Junk art goes a notch higher with aviation scrap

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Interesting bar by Key and Omondi. Photo/Margeretta wa Gacheru

Interesting bar by Key and Omondi. Photo/Margeretta wa Gacheru 
By Margaretta wa Gacheru

Posted  Thursday, March 20  2014 at  17:11



Art made out of recycled scrap metal is nothing new to Kenya. We have a multitude of so-called ‘junk artists’, many of whom are not known locally, like Alex Wainaina whose ‘junk art’ statues are scattered all around the Village Market and the late Ken Mwingi whose scrap metal art fills the homes of some of Kenya’s most prominent media people.
There are also those known internationally, like Joseph Bertiers Mbatia, Kioko Mwitiki and Cyrus Ng’ang’a.
Some use auto spare parts, others incorporate junked computer bits, and still others use beer bottle tops to make amazing works of art.
But so far, no one, until now has created functional art using scrap metal retrieved from junked airplanes, which is what Samuel Omondi and Khan Keydo.
Both architects [trained in the United States] as well as boyhood friends, the two only got inspired to create aviation art and furniture a year ago.
Since then, they’ve taken time off from their professional trade to scour small airstrips and airports all around the countryside in search of scrapped planes which they can take off the owners’ hands, dismantle and then reconstruct as high-flying home furnishings, such as glass-topped coffee tables (made from propellers), dining room tables (made from small aircraft wings), bookcases and [beverage] bars (made from a plane’s fuselage). Prices range from Sh60,000 to Sh800,000.
All of these remarkable works could be seen at Village Market until late last week. Now they are on display at the artists’ workshop in Karen on Lamwia Road, near the Giraffe Centre.
Meanwhile, a number of exhibitions opened this past week. Mwanzo Mpya, Longinos Nagila’s premier exhibition in Kenya opened last Sunday at Shifteye Gallery.
It’s a visually powerful and poignant collection of mainly portraits, many of whose subjects look like they have struggled and suffered a lot.
That’s not the case, of course, with his paintings of policemen and priests who often are seen wearing gas masks.
The masks are ironic, in that African art is often associated with masks, but Longinos twists that theme (or should I say cliché) by injecting that militaristic element of social realism into his art.
At Goethe Institute, Jackie Karuti explained that her installation entitled Where Books Go to Die, was actually a follow-up interpretation of the three-day event that she devised last year in which she and several fellow artists and other book lovers went around Nairobi, visiting both public and private libraries.
Her installation examines four elements – water, earth, air and fire – and their impact on books. Jackie’s slide show of the book lovers’ trek around town added an element of cohesion to the show.
And the mobile mannequin mama that she co-created with friends from the FabLab added a regal yet robotic presence that was both curious and amusing.
And last night on the occasion of the International Francophone Day, Alliance Francaise hosted an exhibition opening featuring the works of Belgian and Congolese artists: Xavier Verhoest, Yves and Goscinny as well as Bezalel Ngalo.
Meanwhile, the Kenya Cultural Centre recently opened its own art gallery which currently has mounted a commemorative photographic exhibition of the controversial Latin American President, the late Hugo Chavez.
According to KCC’s associate curator William Ndwiga, the Venezuelan Embassy chose to bring their collection of Chavez, who died a year ago on March 5th, to KCC specifically to strengthen bonds between their two countries.
“They also wanted to highlight the cultural dimension of (President) Chavez’ career,” added Ndwiga who’s also the founder-director of the Little Art Gallery, scheduled to open its own space in Kisumu next month.
Finally, Nairobi has plenty of ongoing art shows. What’s surprising is how many feature Sudanese artists. At Red Hill Gallery, it’s Salah Elmur whose paintings are hung side-by-side those of his Egyptian wife, Dr. Soad Ard Elrasoul.
At One Off Gallery, Salah Ammar’s art is up for another week, and at Banana Hill Gallery, the works of four Sudanese artists hang on Shine’s newly painted white wall until tomorrow when the paintings of two Kenyan women, Esther Makuhi and Caroline Mbiruria go up.
On a sad note, I must belatedly share my condolences for the loss of one our most imaginative, energetic and enterprising artists, Ken Mwingi, who passed away in January.
His medium was ‘junk’ but his wizardry enabled him to transform junk into artistic gems. May he rest in peace and be remembered as a gifted genius.
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