Art

New art gallery opens in city

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Paul Paul Njihia stands next to one of his works at WAMA Gallery opening. PHOTO | MARGARETTA GICHERU

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Summary

  • WAMA Art Gallery is the brainchild of Adam Sargeant, owner of the new social enterprise, the WAMA Boutique Hotel and Restaurant.
  • The gallery aims to be open to many more up-and-coming artists like Paul Njihia who is an emerging artist but is also the current manager of WAMA’s new art space.
  • Njihia’s opening exhibition was filled with his generation of young visual artists.

A new Nairobi art gallery just opened this past weekend in Lavington which has immense potential but has yet to find its feet.

WAMA Art Gallery is the brainchild of Adam Sargeant, owner of the new social enterprise, the WAMA Boutique Hotel and Restaurant. Situated on a spacious two-acre plot just behind James Gichuru Road, both the restaurant and the gallery are in a renovated colonial home. Filled with polished wood floors and staircases, the eatery is on the ground floor while the gallery is up one flight.

But even though WAMA is tucked away deep inside Lavington, the turn- out for both openings was excellent. Yet both spaces still work in progress, first because Adam also intends to provide hospitality training for youth with special needs, and also because the gallery aims to be open to many more up-and-coming artists like Paul Njihia who is an emerging artist but is also the current manager of WAMA’s new art space.

Njihia’s opening exhibition was filled with his generation of young visual artists, including himself, Solomon Muchemi, Edwin Kimani, Chebet Paskaline, Nephart Njihia, and Velma. All describe themselves as ‘self-taught’, but admittedly inspired by older, more established artists, like Patrick Mukabi, Kioko Mwitiki, and James Njoroge.

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Paul Paul Njihia with his painted woodcut at WAMA Gallery opening. PHOTO | MARGARETTA GICHERU

One applauds Njihia for getting the gallery up and going with this eclectic group of young artists. The only established one among them was Louis Alosa, who provided clever caricatures for guests in the gallery that day.

The one non-painting participant in the show was Tashu Esmail who brought a fabulous array of hand-woven carpets, coming from Azarbhaijan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran.

“It’s my husband whose family has been in the [oriental rug] business for three generations,” says Tashu who tells BDLife stories about almost all the carpets, one by one.

What is most striking about them is how colorful and finely woven they are. Each is an exceptional work of art, coming in various sizes, shapes, and designs. Perhaps the most exquisite is the antique carpet from Iran, entitled ‘Four Gardens of Iran’. As she unrolls the six- by four-metre masterpiece, she explains the rug is a blend of silk and wool threads. Covered in a grid-full of small squares, each filled with delicate floral designs, she adds her carpets can either cover a floor or be hung like an antique tapestry. I would hang this sublime piece if I had the Sh200,000 that Tashu was selling it for that day.

“We brought down our prices for this day only,” she says, explaining that one of the reasons ‘Four Gardens” is more costly is because it is double-knotted on two of its four sides.

“All double-knotted carpets are expensive because they are more labour-intensive and durable since the weave is more secure.”

Tashu seems encyclopedic about her rugs which she says are not all carpets. She has also brought runners which are best used in smaller spaces, and kilms which are single-knotted rugs, which are significantly less expensive. One was on sale for (not Sh200,000 but) Sh25,000!

To me, the kilms are just as exceptional as the double-knotted carpets. Both are made using organic pigments and dyes. Both are beautifully symmetrical in design.

Asking who brings these carpets into Kenya, Tashu says her husband travels to those regions and has an eye for quality carpets, especially those in need of repair.

“The older the carpet, the more valuable it usually is,” she says, noting that her husband is a specialist in carpet repair. He also knows the art of washing these precious textiles which can be easily damaged if one is not careful.

What is equally appealing about the single-knotted kilms is their price-range. For instance, on that Saturday, one Afghan kilm (6 metres by 4 metres) was selling for Sh25,000. “Otherwise, it is priced at Sh35,000,” she says. And while another Afghan kilm (302 metres by 20 metres) was selling for Sh58,000 that day, still its size and colorful geometric design made its normal price seem reasonable.

I could have studied Tashu’s carpets, runners, and kilms all day, but by her rolling them out as she told me each of their stories, we were blocking gallery traffic. So we had to stop, but she said I could come see her either in Gigiri or Karen at her family’s Bukhara Oriental rugs store.