From pest fumigator to fine artist
Posted Thursday, August 9 2012 at 12:05
From humble waiter to fumigator to mitumba salesman and finally sculptor and art consultant, Jack Kavula’s meteoric rise to become one of the few Kenyan artists whose works feature prominently in Tribe Hotel’s permanent collection of African art, is remarkable indeed!
“Art was always in me,” claims Kavula whose whimsical musical and wildlife sculptures are also on display currently at Banana Hill Art Gallery.
“It was a matter of timing and inspiration,” says the father of two, whose softwood musical instruments are scattered all over the Tribe, although they’re most strategically situated in the hotel’s luxury lounge and first floor bar.
Including everything from soft wood saxophones and shapely guitars to flutes and violins strung with scrap metal wires, the Tribe collection of Kavula’s ‘amazing musical instruments’ all belong to the Hotel’s owner, Hamed Ehsani.
One of Kenya’s most prominent patrons of African art, Ehsani spotted the sculptures during the opening of Kavula’s first art exhibition at Village Market in 2007.
Buying the entire collection at a go, Ehsani’s interest in Kaluva’s career has been a major boost to the fledgling sculptor.
“He assured me that I was on the right track and should continue developing my art,” recalled the young artist who had just begun sculpting, after receiving his first box of chisels from an old friend and fellow sculptor Patricia Njeri.
Describing himself as a self-taught artist, Kaluva says his life was transformed once he opened the box Njeri had brought back for him from her first trip to China.
“The moment I saw the chisels, it was like I’d finally found myself. I now knew what I was meant to do with my life.”
Prior to that time, he had never taken a single art class, either at Muslim Primary in Nairobi where he started school or in boarding school in Ukambani.
Initially, however, he tried everything from farming to waiting tables to starting several businesses, including a pest control and fumigating company (where he battled against everything from rats and bats to roaches and moles!) he also had a second hand clothing stall at Ngara Market.
But Kaluva feels his life took a major turn in the late 1990s when he discovered Kuona Trust at the National Museum.
"The Museum was just a few minutes’ walk from my stall, so I began to spend more of my time taking in the atmosphere at Kuona and making friends with the artists working there,” Kaluva recalls.
He even introduced Njeri to Kuona. She had just completed her course at the University of Nairobi and was contemplating her next career move.