This exhibition is all about freedom in all its artistic forms

From left: Chelenge van Rampelberg’s ‘‘World’s seed in the White House’’; Sane Wadu’s ‘‘I love my freedom’’ and Sane Wadu’s ‘‘Sycophants’’ Photos/Margareta wa Gacheru

What you need to know:

  • The artists have all experimented with different mediums specifically for this particular show.

Long before the concept of freedom became such a hot topic within the media, six local artists (plus two co-curators) got together and agreed on the theme of their current exhibition at the Nairobi National Museum.

Freedom couldn’t be a better name for a show (curated by Camille Wekesa and Dr Gonda Geets) in which not only paintings and sculptures are on display in the vast Ecology Gallery, but also metallic plates and gold, silver, and copper-leaf coated calabashes (hung from rafters criss-crossing the gallery’s high vaulted ceiling).

There are also carpenters’ boxes within boxes, woodcut plates, a small electronic light show and even poetry by Sitawa Namwalie talking about her concept of freedom.


“Many people think the exhibition must be about political freedom since that tends to be what initially comes to mind, especially among Kenyans,” says Camille herself an artist and lead curator of the show.

“What we all are concerned with is artistic freedom, creative freedom and the freedom to express one’s self without any external constraints,” she adds, thrilled that the other five artists she had invited to be part of this exhibition not only agreed to create work especially for the show based on the theme they mutually agreed upon.


Chelenge van Rampelberg, El Tayeb Dawelbait, Justus Kyalo, Peterson Kamwathi, Sane Wadu and Dr Geets all also agreed to take part in an evolving process of discussions that developed the theme.

“For instance, it was the other artists who suggested we include a Kenyan voice to be heard at the opening since I had thought the British High Commissioner (Dr Christian Turner) would be a good guest of honour since Freedom was also seen by the Museum as part of its contribution to ‘Kenya@50’ celebrations.

“After all,” she added. “It’s 50 years since we’ve been free from British colonialism.”

But the other artists wanted to see a British voice balanced by a Kenyan one. That is how Sitawa got a call from Camille to write a poem especially for the exhibition and to share it at the opening which took place last Saturday (December 7) afternoon.

Meanwhile, what was most important to the team was for them to convey - through their art - exactly how precious creative freedom is to them.

For instance, this is how Camille (whose contribution to the show is called Iridescent Nature) came up with calabashes covered in gold-leaf and six 5.5 foot ‘wooden’ panels filled with shapely but skeletal trees also covered in different shades of incandescent paint.

All inspired, but definitely a grand departure from the lush and leafy green landscapes most often associated with her elegant style of art, Camille said she wanted to experiment with different media and a different motif.

She is still committed to painting the natural beauty that she sees all around Kenya, but in a sense, her Tsavo tree panels are preliminary, almost impressionistic works meant to pave the way for 2014 when she will devote herself to painting a whole series depicting one of her most favourite spaces in Kenya, Tsavo National Park.


Peterson Kamwathi also broken new artistic ground constructing a sort of three-sided scaffolding covered in electronic signage featuring dates relevant to the idea of Kenya@50. Dates like 1963, 1978, 1982, 1992, 2002, 2005, 2007 and 2013, all have a subtle salience to Kenyans.

“Peterson’s might be the one piece in the show that could be called ‘political,’” Camille says. Then again, she realised that Sane Wadu also had subtle shades of political satire to one or two of the paintings he prepared specially for this show.

They include pieces like Sycophants and I love my freedom if I have it.

But for me, such paintings also express one of the most important freedoms of all, the freedom of speech which includes artistic freedom.

This is why this show is so very relevant to the moment. Justus Kyalo is free to splash paint (a bit like Jackson Pollack) onto both sides of large metal plates and then hang them from the rafters!


Chelenge van Rampelberg is free to create a woodcut plate depicting the challenge of having children in a mixed marriage, symbolised by her portrait of Barack Obama flanked by a Maasai and a white man.

And even El Tayeb is free to collect old carpenter boxes and transform them into award-winning works of art.

Most of the art in the exhibition is not for sale, except for Kyalo’s panels and Sane’s paintings. But Camille, working with James Muriuki, has produced a lovely catalogue for this show, which she’s selling, the revenue from which she will give to the Wajukuu Art Project based in the Mukuru slum.

Meanwhile, the late Louis Mwaniki’s art is showing at Paa ya Paa, Thoemes’s art is a the Talisman, a solo exhibition by Shine Tani is at Banana Hill Art Gallery, an exhibition entitled Unreported Rape is at Kuona Trust and award-winning photos are up at Alliance Francais.

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