Thadde Tewa had no idea he would find 44 wonderful women artists from all around the East African region to exhibit this week at Village Market’s exhibition hall.
Granted he had booked the hall over a year ago, intent on mounting an exhibition of visual art. But he had no idea at the time which artists he would select or where they would come from or and how it all would get done.
Nonetheless, he was intent on doing a monumental exhibition that would reflect his newest ‘discoveries’ of young talents who he felt deserved to be shown.
“I took a big risk by making the booking,” the ambitious young free-lance curator and gallerist tells BDLife. “But I felt that this was the time to try,” adds Tewa who admits Village Market asks quite a fee upfront to book the hall.
Tewa’s last exhibition reflected the challenge he has faced ever since he left Polka Dot Gallery in 2017. He had done well as the Gallery’s manager and gained scads of artistic skills and knowledge, working with artists and clients alike.
But once the gallery closed, he had to make his way as an independent, free-lancer whose love of African art and artists inspired him to follow his own ingenious path.
Today, Tewa is one of the most trusted advocates for emerging artists. He creates catalogues for them, sells their artwork on the fly, and opens doors like the ones at Village Market’s exhibition hall.
It’s true that Tewa put a Call Out to all artists on social media earlier this year and got an overwhelming response. “I was surprised at how many women responded,” he admits.
Then, once he checked out the quality of works that were being sent, he decided that it was the women’s art that had the greatest appeal to him. That’s when he decided his venue at Village Market was bound to be a women’s show entitled “Pink Flame”.
He’s assembled more than 150 artworks for this show, but it hasn’t been easy. He says one young Sudanese artist was so keen to be in the exhibition, she rolls up her paintings, put them in a tube, and then trusted the post to get them over the border like any other piece of mail.
“They arrived in time and I was able to re-frame the work,” he says, admitting that running a one-man show has been a challenge.
Featuring women from all around the region, there are Kenyan newcomers like Elnah Akware, Joy Ki’to, Doreen Mweni, and Irene Katumbi. But there are also artworks by women from Rwanda, Sudan, Uganda, and Tanzania.
What’s wonderful about ‘Pink Flame’, apart from Tewa’s enabling many of the 44 women to have space to be seen publicly for the first time, is the chance we have to appreciate their talent, originality, and youth.
Most of the women exhibitors are in their 20s and a few, even younger than that. For instance, Kay Aluvanzp is 19 and in her last year at the International School of Kenya. Joy Ki’to is also a youngster and a member of the Mukuru Art Club.
So is Doreen Mweni who has been with the Club a bit longer than Joy. But both have benefited from the attention given to up-and-coming artists by the Club’s founder Adam Masava.
Several of the women have graduated from university-based art programs. They include Taabu Munyoki and Fridah Isai who both came from Kenyatta University’s fine art department while Elnah Akware came from the University of Nairobi’s school of design.
A few are from Makerere in Uganda, like Rossette Aweko and Jacqueline Kalange. And even more came from the University of Sudan in Khartoum, including Dahlia Baasher, Wafa Salah, and Amani Azhari.
Meanwhile, there are several so-called ‘self-taught’ artists who can trace their inspiration to paint to mentors like Patrick Mukabi. Nadia Wamunyu is one of them.
There are others, like Sheila Bayley, who isn’t so easily identified or associated with artists that we know. Her style is unique and intricate to the point where one must look twice or thrice to be able to ‘read between the lines’ of her painted drawings.
Pink Frame is up at Village Market until October 2 so one needs to get there quick before the show shuts down. A few will be back in November for the Rotary’s Art to End Polio for Good, but that’s another story.