Print art gains prominence at the GoDown

Matatu painting by Dennis Muraguri on display the GoDown pop-up exhibition. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

Ever since The GoDown moved from its spacious home in Nairobi’s Industrial Area to Kilimani, they have kept a relatively low profile. The plan was to build a magnificent multimedia cultural centre where the old digs used to be, and remain in genial suburbia only until the new centre was complete.

The ‘new’ GoDown is a shadow in size compared to the original site. But it is been big enough to set up several studios for artists, host a range of artistic workshops, and lately to even have ‘pop-up’ art exhibitions like the one held last Thursday, June 23 curated by Thom Ogonga.

“We invited Thom to curate the exhibition since Peterson [Kamwathi] was going to be running a one-day print-making workshop the same day,” Catherine Mujomba told the BD Life. “The idea was they [the exhibition and the workshop] would complement one another,” she added.

It is true that both Ogonga and Kamwathi are printmakers who have worked together in the past. Both have also run workshops for many young Kenyan artists, so it definitely made sense.

Yet the GoDown has only recently begun to mount exhibitions, largely because of its lack of space. But they managed to conveniently rig up a series of see-through wire panels on which to hang Ogonga’s choice of prints.

Meanwhile, towards the back end of the grounds, Kamwathi spent the day with a team of young Kenyan painters from Mukuru Art Club.

“The painters from Mukuru Art Club had never done printmaking before, so the workshop was an opportunity for them to learn new techniques,” Joy Mboya, GoDown’s founder and CEO, told her audience as she introduced Kamwathi to those who had come to see the artwork and the artists as well.

And thanks to Kamwathi’s talent for teaching, the day-long workshop resulted in the construction of a second mini-print exhibition made up of woodcut prints produced by the Mukuru painters.

“Among them could be the next generation of Kenyan print-makers,” opined Joy who added that one project the GoDown aims to achieve is knowledge transfer from one generation to the next.

Workshops have been an important means of transferring that information. As Joy observed, for many aspiring printmakers, there previously were not art institutions where they could learn new techniques.

Kamwathi expounded on that fact, noting that he had never learned about printmaking in art school. But he had attended printmaking workshops where experienced printers were able to share their skills.

“That’s one reason I like the workshop experience,” he said. “It’s a communal experience in which everybody shares.”

Ogonga also built upon that point. He noted that seven of the nine artists in the pop-up show were good friends who shared everything from materials to ideas.

“We [meaning the seven] recently had a pop-up print exhibition [at One Off Gallery earlier this year]. But none of what was in that show is on display here,” he added.

The seven include himself, Kamwathi, Dennis Muraguri, Wanjohi Maina, Mari Endo, James Mweu, and Patrick Karanja. “We brought in two more women for this show,” says Ogongo, referring to Elena Akware and Ndunda Bulima.

Thom added that there are many styles and techniques that operate on the printmaking platform. In this show alone, there are mainly woodcut prints, but there are also etchings [by Kamwathi], screen prints [Wanjohi Maina], and a technique Patrick Karanja calls collagraphy which is making a print from a collage.

In any case, the diversity of the techniques doesn’t discount the fact that prints are an art form that is more accessible or at least more affordable than a painting of which there is only one-of-a-kind. With prints, you can reproduce many or few of the same image you have carved or etched.

Kamwathi gave us a short history lesson as he addressed an audience that had come for the pop-up. He noted that long before Rembrandt was making prints and seeing his art ‘go viral’ as his prints circulated all over the Western world of his time, the Chinese were creating woodcut prints thousands of years before him.

One of the recipients of Kamwathi’s wisdom that day was the esteemed sculptor, Elkana Ong’esa who had been attending another workshop at the GoDown. “But when he heard Kamwathi was giving his day-long training, he decided to stick around and participate,” said Ms Mujomba.

Kamwathi welcomed the Elder statesman of Kisii stone sculpture to his workshop, in the same spirit of sharing that he showed aspiring artists what he called ‘the basics’ of the art.

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