Art

Local artists flock to photizo gallery

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Dickson Nedia's LamuBoats at Photizo Gallery, 17 May 2021 PHOTO | POOL

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Summary

  • Tucked away upstairs at the far end of Nairobi’s Valley Arcade is a tiny gallery that makes the most of its small space.
  • Photizo Art Gallery has been around since 2013 but its founder and chief curator, Belalel Ngabo, has not spent a lot of time promoting it.

Tucked away upstairs at the far end of Nairobi’s Valley Arcade is a tiny gallery that makes the most of its small space.

Photizo Art Gallery has been around since 2013 but its founder and chief curator, Belalel Ngabo, has not spent a lot of time promoting it.

“I’m an artist first and foremost, and I think that is where I put most of my energies,” says the painter who has exhibited all over Nairobi and abroad since 2002 when he first arrived in Kenya from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

“I manage the gallery with my wife, Lydia,” says the Congolese painter who studied at the Academy des Beaux-Arts in Kinshasa before coming to Kenya.

“I am a multi-tasker so I have been promoting the gallery, especially among the artists in East and Central Africa who we are now hosting on our website,” says Bezalel.

“We have over 50 [regional] artists that we host. The majority are Kenyans and Ugandans, but we also have artists from the DRC, Tanzania, and Sudan,” he adds.

What is interesting about Photizo is that it did not need a pandemic to take all of its artists and their exhibitions online.

“We have been showing and selling artists’ works online since we opened [in 2013]. It is one of the reasons we have new works arriving in the gallery all the time,” he adds.

Currently, Photizo is exhibiting three artists whose works will be on display, both inside and in front of the gallery for another week. Samuel Njoroge , Dickson Nedia Were, and Ronnie Chris Tindi initially seem like an eclectic set of artists to exhibit together since they do not seem to have an immediate affinity.

Yet Bezalel the painter saw the painterly qualities in each that are similar. For instance, all three are colourists who love to amplify the bright, bold colours of equatorial Africa. That is clear in works like Tindi's ‘Market Day’ where the women are dressed in beautiful full-length frocks designed in turquoise blues, regal reds and yellow hues.

And while Njoroge also has a ‘Market Day’ scene which is quite dissimilar from Tindi's, his other works, such as ‘Lamu Fishers’ and ‘Peugeot Matatu’ share similar shades and hues. Meanwhile, Nedia likes to combine all those colours in his portraits, making the child in ‘Impassivity’ look like she'd been playing with bright primary colours and making herself a face-mask out of them.

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Sam Njuguna’s Peugeot Matatu at Photizo Gallery in Nairobi. PHOTO | POOL

The other thing the three have in common is their choice of subjects. Steering clear of abstract air, the three all focus on events, activities and people closer to home. They all highlight the here and now, which means they are relatable to local collectors just starting to appreciate art.

For instance, Nedia’s portrait of ‘Woman Power’ is a black beauty with an elusive ‘Mona Lisa’-like smile. And Njuguna’s country bus scene in ‘Relic’ is also easily understood and so is Tindi’s “From Buruburu to Tao’ matatu stage scene.

These are all scenes out of East Africans' everyday lives. What is more, all of their paintings very consciously do not make a political statement of any kind. Their works are strictly ‘art for art’s sale’, art that only conveys a positive perspective on the region without a hint of complaint about the status quo or the powers that be.

The one artist who you might have expected to be on display at the gallery is Bezalel’s since Photizo is his. But he says his gallery is there to promote other African artists, not only himself. So one will only find his art on the website.

“One could also see it in Paris right now since some of it is there with Lydia who took it to be in a Paris Art Fair called ‘Art 3F’,”says Bezalel.

He seems to share some qualities with the three painters he is currently exhibiting since he also seems to like painting portraits of beautiful African women dressed in gracefully patterned West African designs.

But he also explores subjects such as wildlife, and he does not shy away from abstract and semi-abstract art. Works like ‘Servanthood’ reflect gently on his religious background while 'Sing song soul' also reveal his deep-seated love of music which again he cultivated while growing up singing in church.