Art

Moira sculpts masks with deep meaning

Bushkimani3

Bushkimani Moira in her Owl Mask at Brush tu Studio on February 21, 2021. PHOTO | POOL

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Summary

  • Her happiest days at Braeburn School were Wednesday afternoons when her Mural club met and she could paint or sculpt to her heart's content.
  • She studied law briefly in Malaysia, but then the awesome sunsets of Kuala Lumpur so bedazzled her that she changed course for real this time.

Ethereal is the term that most readily comes to mind as I meet Bushkimani Moira twirling her latest creation, two hanging Taurus sculptures, at the latest Brush Tu open house last weekend in Buruburu, Nairobi.

“I call them Infinite Energy since these shapes can spin perpetually by themselves,” says the artist as she moves gracefully in and around her work.

“I started working on this first piece back in 2017. I like to take my time and let the work evolve in my mind,” she adds.

This is also true of the papier-mache masks that she has hanging in another part of Brush Tu’s spacious two-storey studio. The first of the four that she has in the show was also started in 2017.

That is no surprise since ‘Bush’ has gone through many changes between then and now. And really, in the last decade or more. Having meant to be either a lawyer or a business studies major, Moira (aka Maureen) tried to be an obedient child. She only did her art as an extracurricular activity.

But her happiest days at Braeburn School were Wednesday afternoons when her Mural club met and she could paint or sculpt to her heart's content.

She studied law briefly in Malaysia, but then the awesome sunsets of Kuala Lumpur so bedazzled her that she changed course for real this time.

“I made my choice to become an artist there and then,” she says, admitting she had experienced a kind of epiphany that was life-transforming and liberating at the same time.

Initially, she became a professional photographer, but then after returning home to Kenya, life got rough. Her parents weren’t pleased and this left her little choice but to move out and into uncharted terrain. But her love of art and love of freedom meant she has found her way into working with some of Kenya’s most innovative young artists.

She has spent time working with Maasai Mbili Artist Collective, apprenticing with both Kota Otieno (one of M2’s founding fathers) and Mbuthia Maina. She even taught children's art classes with Solo 7 before she decided to move out of the city and into the bush.

“That’s how I got the name Bushkimani,” she quips, recalling her peaceful, productive time living on the edge of the Nairobi Game Park.

Loving the nature, freedom and space to think and create, it was there outside the park that she began her Taurus and her masks.

But then, when she got an internship at Brush tu, she took it up. She got along so well with her fellow artists there, she got an invitation to join the group. She agreed and uprooted herself from the park, becoming just the second female Collective member after Sebawali Sio.

Now able to settle a bit and complete assembling all those bicycle rims into her perfect Taurus shapes.

“There will be more to come as I intend to make a series of eight,” she says. It is her face masks that are most compelling to me. Made with layers upon layers of newspaper strips dipped into dishes filled with blended ‘Ngano’ wheat flour, they all have been built up around one face, that of Bush’s.

I asked if she had feared suffocating behind the papier mache, she said no, since it was lightweight. Also, she has initially oiled her face before the process got underway. Besides, she only put two or three layers on her face, leaving each layer to dry before the next one was put on.

It was a painstaking process, but that was just the beginning. She had four masks on display at Brush tu, each symbolising elements of nature. That first mask from 2017 now painted gold, hangs before a blue-black canvas, with thin blue-beaded aluminum wires dangling beneath the mask. Entitled ‘Afloat’ this mask reflects Bush’s early love of water.

“All of these masks are nostalgic. I’m remembering happy days of my childhood,” she says.

The next mask is ‘On Fire’ enmeshed in wires, this time suggestive of fire, meaning the fire of passion and fiery emotion that ignites sparks of pure creative energy. The third is nestled in a fishing trap and the fourth is lit from within. “People wear many masks, but I feel that if they removed those masks, we might know more about who they are,” she said.