KUONA PRINTMAKERS WORK WITH SWEDISH ARTIST ANKI KALLSTROM

THE SAGE OF THE SWEDISH PRINTING PRESS/// By Margaretta wa Gacheru. Published August 9, 2013 Business Daily/// The saga of the Swedish printing press is a story with a happy ending. It took the shape of a series of printmaking workshops run by the Swedish painter-printmaker Anki Kallstrom in June and July, culminating in a fascinating exhibition of original prints on paper and cotton cloth produced by more than twenty Kuona-based artists, most of whom had little or no experience with printmaking before. The exhibition entitled Discoveries Within was originally named Discoveries around the Corner since Kallstrom had found the objects that feature most prominently in her side of this compact yet eclectic show ‘around the corner’ from Kuona Trust where she has been a visiting resident artist since June. But while conducting the week-long workshop with fellow artists from the Trust (the others were done for the public), the Swedish printmaker accepted the group’s consensus call/point of view which was to name their exhibition in relation to the notion that nearly all the art in this one show comes from within Kuona itself. And in fact, what i found most impressive about this showcase of intaglio and collr…prints is the way the artwork/it (exposed) offered a sort of snapshot of each artist’s creative styles. For instance, Cyrus Ng’ang’a who is currently sculpting his ‘c-stunner’ shades (glasses) in scrap wire (and other miscellaneous paraphernalia) took the opportunity afforded by Kallstrom’s crash course to translate his wire works into prints. Dennis Muragori is big on matatu art just now, so his prints featured vehicles and gears from the thoroughly Kenyan mini-van. Rosemary Ahoro of late has been painting colourful portraits of sweet short-haired girls; what’s intriguing about her print portrait is that in simple black and white, it’s almost more striking than otherwise. And the award-winning painter Wycliffe Opondo whose painting of the Kibera railway won him the Manjano first prize this year also chose to replicate the railway image on the hard paper that passed through the printing press. In fact, Opondo has known Anki Kallstrom from his first days in Sweden where he’d been invited as one of the Maasai Mbili artists to attend another print-making workshop in Stockholm? Since then, ‘Wiki’ (as he’s known) has moved over to Kuona Trust, but he was still working in Kibera with the ‘M2’ when the saga began and one Swedish Foundation offered to send Maasai Mbili artists their own printing press. Initially, the press was supposed to arrive in November 2011. That is when Kallstrom first came to Kenya to introduce the first print-making sessions on the new press in Kibera. “But the press never came. It went ‘missing’ and it took my going back to Sweden to find its whereabouts,” she said. As it turned out, the bottleneck wasn’t in Kenya but rather back home in Sweden. It took her many months to sort out the red tape involved with Swedish shipping, but the press finally arrived early in 2012. Unfortunately, in spite of the Foundation have given the press as a free gift to M2, the process accrued many more costs that the Kibera-based artists couldn’t afford. The only way they could eventually get the press out of Customs was to get a loan from Kuona Trust. But as M2 hasn’t yet paid back that loan, the press is being stored at the Trust for the time being. In the interim, Kallstrom applied for and won a two-month art residency at Kuona and finally got to run the workshops on the Swedish press that she had initially been commissioned to hold. At the same time, she has been preparing her own prints to exhibit later this month with Wiki Opondo at Le Rustique restaurant. Some of her work will also go back to Sweden where she’ll be mounting a one-woman exhibition in Ocotober in Stockholm. “Most of the work for the Swedish show is complete but i wanted to include prints from my time in Kenya which are representative of everyday Nairobi life,” she said. This being her third trip to Kenya and the one that’s finally allowed her to fulfil her assignment, to run workshops for Kenyans on the Swedish press, Kallstrom was still baffled about what was the best subject matter for her own print series. “Then I went around the corner from Kuona and that was where i found heaps of garbage,” she said. “I began picking up used plastic bottles which seemed to be everywhere.” She also found plastic bags too prevalent to ignore. So garbage became the striking subject matter of her art. Transforming ugly garbage into exquisite cloth prints (the cloth collected from Toy Market off Ngong Road), Kallstrom has managed to make amazing semi-abstract designs using crushed bags and water bottles exclusively. She’s hardly the first person to create art out of found objects. Kenyan artists like Nganga, Muraguri, Kioko and Wainaina among others have experimented using different kinds of trash. But when her art hangs side by side Wiki’s later this month, she’ll have gone back to Sweden but her personal brand of ‘junk art’ will place the final stamp on the sage of the Swedish printing press.

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