Artistic photographer on coming of age


Thandiwe Muriu next to one of her images during a photographic installation held at Alliance Francaise, Nairobi on March 11, 2021. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU | NMG

Thandiwe Muriu calls herself a commercial photographer.

She has every right to do so since, having just turned 30 the other day, Thandiwe has been taking photos and earning a living from it for more than a decade.

Yet her current showcase of photographs entitled ‘Between Image and Identity’ which she shares with fellow photographer, the Senegalese-Italian Adji Dieye, looks less commercial and more fantastic.

“It was time for me to let my hair down,” says the Kenyan woman who has worked commercially with an array of corporates over the past 10 years. Everyone from Safaricom (she provided photos for their 2020 calendar), Ogilvy, EABL, and Airtel to NCBA Bank, Scanad, and even Sauti Sol.

She has had people fly in from Rwanda and as far as Sweden just to work with her.

But it was 2020 that was the breakout year for Thandiwe. As dark and dreary was the year of a pandemic for the rest of the world, for her the opportunities came pouring in for her to exhibit overseas. She was invited to show her art photos in the UK and France, at ‘Photo London’ in September and the African Art Festival hosted by AKAA (Also Known As Africa) and the 190 Gallery, both in Paris this past November.

And then came the invitation from Alliance Francaise to exhibit alongside the Francophone female photographer Adji who has somewhat similar interests to Thandiwe, as part of international women’s March celebrations.

Asked by BDLife why she thought this past year was so eventful for her, Thandiwe says it could be because many people seem to be working online than in the past. And many have been discovering talents online that they had not known existed before.

Coincidentally, that is somehow a theme of her ‘Camo series’ which can be seen in part at Alliance Francaise through to the end of March. Just taking a quick look at her photographs and you can easily surmise that ‘camo’ is short for camouflage or for being hidden in plain sight. What makes the exhibition such a fun show not to be missed is the way Thandiwe has wallpapered her whole section of the ground floor gallery. She even got Harsita Waters to ‘wallpaper’ the stairs leading up to the Wangari Maathai Auditorium.

But not just any old wallpaper. The colourful paper designs contrast yet coordinate and coalesce with the six images on the walls.

And in so doing, the artist has turned the entire space into her creation. The walls become like a beautifully patterned frame surrounding each image in a rhythmic round of eye-popping colors and oscillating designs.

Yet as bright, bold, and cheerful as are the colourful patterns on the floor and walls, it’s the camouflaged images of lovely women inside each frame that speak resoundingly about what matters most to Thandiwe.

“I wanted the images to celebrate and reflect the beauty of African women, African culture, and our bright and bold African colours,” she says, wanting us to know how passionate she feels about African culture, and especially African beauty being well represented in her art.

Admitting that among her favourite commercial assignments is taking fashion photographs, Thandiwe says her ‘Camo’ series builds on the beauty of African fashion which often includes bright contrasting colours.

She even wants to celebrate African hair which she says includes hairstyles that might be long-forgotten if she doesn't revive them in photo-shoots that add modernizing touches to traditional styles.

“We should remember fashions that came before and need not be forgotten,” she adds.

Her father is the one who first introduced her to photography. After graduating first in her class at USIU, (having studied international marketing), it was her father who also encouraged her to pursue 'her calling' if photography was truly what she was passionate about.

"Both my parents have been incredibly supportive and encouraging," says Thandiwe.