Must-see art gallery displays this August

Afro Urban Fusion by Kirosh. PHOTO |  MARGARETTA WA GACHERU
Afro Urban Fusion by Kirosh. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU 

The Nairobi visual art scene continues to explode as exhibitions open up. Some opened a few weeks back and their galleries chose to extend the shows through mid-August.

They include exhibitions like Banana Hill’s with National Museum former senior staffer Patrick Adoyo, Alliance Francaise’s exhibition of Lilian Barongo Ayienga’s newly invented indigenous glazes, One Off Gallery’s showcase of James Mbuthia’s colourful storytelling art, Red Hills’ group exhibition of classic contemporary East African art and National Museum’s display of ‘Pots and Identities’ representing centuries of ceramic pots all found in Kenya.


One show that might have been extended at Alliance Francaise (if it hadn’t been for this week’s opening of ‘Hii Chapta: Interrogating Leadership and Integrity’) was the second series of ‘Street Diaries’ featuring graffiti art that for the first time had been brought in from the streets and relocated onto AF’s gallery walls.

Fortunately, the same graffiti people were working nonstop in Eastleigh all last week at St Teresa’s Boys School to cover its hallowed outdoor walls with fresh spray paint shaped into glorious designs by everyone from Kerosh, Eljay, Swift, Bank Slave, Chela and many others.

But ‘Hii Chapta’ is a multifaceted affair running through the whole of August. It features thespians, performance poets, musicians and clever Kenyan cartoonists whose exhibition opened this past Wednesday night.

Ironsheet silhouette

The cartoonists, including Gado, Maddo, Kham and Victor Ndula among others, give scalding appraisals of our so-called public servants, scrutinising and lampooning everything from corruption to the failed implementation of Kenya’s Constitution.

What also transpired this past week were several grand openings, two of which focused on issues of human trafficking, sex slavery, gender violence and human rights.

The one, organised and sponsored by the World Bank and held in the Nairobi National Museum’s Ecology Gallery entitled ‘1 in 3’, featured a variety of art forms from all over the world, including several by Kenyan artists.

There are sculptures by Maggie Otieno, Patrick Mukabi bringing his burnt ironsheet silhouette of a freedom fighting female, Mia Collis’ powerful black and white photographs from her ‘She Shapes the City’ series, and the HAWA women artists group, whose art is part of the Museum’s permanent collection, but also relevant to the exhibition’s theme.

The other show that focused on human trafficking and modern day slavery opened last Saturday night at Shifteye Gallery. Featuring a broad cross section of Kenyan artists, (a number of whom were requested specially to created work reflective of the theme), this richly diverse exhibition includes a wide array of art forms: everything from photography, painting and collage to videos, installations, sculpture to more timely cartoons and a graphic novel as well.

Bleach painting

Organised largely by HAART Kenya with assistance from PAWA254, Arts to End Slavery and Rose Jepkorir, curator and consultant with Maasai Mbili Art Collective, this year’s group exhibition on ‘Art to end modern slavery’ is the second time that HAART has employed visual art to illustrate what they mean by human trafficking.

Much larger and more diverse than last year’s show, some of the most compelling pieces this year were the four by Mary Wanjiru Kinuthia, one of which was interactive and covered in mini-flags featuring people’s contributions which took shape as ‘human rights’ comments handwritten on the spot on those mini-flags.

Another attractive monumental work was a painting (on paper) done on site on opening night as the public looked on. It was Patrick Mukabi’s portrait of a man with another man literally breaking out of his head.

The idea, Mukabi says, is that people can be mentally (not just physically) enslaved. But his painting (drawn with charcoal, ink and jik bleach) is nonetheless hopeful in that it suggests mental servitude (symbolized by the man crawling out of the other’s head) can be cast out if people consciously choose to be free.

Upstairs gallery

Many other works relevant to the theme were displayed in Shifteye’s spacious upstairs gallery and one felt the artists had been asked to stretch their imaginations and extend their artistic range to create original works that could conceivably alter people’s perceptions, rouse awareness of the immense problem of contemporary slavery and inspire them to do something to stop it.

The exhibition is only up another week so I recommend you visit Shifteye’s current show occupying two floors of Priory House, the second one filled with an exceptional set of works, largely by Kenyans including Samuel Githui, Onyis Martin, Gloria Muthoka, Nadia Wamunyu, Mary Kinuthia, Michael Mungai, Kepha Mosoti, Brian Omolo and Lemek Tompoika among others.