The Nairobi art scene in March – in retrospect and anticipation | Lifestyle | Kenya Buzz

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The Nairobi art scene in March – in retrospect and anticipation 21 Mar 2012 | By By Carol Lees

The Nairobi art scene in March – in retrospect and anticipation

This is an annual event and well worth looking out for on the art calendar.  This year, in excess of 300 paintings were displayed; professional artists alongside students, the range was huge.


African portraits is an exhibition which sadly only runs from 15th to 21st March.  Maasai House and in particular, Camille Wekesa, were the energy behind the concept.  Standard Chartered hosted the show on the 3rd floor of their Chiromo Road Head Office.    The show exhibits some stunning examples of the genre, from Peterson Kamwathi’s set of worryingly dark charcoal faces to the extraordinarily fastidious, photo-realistic works of Jemma Davies.  Timothy Brooke’s submission titled 'Mother and child’ is a wonder.  Brooke portrays his subjects with minimal line and only using one sepia coloured pastel.  Despite his economy of material the portrait informs the viewer that the mother in the drawing has blue eyes.  Remarkable!  Beatrice Wanjiku’s work is the best I have seen from her hand to date; a dark troubling grimace of an image which she tells me originated as a self portrait, something which is difficult to digest considering what a beautiful face the artist is blessed with.  A fascinating painting titled 'ritual’ is loaned to the exhibition from the Alan Donovan collection.  The artist is Salih Mashamoun, who was clearly a considerable force in the 1960’s having won numerous awards for his art at that time.   In contrast, Shabu Mwangi, a relatively new face on the scene, displays two thought-provoking images in the show, one of which sold seconds after the show opened.  Other accomplished exhibitors include Ancient Soi, Wanyu Brush, Peter Elungat, Patrick Mukabi, Dale Webster, Lucki Mutebi, Fitsum Berhe Woldelibanos and Richard Kimathi.


Richard Kimathi’s solo exhibition opened to rave reviews (see Frank Walley’s art column in The East African, March 5-11) at One Off Gallery in Rosslyn on 26th February and going through to 21st March.  Kimathi continues to push the envelope in his continuous quest to explore a range of subjects.  This time he covers three themes; 'Colourful Rain’, 'Capsules’ and 'Veils’.  The 'Colourful Rain Series’ comprises four works using meticulously painted lamp wicks arranged in varying density to represent different concentrations of falling water.  With his Capsule Series, he appears to be exploring fractals (pattern that appears to be random but is in fact very structured – an irregular geometric shape that can be subdivided into parts, each of which is a smaller copy of the whole), and in his Veil Series he returns to his 'stock in trade’, the portrayal of emotion.  In this case, the hauntingly striking faces of women who wear the veil.  Xavier Verhoest, an associate curator of art in Nairobi, sums up the genius of paintings by Richard Kimathi as 'something embedded in the visual culture and at the same time so very modern’.


The Goethe Institute hosts what is sure to be an interesting exhibition titled 'In Memoriam, a journey through Mbuthia Maina’s past work’ .  The show is curated by 3 collect and whist I have yet to see it, this artist has produced fascinating works in the past and the curatorial team are known for their consistently thought-provoking exhibits.  The show continues to 30th March.


Sunday 25th March sees One Off Gallery opening the solo exhibition titled 'Ehoodi Kichapi’s Lamentations’ .  The artist continues to acknowledge his debt to Jean Michel Basquiat in this show but we begin to note the first stirrings of a departure from this most major of influences.  The works continue to be loud, expressive renderings in the 'stream of consciousness’ tradition.  They are works which evoke a strong response from the viewer, either as admiration bordering on the devotional or as repulsion, a sure sign of works of fine art.


Carol Lees