Adam Masava and Coster Ojwang did not ask for an open-air exhibition at the ground floor entrance of Nairobi’s Village Market.
The two visual artists did not ask originally to set up their easels right next to the Saturday afternoon jazz trio that most visitors want to see once they arrive at the original side of Nairobi’s Runda’s oldest mall.
But that is what they got because the new exhibition hall that they had been promised was not finished as yet.
But it was good for these two busy painters who managed to attract quite a few red dot sales last Saturday.
“It turned out to be a blessing in disguise,” Masava tells the BDLife as he is on hand to meet and greet prospective clients and curious passersby, many of whom want to know why Masava paints on mabati (rusty corrugated iron sheets).
“I want my paintings to reflect the positivity of the slums,” he says.
“People associate slums with negative stereotypes, but I want them to understand that a lot of hard-working, happy people live there,” he adds.
His works in this show are a series portraying working people, most of whom are in the business of transporting essentials like bread, milk, water, and gas.
Their modes of transport range from bicycles and trolleys to plain old-fashioned walking.
He also pays attention to the mamas who are busy preparing meals in roadside kibandas (informal outdoor eateries).
The former sign writer who got his start as a visual artist painting thank you cards says he never went to art school.
But he did meet the Sisters of Mercy who worked in Mukuru slums teaching art and crafts to children like himself.
It was on the strength of that teaching that he’s been invited to exhibit his art everywhere from the Czech Republic, Austria, Germany and the Netherlands to China, Taiwan, Zanzibar, and New York.
“I’ll be travelling to Atlanta next week where I’m having an exhibition from next month,” he says, admitting that his challenge is finding time to create new works for his next show.
But he is confident there is a time for everything, including looking after all the artists in the Mukuru Art Club that he started back in 2017 to mentor young artists.
Having met Coster soon after he had started his art club, they have been exhibiting together occasionally ever since.
“It was Adam who introduced me to Charles Murito and the monthly Dusit D2 group exhibitions,” Coster tells the BDLife.
Originally from Kisumu where he studied fine art at the Mwangaza Art Academy before coming to Nairobi, Coster recalls that he met Masava around the same time that his artwork won an award at the Manjano competition.
He has been doing well ever since, having linked up with William Ndwiga of the Little Gallery so that now, he has his art in spaces like the I&M Bank and elsewhere.
Coster’s art contrasts sharply with Masava’s in that he works traditionally in acrylics on canvas. And in this show, he focuses primarily on landscape painting.
He also includes a series on Nairobi traffic but ironically, his car scenes reflect none of the anxiety, frustration, and pain that many drivers feel from getting stuck on congested roads.
There is a sweet feeling of calm in all of Coster’s paintings.
The only problem with having a show in which more than 50 works are on display at a go, is that we see a kind of repetition in the work that can be disappointing for anyone wishing to own a unique, one-of-a-kind work of art.
On the plus side is that Coster has kept many of his smaller pieces remarkably low. The works, however repetitive they might seem, are distinctly different if you check the details.
Granted the differences might be slight, a change of colour coordination in the land, a difference in cloud formation, or the shading of a turquoise blue sky.
But either way, each piece is a lovely landscape, Coster having sensitised himself as to what his prospective clients might like to see.
He came into the Nairobi art world with skills, expectations, passion, and energy aimed at becoming a professional painter as soon as possible.
But equally, he took his time to research and watch how the local art scene operates. Plus he, like Masava, has been blessed with people who’ve come into his life especially to help him progress.
For Coster, artists who have helped him most include Adrian Nduma and Patrick Kinuthia.