Ticah's Water: DJs, rappers, painters, sculptors turn water into performative art

Goethe Institute 2

Feng Shui Gàrden designed by Amber van den Berg.

Photo credit: Margaretta wa Gacheru | Nation Media Group

Ticah’s Rika of June 2024 didn’t manage to turn water into wine during its week-long residency held at Goethe Institute.

But the collaboration between Goethe and Ticah (or Trust for Indigenous Culture and Health) managed to involve more than two dozen artists from a wide range of artistic disciplines in the topic of water.

“It all started with the flood waters that were causing so much damage to many Kenyan communities,” Ticah’s Suzanne Mieko-Wambua told the BD Life shortly before last Saturday’s culmination of the five-day workshop that explored both the positive and negative aspects of water.

She and her Ticah colleague, and visual artist Eric Manya have been creating inter-disciplinary ‘rika’ residencies over the last five years. Some have managed to beautify Nairobi’s CBD with public art while others, like their Water residency, have transformed water into performative art forms involving everyone from classical and contemporary dancers to storytellers, DJ-musicians, and rappers to videographers and landscape architects.

There were also painters, printmakers, and sculptors working in both stone and a big chunk of Ice brought in for the opening performance by Irene Wanjiru whose ice sculpture will last as long as the Sun’s heat doesn’t transform it into fresh water.

“Throughout the week, we discussed all the ways that water impacts our lives,” storyteller Mueni Lundi told the BDLife. The mornings were devoted to discussions of water’s many facets while the afternoons were when the artists put theory into practical illustrations of what water has meant to them.

For instance, Amber van den Berg is a landscape architect whose specialty is Feng Shui, the ancient Chinese system of rules governing spatial arrangements aimed at protecting the free-flowing, life-affirming energy of the chi. What she did was to create a beautiful circular garden filled with green plants which depend on water to grow. And within that garden, she shared a traditional tea ceremony aimed at having a calming, healing influence on those who came to partake of the ceremonial tea. The garden was at the centre of Goethe’s auditorium, around which so many water-related events were taking place simultaneously.

But there was one inter-disciplinary performance that got especially high ratings as per the public’s spontaneous response. The terrific mix, including storytellers, rappers, and musicians like Mueni, blending with rapper Still Hatari, singer Sanaipei Tande, DJ Mura and the contemporary dancer, Sue Kambua whose energy (or chi) was dazzling in its free-flowing form of movement as she gracefully glided around the crowded room, as if to embody the spirit of unimpeded water.

The other dancer was the ballerina, Davillah Skynnor who performed around layers of light curtains that served as a watery backdrop conceived by the videographer Lynnette Karigo who had shot her filmed footage in Malindi just as the tide was coming in. It was a delicate combination that served as an elegant reminder of how constant water is as it comes and goes, causing either health or hazard depending on forces we don’t fully understand.

Irene Wanjiru's carved mama carrying water at the ‘Water’ performative art show at the Goethe Institute on June 15, 2024.

Photo credit: Margaretta wa Gacheru | Nation Media Group

There were a number of visual art exhibitions reflecting still more dimensions of what water can do. Like Wallace Juma’s examination of what is stashed away inside water droplets. He created a large diptych to give the full effect of his amoeba-filled water.

Other visual artists whose paintings reveal their experiences with water included Cephas Mutua. Michael Musyoka, and Wilson Matunda, among others.

Then came Irene with her stone carvings, one of which was of a woman carrying a big pot of water since she had no running water in her home. The other woman looked desperate since she had no access to clean water and was suffering as a consequence.

Finally, Ticah managed to find one of the flood victims, Sammy Mutinda who is based at Mukuru Lunga Lunga, the slum where Shabu Mwangi and Ngugi Waweru established Wajukuu Art Centre back in 2003. At the time, Sammy was a small boy whose life was been transformed by all he’d learned while growing up with Wajukuu where floods are common.

“Wajukuu illustrated what water can do to a community,” Sammy said. “The floods have only strengthened our bonds as a community of artists since we have survived together through both good times and bad,” he continued.

At Saturday’s official opening, the Director of Goethe Institute, Cristina Nord welcomed everyone to enjoy the exhibition. Also in attendance was the founder of Ticah and former Regional Director of Ford Foundation, Mary Anne Burris.

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