By Margaretta wa gacheru, March 5. 2014
How many ways do you suppose ordinary paper can be used to create extra-ordinary works of art?
That was the challenge the Circle Art Agency implicitly put to Kenyan and resident artists when they recently sent them an online ‘call out’, inviting them to take part in CAA’s third major exhibition simply entitled ‘Paper’.
Photoshopped Photo by Jim Chuchu at CCA Paper show. Pix by Qi Lin 
What we saw recently when CAA mounted their second ‘pop up’ exhibition (the term referring the seemingly spontaneous, surprising and stunning nature of the show) was more than 140 unique and imaginative ways that local artists found to meet the CAA mandate.
Devising everything from paintings, prints, collages and photographs on paper to creating sculptures out of papier mache, local artists rose to occasion by fashioning brand new works especially for CAA.

Surrealist Twist by Beatrice Wanjiku Njoroge. Pix by Xi Lin

Of course, there were some artists who’d already started on their art projects before getting the CAA call. Among them was Samuel Githui who had already begun collaborating with a Kenyan contemporary dancer to see how he might capture the energy and artistry of the dance on paper; but still his series of charcoal and pen life drawings had never been exhibited before last weekend. They covered an entire wall of one upstairs room in a spacious private home CAA managed to obtain for the weekend.

Samuel Githui’s Charcoal and Pen on Paper, inspired by contemporary African dance. Pix by Qi Lin

Surprisingly and by some serendipitous timing, CAA managed to find a space that was in transition: The owners had moved out and the next residents hadn’t yet moved in, so it was technically free for the careful usage by CAA who covered almost every wall with ‘paper art’ of all kinds.
Forty-three artists’ works were on show in the elegant polished wood-floored mini-mansion situated on an eight-acre piece of land, much of which was packed with vehicles on the show’s opening night.
 Paper Twist by Prina Shah. Pix by Qi Lin
Sponsored by CFC Bank and Absolut Vodka (which flowed freely throughout the opening), the show was so surprising and diverse – both size- and content-wise — that most viewers seemed spell-bound as they moved from room to room and floor to floor observing art that was engaging, occasionally amusing and original.
Take for instance, Mbuthia Maina and Sam Hopkins’ photographic series on Kibera slum’s rescued pets. It was touching at the same time it was witty to see Maasai Mbili artists looking so earnest, seated not just with dogs and cats, but with a rabbit and a goose.

Mask by Dennis Muraguri. Pix by Qi Lin

Otherwise, there were almost no other animal images (either wild or domestic) in this show apart from Edward Chiselfingers’ galloping horses covered in politically-charged newspaper clippings. The omission seemed to send a subtle message, namely that the curators-directors (CAA’s own Danda Jaroljwek, Fiona Fox and Arvind Vohara) aimed to avoid clichés and encourage the artists to create work that is original and not simply devised with its market value in mind.
In fact, it is originality that is more likely to sell to discerning art buyers, many of whom bought art during the exhibition. 

Anthony Okello’s Adam and Eve. Pix by Qi Lin
It’s difficult to single out pieces that I found most appealing, although one thing especially pleasing about the show was that so many artists seemed to experiment with new styles and subjects. 
For instance, Beatrice Njoroge’s newest work seemed to have gotten more surreal, less maudlin; Jacob Barua’s architectural photographs had a powerful Escher-esque effect; Simon Mureithi’s embossed black and white miniatures contrasted sharply with his earlier style which was bright and colourful; Ato Malinda who made a name for herself here as a performance artist, revealed herself to be a skilful drafts(wo)man at the CAA show; her drawings were refreshingly whimsical;  and Dennis Muraguri left his matatu art long enough to create mixed media masks just as meticulous as his earlier semi-abstract metallic masks, only these two seemed to be having a laugh on us for taking the art all too seriously!

Woman by Egyptian artist Soad Abd Elrasoul. pix by Qi Lin


Orthodoxy by Sudanese Artist Salah Elmur. pix by Qi Lin

From the overall look of CCA’s paper art show, one couldn’t help feeling something wonderful is happening in Nairobi s art world, and CAA is simultaneously taping into it as well as being a catalyst for it. By so doing, they’re playing an active role by encouraging artists’ originality and experimentation such as was seen this past weekend.
Nairobi Light by Kenyan photographer/filmmaker Jacob Barua. Pix by Qi Lin

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