Kobo Trust was alive with artistic energy this past weekend when all the artists working there held their second Open Day, exactly one year after they organised their first.
It was a day that included not just a group exhibition in which all eleven resident artists displayed one painting each in the Trust’s Great Hall.
There were exceptions made for the newcomers to Kobo, namely Iona McCreath, Aron Boruya, and this year’s guest artist, Elnah Akware, all of whom got a chance to show more than one of their works.
The other exception was made for Onyis Martin’s three sculptures since he displayed just one painting, and the three were retrospective in nature and the only three-dimensional pieces in the show.
There was also a sale of artworks by the artists, including a 30 percent discount. Most of the works were slightly smaller, but the quality was not diminished by the size.
Then, as all the artists had their studios upstairs (apart from Iona McCreath who shares her space downstairs with her mother Ann and her chic African clothing company, Kiko Romeo), a trip upstairs was imperative to get the full feeling for the show.
That was where we found the energy flying high as visitors came upstairs to be spell-bound by the artists telling stories about everything from their techniques to their childhood to the retrospective nature of much of their art. For instance, Onyis had to tell us why his papier mache boat was on the floor in the main exhibition hall.
“I was experimenting with different materials and concerned about the problem of migrants traveling from Africa trying to reach Europe,” Onyis told the BDLife.
“The boat symbolises the treacherous journey they take, and the rock-like pieces on the floor next to the boat symbolise those who died trying to migrate abroad,” he added.
Timothy Ochola was also concerned about people looking outside themselves for a savior rather than seeing one within themselves.
“That’s why I called my painting ‘Questions,’” said Ochola who, in addition to painting, teaches Landscape Architecture at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.
The exhibition features a number of university graduates, not all of whom graduated in fine art. For instance, Paul Njihia majored in Marketing and Commerce. But he’d been drawing since primary school.
“I spent half my life in school, 16 years, so it’s no wonder I like to paint school children,” he said, referring to his painting entitled “Dining Hall, Prayer Day.”
Dreams and ambition
Elnah Akware graduated from Kenyatta University, but unlike Njihia, she actually studied fine art. “I knew, by the time I got to secondary, I wanted to study Art and Music,” said Elnah whose dad backed her decision, including having her attend university. But her early years are the subjects of her woodcuts.
“We used to eat mushrooms every morning before we ran to school,” she said, explaining why mushroom prints are in both the group show and the Open Day sale.
A lover of fashion as well as furniture, Elna plans to have her own fashion house and furniture store in future. She’s got the passion and ambition to do both.
The other fashionista at Kobo is Iona McCreath who’s already created whole collections of unique garments. “My latest collection was inspired by Swahili culture using fabrics made out of things like orange peels and Lotus leaves,” said Iona whose concern for sustainability compels her to create clothes with a social message.
Cyprian Rasto is a second-year university student who’s been having tutorials with Kenyan artists like Onyis ever since he was 14-years-old.
“I’d come study and paint with him on weekends and during school holidays,” said Rasto who, now 21, has already been in this year’s Venice Biennale alongside the likes of Njihia, Onyis, David Thuku (who is also at Kobo), and Michael Musyoka at the AKKA Gallery.
Other artists featured at Kobo’s Open Day included Onesmas Okamar (‘Empowerment’), Nadia Wamunyu (“Black Mirror”), Lemek Sompoika (“Identities”), Taabu Munyoki (“Rosemary Munyoki”), and David Thuku (“Red Room”), all of whom created figurative imagery in their art.
The one thing all of them seem to share is their love for experimentation. As Onyis put it, “Experimentation is the only way to grow and discover the resources one has within one’s self.”