In all the years that Rahab Njambi and Shine Tani have been together, they have never had a joint art exhibition. At the Banana Hill Art Gallery, the couple is exhibiting 50 paintings.
Njambi has more than twice as many landscapes in the premiere exhibition. Nonetheless, it has been a while since Shine, who is the managing director of Banana Hill Gallery devoted himself to his painting.
Banana Hill Studio is one of the first African-owned art galleries in Kenya. All the major galleries have been owned by Europeans, apart from Paa ya Paa Art Centre, which was established by a mix of European, Asian and African artists, including its current MD, Elimo Njau, and African Heritage Pan African Gallery which was co-founded and co-owned by former Vice President Joseph Murumbi and American designer Alan Donovan.
Otherwise, from One-Off, Red Hill, and Circle Art galleries to the now-defunct Gallery Watatu, Studio 68, and the Scorsbie Gallery all are currently or were previously owned and managed by Europeans.
Shine made room for an array of young local artists and nurtured them. He has also spent time travelling around East Africa, meeting artists and inviting them to exhibit at Banana Hill.
But all the while that he has been building up the gallery, his wife Njambi has been growing artistically. She has also become a gallerist.
Njambi was just 15 when she met Shine in her hometown of Lari. He was older and she was enchanted by his artistry since he, like many young men from Ngecha village, had been tutored in art by the late Francis Mbugua.
“Few people know about Francis, but he is the one who taught most of the Ngecha artists how to paint,” says Shine, referring to artists like Sane Wadu, Wanyu Brush, Sebastian Kiarie, and many others.
Before he met Mbugua, Shine was given his first art lessons by his older brother.
Njambi was unschooled in the arts but benefited from being with Shine who began teaching art to all the aspiring artists. She quietly watched and experimented on her own.
“That was how the Banana Hill Art Studio began,” said Njambi, who was the first and only woman to join the studio.
From the look of the lovely landscapes that she has painted during these pandemic times, Njambi's artistry has developed exponentially.
Their joint exhibition is running through mid-January.
Njambi's style is distinctive: the blended colours of her skies look comparable to those seen in Banana Hill on sunny days.
The grounds are invariably filled with scenes that Njambi knows best, including villages like Kiptangwanyi, (Shine's home near Nakuru), Mogotio (near Baringo), Rwathia, Suswa, and even Grogan Road. Painted in oils from her imagination after having been to all of these spots, Njambi's art combines elements of impressionism and realism to convey a vivid view of Kenya’s pastoral life in the countryside.
Meanwhile, Shine returned to his painting during the pandemic and also painted up a storm. His forte has always been surrealism combined with storytelling.