Life & Work

Wambui Collymore’s new art space


Art by Osborne Macharia (left) and Art Space curator Wambui Kamiru Collymore. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU

Wambui Kamiru Collymore is a conceptual and installation artist as well as the founder and curator of The Art Space in Westlands.

Hers is a venue where in less than a year’s existence has showcased a number of solo shows (such as those of Paul Onditi and Longinos Nagila) as well as duo displays (by Michael Musyoka and David Thuku, and by Justus Kyalo and Gakunju Kaigwa).

The Art Space has also hosted a number of group exhibitions, including one that just ended late last month.

Entitled and themed ‘‘Nairobi Re-Viewed,’’ Mrs Collymore called upon five artists to feature in the show, inviting them to either create new artworks with that theme in mind or bring works of theirs that already reflected distinctive ways of seeing our capital city.

A different Nairobi

The five included multimedia artists Dennis Muraguri and Aron Boruya, sculptor Mr Kaigwa, painter Anne Mwiti and photographer Osborne Macharia.

Each came up with a unique approach to representing Nairobi, bearing in mind that the Curator wanted to assemble an exhibition that offered a fresh revised view of the city, one that she said should not include stereotypic images like CBD skyscrapers or shuka-clad Maasais.

Sculptor Mr Kaigwa who had recently had a show at The Art Space (with fellow sculptor Mr Kyalo) kept his polished wood ‘functional art’ works in the ‘‘Nairobi Re-viewed’’ show since all the wood he used to create his shapely chairs and tables came from trees felled in the city.

All his wood was either found at building sites or bought from firewood sellers along local roadsides. So his sculpted furniture was perfect for Mrs Collymore’s show.

Mr Muraguri (who went straight from Art Space to mount a solo show at Circle Art Gallery) is a sculptor, painter, print-maker and video-filmmaker who brought his classic matatu prints-on-canvas to the exhibition.

His most striking matatu painting’ featured a familiar-looking tout who was actually his fellow artist Cyrus Kabiru who was just named one of the seven Kenyans selected to be listed among the Quartz Africa Innovators 2016.

Mr Kabiru joins a Quartz list that last year included such Kenyan luminaries as Lupita Nyong’o, Binyavanga Wainaina and Ory Okolloh Mwangi.

Mr Boruya’s print-on-canvas painting were conceived using a similar technique to Mr Muraguri’s. However, the imagery he focused on were city scenes of ordinary people about their everyday business.

Ms Mwiti, on the other hand, took a painterly approach and created her idea of the ‘‘Urban Woman.’’ Her imagery generated quite a bit of conversation (not to say controversy) as it elicited issues related to beauty (and ugliness), feminism and maternity. Ultimately, I felt it was best seen as semi-abstract and conceptual.

Unusual pictures

Finally, photographer Mr Macharia is best known in Nairobi as a commercial photographer, but the series of photos-on-canvases upstairs in The Art Space were perhaps the most stunning and unusual ‘re-[vised] views’ of Nairobi in this show.

Like Mr Mwiti, Mr Macharia focused on women; however, his three portraits were of retired business women dressed up in typically male attire and standing next to what looked like their own private jets!

The canvases were Mr Macharia’s fantasy, photo-shopped from actual photographs he had taken and then juxtaposed.

Nonetheless, they were suggestive of Nairobi’s rapidly changing character wherein rich Kenyans do own private jets and women are gradually gaining substantial financial means of their own.

So clearly ‘Nairobi Re-viewed’ presented a showcasing of exceptional art, all of which was attuned to Wambui’s concept—all part of her larger plan to bring a fresh new approach to the Nairobi gallery scene.

In fact, one could almost describe her Nairobi exhibition as a ‘conceptual installation’ filled with works representing her ambitious desire to encourage talented Kenyan artists to continue experimenting and exploring new ideas, issues and the infinite possibilities that the visual arts open up for ingenious self-expression.

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