Art

Using creativity as an effective coping mechanism

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Bushkimani Moira's scrap metal painting at Alliance Francaise, September 29, 2021. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

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Summary

  • Brush tu artists were thinking about ‘Coping Mechanisms’ even before the coronavirus hit Kenya and the country got shutdown.
  • And long before their exhibition opened at Alliance Francaise earlier this month.

Brush tu artists were thinking about ‘Coping Mechanisms’ even before the corona virus hit Kenya and the country got shutdown.

And long before their exhibition opened at Alliance Francaise earlier this month.

“Long before COVID, we had been talking about having an exhibition around that theme since there are so many issues that we artists are struggling with.

But then we never got around to it until now,” says Michael Musyoka, one of Brush tu Artists Collective’s founder members.

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Michael Musyoka's Coping Mechanism at Alliance Francaise September 29, 2021. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

Musyoka is also one of nine members of the group whose artworks are on display at Alliance Francaise in a show entitled ‘Coping Mechanisms.’

The other eight are Abdul Kiprop, Boniface Maina, another founder member, Bushkimani Moira, Emmaus Kimani, Kimani Ngaru, Lincoln Mwangi, Peteros Ndunde, and Sebawali Sio.

Each one of the nine has found their own creative means of coping with difficulties, be they COVID-related or otherwise.

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Michael Musyoka's Coping Mechanism at Alliance Francaise September 29. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

Most of them are hanging from the AF walls either as paintings (by Musyoka, Sebawali, Lincoln and Bushkimani), or drawings Peteros, or photography by Emmaus Kimani or prints by Abdul.

But there are also several sculptures shaped by Kimani Ngaru, Brush tu’s first professional sculptor to join the group.

There are several installations in the show as well. Emmaus created a series of video and audio installations while he was an artist-in-residence in Germany.

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Sebawali Sio with Brush tu at Alliance Francaise September 29. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

“I was in Berlin when COVID hit and I couldn’t come back.

So my way of coping was trying to find ways to capture the serenity I felt while I was there. It’s what led to my creating the videos and audios that became installation in the show,” he says.

The other installation is by Bushkimani whose scrap-metal collage entitled ‘The Scientist, the Politician, and their Mouthpiece: If you can’t beat them, run!’ is an intriguing work unto itself.

Yet what makes it an installation is the bird’s cage hanging a few feet away from it where several caged birds seem spellbound, watching the scrap-metal ‘TV screen’.

“We are like the birds who look like they are caged, but they don’t realize there are holes in the cage sufficient for them to easily fly out if they wished. So their entrapment is an illusion,” she adds. ‘The point is they all had a choice!”

Asked how the installation reflects her own means of coping, she says she has become more of an active observer of social affairs, rather than being depressed by the current state of things.

Peteros Ndunde says he feels similarly in that his means of coping is facing whatever troubles come his way, and facing them head on.

His sinuous drawings of dynamic men in motion reflect that same sort of resilience.

They seem to get more agile, refined, and aligned with a delicate balance that keeps them in motion and also able to avoid being overwhelmed by the issues that might come along.

Boniface Maina says he put several of his earlier works in the exhibition since they say more about a time when he was struggling to cope with internal issues.

“Previously, my art had been more political but I wanted to shift into a more self-reflective mode.

I wasn’t quite sure how to do that,” he adds. That discomfort over his felt need to make the transition from the familiar to the unknown is reflected in his works in the exhibition.

In fact, the pieces reflect his already having made the move artistically though he may not have realized it at the time.

Lincoln Mwangi also displays several paintings that are from an earlier time. But they equally reflect his means of coping with the challenges of the day.

He spent much of the lockdown preparing artworks to include in his recent solo exhibition at GravitArt.         

The same is true for Sebawali who is currently having a solo exhibition at Lisa Christophersen’s new venue, LifeStyle.

Seba like Lincoln had found the most effective means of coping with these uncertain times is to work at what she most loves doing, and that is to create.

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Boniface Maina at Alliance Francaise September 29. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

Finally, the paintings in ‘Coping Mechanisms’ that I found disturbing are by Musyoka. Noting that the title of the exhibition had been intentionally open-ended, meaning everyone might have a different challenge to cope with, Musyoka says he was taking a deeper look at the issue of death, since for him, it is inevitable.

“It was coming to terms with its inevitability that I had to cope with,” he says. It is also what inspired the art he produced for Coping Mechanisms.

It’s not my favorite, but it’s perhaps the most provocative in the exhibition.