3 Pan-African artists at Banana Hill Gallery


Nigerian artist Ademola Adeshina’s portrait of a grandmother taking grandson to school, ‘Legacy 2020’ at Banana Hill Art Gallery, on September 18, 2021. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU

There is a fabulously colourful and complex collection of paintings that have come to Banana Hill Art Gallery in Kiambu as a complete surprise.

‘Power of Three’ is a Pan-African powerhouse of art, co-curated by gallerist Shine Tani together with Kenyatta University art lecturer, Anne Mwiti who is also one of the three artists. The other two are Ademola Adeshina and Mazola wa Mwashighadi.

Anne may be best known as an inspired lecturer of fine art, but she is also an artistic activist on Facebook.

It was on Facebook that she met Ademola, the Nigerian artist who first exhibited in Kenya at Banana Hill in 2019.

“For me, Facebook is business,” says Anne. “I don’t have time to keep track of people’s personal stories,” adds the globetrotter. Facebook has had a part to play in her illustrious CV which reflects her having exhibited everywhere from Brazil, Congo, and Poland to Morocco, Egypt, and the UK.

But it was her art on Facebook that inspired Ademola to contact her when he was thinking about coming back to Kenya after his first successful solo show.

“I’ve exhibited many places, both in and outside of Nigeria,” says the Lagos-based textile designer turned painter who is here in Nairobi for the duration of the show, which ends October 28.

Ademola says he came to Kenya because he sees Nairobi as an artistic hub of African contemporary art. He is quick to admit there would have been no ‘Power of Three’ exhibition without Anne who included Mazola wa Mwashilighila in this Pan-African mix of a show.

“I never knew Mazola when he was here in Kenya, but I’ve seen his work on Facebook and thought it would be special to include him in the exhibition,” says Anne whose role as a lecturer has often included her shepherding talented local artists into adventurous new lines of expression.

“We communicated with Mazola who has been wanting to exhibit in Kenya, but had no means of doing so before,” says Anne. The result has been stunning, starting with a major semi-abstract painting by Anne that greets you as you enter the gallery.

Entitled ‘My Body Betrays Me’, she says it’s all about the multiple forms a woman’s body can take (particularly related to childbirth), and how that shape often determines her life experience.

“There’s a lot of pain that women go through, pain which men can never experience, but which can have a profound impact on women’s lives,” she says.

A feminist theme runs through several works in the exhibition, but Anne is renowned for her diversity of style. For instance, her abstract painting won her the World Citizen Artist award in London in 2014, the first African to win the award.

Meanwhile, Ademola had been a distant admirer of Anne’s art and it was her that he contacted first with the idea of their doing a joint exhibition.

“Without Anne, this exhibition would not have happened,” he said.

“I was the hands-on person who made things happen,” admits Anne who had also been following the artworks of Kenyan-Jamaican painter Mazola who had been active on the Nairobi art scene in the 90s. But after winning a Commonwealth art award and a trip to Jamaica, he has been living there permanently since 2000.

Speaking to BDLife on the exhibition’s opening day, Mazola said he had always wanted to share his art back home, but logistics had been the problem. “It took an artist like Anne who knew how to deal with all the obstacles, to make it happen,” says Mazola whose paintings in ‘Power of Three’ primarily work he did in the 90s and left with his daughter, Melody.

Meanwhile, it’s Ademola’s semi-abstract works which are also on display at the gallery’s entrance and reveal why his art has immense appeal. They are colourfully vibrant, with a boldly textured semi-abstract format. They are also reasonably priced.

The biggest bonus of the Banana Hill show is its Pan-African appeal.