver Okoth is exhibiting paintings. Finally, in another gallery at the Nairobi Museum are colourful works by Yassir Ali and Fawaz El Said.

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