Tewa Thadde is one man who has made the most of his time during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“When we saw how artists had no physical spaces to exhibit, and not all Kenyans took their art online during the lockdown, I felt I had to branch out to find artists who were sharing their art on social media,” the self-styled curator tells BDLife last weekend at Nairobi’s Village Market where his current group exhibition, ‘Leaking Spirits’ was extended through the weekend.
“Alternatively, artists get in touch with me, like the one from Cameroon, Tomnyuy Salvador, who saw me and all the artists I promote on Instagram and asked if I could help him with an exhibition,” Tewa adds.
In contrast, the other two artists exhibiting with Salvador at Village Market’s top floor space have been visited by Tewa in their home studios.
“When I went to Kampala and saw the huge amount of artwork that Muramuzi [John Bosco] had created during the lockdown, I was tempted to give him a solo show. But then I saw the correlations between the works of Bosco, Salvador, and Sheila Bayley, and realised their art would harmonise well in a group show,” Tewa explains.
And he was quite right. All three artists, including the one Kenyan, Sheila Bayley have much in common. The most striking thing is the captivating energy that all their artwork emits. All display an electrifying intensity that has obvious differences.
But they all are painters who cover their canvases with meticulous images that require scrutiny, not just a passing glance. This is true especially of Bosco’s and Bayley’s works which combine detailed draftsmanship with colourful contrasts.
Further contrast comes from Salvador who identifies as an immigrant roaming in Morocco where his art reflects his uncertain style of life. It’s all black and white.
But there is a similar entanglement of lines, curves, and what Kenyans call ‘panya paths’ leading to who knows where? Amidst the lines, he is stationed miniature images reminiscent of those found all over Africa in the ancient rock art of many millennia ago.
More timely and relevant to the present are Bayley’s and Bosco’s. But from Tewa’s perspective, the three have something else in common.
“They are all in transition from place to place,” he says, referring to not only Salvador’s shift from Cameroon to Morocco, but also Bosco’s move from his western Ugandan village to the big city of Kampala years ago.
Sheila’s movements are more cerebral, transitioning from former psychology student to so-called self-taught artist and mother of a seven-year-old.
It is Bosco’s art that greets you upon entry to the top floor art space. The curator made a wise decision to station his art at the only entry into the hall. If you are not overwhelmed by it, as a few prospective shoppers said they were, you have to be captivated by its charm.
Caught up in the interwoven branches, roots, and other replicas of Mother Nature in all her rich, luxurious entanglement and glory, one also catches glimpses of skyscrapers and cars, and other facets of urban life.
“I try to express all my experience in my art,” says Bosco, who grew up tending his father's sheep and goats and watching the way his mother always wove grass and banana fibre mats.
Coming to Kampala in 2014 after completing secondary at home, he was drawn to artists’ studios where he felt as if he’d found his calling.
“I spent two years with Yusuf Sali and Kaspa while I was also studying art at the YMCA Institute,” he says. Being mentored by two of Uganda’s best-known artists served the 30-year-old artist well.
Like Bosco, Sheila Bayley reflects her life experience in her art. But unlike his, her work is more inscrutable. She seems to be telling stories in her paintings, even as her characters emerge from what often seems like high-rise flats.
The biggest difference between her and Bosco is that her works have more geometry, more parallel and perpendicular lines while Bosco’s elongated lines are always curvaceous like the subterranean roots of a tree.
One of Bosco’s most distinctive paintings proves what the artist says about including his life experiences in his art. That one is of his wedding, with he and his bride being the centre of the painting’s attention.
Yet both bride and groom as well as members of the wedding party have an almost caricature-like form. But again, in contrast, the tone of Bayley’s art is more sober and reflective.