5 Lenses is a fascinating, multifaceted exhibition happening from February 15, in the basement of Nairobi's Westlands Mall.
A venue that is fast becoming a convenient site for quirky, unusual, and surprising new shows, 5 Lenses meets that criterion.
Curated by artists April Kamande and Yvonne Nyawira, the show features five women artists, each representing a different genre of the arts, each seeing the world through a different ‘lens’ as it were.
There’s the painter, Victoria Thuo aka Blaine, the photographer, Adikinyi Kondo, the digital artist, Lynn Atieno, the sculptor, Elnah Akware, and the British writer Ozioma Ihesiene who is based in the United Kingdom.
“I was originally going to be the one painter out of the five. But then I realised I needed to see the project through to completion, so I invited Blaine to come in instead of me,” April tells the BDLife.
She wisely chose to relinquish her space in the show since she’s the one who designed the project in the first place. “I had just left my job as the Arts Manager at the British Council, and had decided to apply for a [BC] arts grant which I was surprised to get,” she continues.
Admitting that the goals of the project are derived from issues that have arisen in her practice, April says those issues can best be seen in the five themes that undergird the exhibition.
Each theme reflects an aspect of the journey that she and countless others have taken during and after the Covid lockdown.
They include first, ‘self-identity’, implying a process which has called on each artist to reflect on her own identity artistically.
Then comes ‘solitude’, a theme that she together with Yvonne decided was a subject every artist needs to stay focused on the work they need to do.
After that comes the issue of ‘mental health and healing’ which evolved as a topic that’s essential to address to ensure the artist is on a journey that is constructive and deeply rooted.
Finally, comes the theme of ‘growth’, a topic we expect to see through the artist’s practice following their journey the other lenses have taken them through.
The fifth theme addresses the collaborative aspect of the show and pairs the painter and poet, digital artist and photographer, and the sculptor singularly creating a universal woman in wood to greet you as you enter the exhibition.
Otherwise, the pairs address the environmental theme of animal versus man, understanding that both are near extinction at the rate that human beings are going.
Yet the ambience at 5 Lenses is entirely upbeat and life-affirming. The work itself revealing women in command of their medium, young, positive, and admittedly ‘emerging’.
But thanks to April’s initiative, the arts grant has enabled the artists to create the works they wanted, nearly all of which were produced specifically for this show.
“We’ve been working on this exhibition for the last six months,” April says.
In fact, the show is also a disciplinary installation thanks to Yvonne’s tracking down Sunshyn Siteiya, the imaginative set designer who created five separate spaces inside the large room the women hired up until March 4th when the exhibition will close
Each room is dedicated to one of the five themes with each artist contributing a piece to all five installations. It’s almost like attending five different exhibitions since they all reflect different aspects of each artist.
You can also see the journey that each one has taken as she’s sought to convey the essence of each theme, as seen through her lens of knowledge and experience.
One more thing that I appreciate about this show is its construction. The panels that separate almost every room are pure glass from top to bottom.
This enhances the sense of freedom one feels moving from one room to the next.
The first one, for Self-Identity, is filled with mirrors, some hanging from the ceiling, others situated all around the room.
The centrepiece would seem to be Blaine’s colourful self-portrait. But then there is Elnah’s female sculpture standing tall and grabbing our attention as well.
Meanwhile, as you move from Solitude to Mental Health and then to the glorious green room for Growth, one hears the voice of the poet, quietly reading the verses she composed especially for 5 Lenses.
In all, the exhibition is a rare combination of artistry and commitment to transcending boundaries so that women can share and generously convey a sense of unity in diversity that is unique.