Artists use pieces to give form to their loss

(L-R) Artists Eric Menya, Musa Omusi, Moses Nyawanda, Iddi Achieng, and Suzanne Mieko at The Arbor Gallery in Nairobi on August 30, 2022. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

The loss of a loved one and the grief that ensues tends to be a private affair. Yet in the case of four artists brought together through their connections with Dream Cona, their loss inspired a conversation that eventually led to their holding an art exhibition at The Arbor in Nairobi’s Westlands.

Entitled Ekenyagwechwechachwecheria which is the Kisii name of a mysterious lizard-like creature that changes colour and comes and goes from sight, the four agreed on the metaphor for what grief felt like for them.

“They felt like grief is a feeling that can sometimes seem very real and tangible; but there are moments when it disappears, as when they are creating their art,” said Suzanne Miieko, one of the two curators of this multifaceted exhibition.

The other one is Eric Menya, and both are with Dream Cona which also facilitated the artists’ bonding despite being from different genres and not knowing each other before.

One a sculptor, another a painter, the third an illustrator, animator, and designer, and the fourth a singer-songwriter, spoken word poet, Elkana Ong’esa, Moses Nyawanda, Musa Omusi, and Iddi Achieng’ had not anticipated having an exhibition.

“But we felt they had things in common which might be meaningful for them to share,” Suzanne told the BDLife.

As it turned out, the bonding was beautiful and so was the exhibition that just ended, but which is coming back soon due to popular demand.

There was serendipity even in the selection of The Arbor as the best venue for their show. Suzanne had been there with her family when her son peeked into a window and saw the empty room that the four artists eventually occupied.

Once the show opened, the first thing that someone saw when they looked straight ahead was Frank Ajuma’s long mural-like painting which conveys oceanic turbulence on the far end of the work and calm tranquility on the other side. “It’s another metaphor for the way death can hit us,” said Eric.

“The grief at the loss of a loved one can be traumatic and ‘turbulent’. But if one can get through it, there’s the chance of feeling at peace knowing that the loved one is safe, resting in peace,” he added.

Moses had painted four canvases commemorating the loss of his eight-year-old baby girl. The first displayed the family intact. The second showed the family burdened with the knowledge their child had a terminal disease.

The third one placed their problem in a larger context in which other children, not just his, were plagued with the same problem. And the final exposed the stoical parents who were sober and challenged to survive the grief of their loss.

Wild card

Moses’ choice of using bright and sunny colours set the mood for the whole show. They were unexpected and almost celebratory as if to celebrate that loved one’s life. Certainly, Elkana’s Lala Toto Lala suggested the sculptor had partially come to terms with the passing of his wife.

“They called each other ‘Baby’ so it’s that intimate, affectionate expression that he conveys in both sculptures that he’d created especially for this show. Iddi was the wild card in the group.

The only female and the only one whose art is intangible, like grief itself. Yet she, like Musa Omusi, lost a mother and many people know how hard that hit can affect their well-being since mothers are usually the one constant in a person’s life.

Mothers can be counted on when one feels cornered and helpless, hopeless, or just needing an affirming friend.

Iddi wrote music and lyrics for her mom and the exhibition, which is one reason why the group chose to video their show. “The idea came up to video the process of creativity as they were sharing ideas and coming up with the concepts they wanted to convey,” said Eric.

Iddi had also written her mom letters in a journal after she had passed. Those pages were ripped out of that notebook and framed so the public could read the intimate thoughts that she wanted her mother to hear from her lips, heart, mind, and life. Musa learned to create batiks with Dream Cona at The GoDown.

He loved the technique and decided to create one giant one, which became a phoenix that soared majestically over the rest of the show. Musa’s bird, like the spirit of those who had passed away, was beyond anyone’s capacity to inflict harm. It was true of their loved ones as well.

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