Life & Work

Art mirrors many perspectives on Kenyan society


Clinton Kirkpatrick with his painting ‘A Ghost in a Crowd’. His paintings depict his experiences in Kenya.

The month of May has produced a plethora of mostly amazing visual art exhibitions as restaurants, private clubs, museums and galleries as well as personal homes have been humming with vibrant activity.

The Village Market and the Nairobi National Museum have been two of the busiest art centres this month.

Village has had several shows including Kepha Mosoti’s sculptures paired with Pascal Chuma’s painting and the joint exhibition of paintings that opens today featuring Michael Musyoka and Boniface Maina presenting ‘Finding Voice…Maisha, Mitush, Music & other Matters’ with support from The Little Art Gallery.

Both Maina and Musyoka have mostly been involved in group shows since graduating from art schools, Maina from the YMCA National Training Institute and Musyoka from Buru Buru Institute of Art.

Last year the two got together to do theatre backdrops and set designs for Kenya Schools Drama Festivals and have been working together from their studio in Buru Buru ever since.

National Museum

Both clearly appreciate colour and paint with a sensitivity to social relevance. Beyond that, they are quite different. Maina’s art tends to be more surreal and steeped in cryptic social commentary while Musyoka’s work is more culturally sensitive and only occasionally political.

But both create paintings that are striking and the sort of art I wouldn’t mind having in my home. The National Museum has just mounted a new set of East African art works, some of which are from its permanent collection.

Also exhibiting are two expatriate artists, each having brought unique perspectives to the local art scene.

One of the exhibitors is a Chilean artist, Josefina Munoz’, whose Transient, inspired by Turkana, work is a mixed media chronicling of her journey on foot through Turkana-land. She uses photography, painting, drawing and sculpture to tell her story.

Also used is crafting with two separate installations—one by making light boxes out of metal suitcases, the other by using tree branches to shape temporary 3D structures similar to the ones she saw Turkana women construct during her days trekking through the Lorionotom and Lokwanamoru Mountains with the local people.

Munoz, a glass artist, who previously worked primarily with architects, got curious about the lifestyles of people living in impermanent rather than permanent abodes. She particularly got intrigued with migratory people like the Maasai and Turkana.

That curiosity eventually led her to get a small grant from her art school in Rhode Island, USA, to come work and do research with the Turkana.

She meet Loyaniae who became her translator, travel guide and host as she stay with his family as they journeyed together for several weeks.

Their meeting is inspired by art, all of which she’s produced during her art residencies in the region, first at Kuona Trust, then at Nasafi in Tanzania and finally at Tafaria Castle in Nyahururu.

Still at the Museum, upstairs, the Irish artist Clinton Kirkpatrick also explores everyday lives of Kenyans but from a completely different perspective.

It’s one that is more self-reflective as he explores what it feels like to be a conspicuous pale-faced male living and moving among Kenyans.

There is a painting called ‘Ghost in a Crowd which could easily be about himself since the ghost is white yet quite nondescript compared to the African faces that have distinct facial features.

‘All Eyes on You’ is most definitely about his experience on the streets of Naivasha where he’s worked on and off in the last two and a half years first as a volunteer, then as a full-time artist and art teacher.

A Kenyan journey

Being in Kenya has clearly had a profound impact on both Munoz and Kirkpatrick, who in their own individual ways have immersed themselves in different aspects of Kenyan cultur.

As they are both gifted, sensitive and open-minded artists, that immersion has generated fascinating results.

Both reflect their personal journeys across the country and their exhibitions are instructive and full of rich insights: Munoz gives us first-hand information about one Kenyan community whose rich culture is not well known until she collected data on everything from their architectural styles and techniques of construction to their patterns of migration and day-to-day practices of living, all of which she conveys through her multifaceted exhibition.

On the other hand, Kirkpatrick shares his personal journey, his own experience of being in Kenya, as an outsider, and whose art tells the story of how that feels.

On the one hand, it’s been wonderful as depicted in ‘Balancing on the edge of the world’ but also it’s been difficult to at times as shown in ‘Ghost in a Crowd.’