Luminescence show: Crowning gems light up Organic Farmers Market 

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Wycliffe Opondo's painting of 'Kibera Sunrise' in Luminescence exhibition at Organic Farmers Market on March 30, 2024. PHOTO | POOL

One of the best reasons for attending the Luminescence exhibition on any Saturday last month is that you’d have to go to the Organic Farmers Market in Nairobi's Karen where the pop-up show was happening. 

There, you would not only find scads of fresh fruits and vegetables trucked in from local farms where no chemical pesticides had been used. You would also find casual clothes, cafes, and all sorts of other organic foods like homemade jams, juices, chocolates, and even coffee beans that are normally sent overseas and not available locally. 

The other good reason for getting to Luminescence is that the show’s curator, Zihan Herr, had brought together an eclectic array of painters, most of whom are leading lights among contemporary [East] African artists. They include everyone from Anne Mwiti, Shabu Mwangi, Michael Musyoka, Lemek Sompoika, and Boniface Maina who also has a fascinating solo exhibition currently at Red Hill Gallery that shouldn’t be missed. Boni’s exhibitions are always filled with surprises since he is ever-experimenting with new ideas and techniques. His ‘Delicate Densities’ is no exception.

The criterion

Zihan had set just one criterion for artists’ participation in the exhibition. It was that their works should reflect the luminescence or radiant light that her leading concept implied. For that, she called on specific painters like Wycliffe Opondo whose untitled painting of a sunrise in Kibera is one she knew well and wanted in her pop-up. “He shipped the painting from Kisumu so it could be in this exhibition,” Zihan told the BD Life at the show last Saturday.

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Yony Waite's 'Rhino Charge' at Luminescence exhibition in Organic Farmers Market on March 30, 2024. PHOTO | POOL

Zihan also had a preference for the chiaroscuro style of painting used by Jimmy Kithaka. It’s a technique expressed in his ‘Lonesome Traveler’ and ‘A cat’s open window in my room’. 

There is nothing chiaroscuro about the paintings of Jamie Vaulkhard, a Kenya-born UK-based artist who is more widely known overseas than he is here in Kenya. Nonetheless, Zihan managed to catch up with him, and he shared two of his sun-lit paintings for this exhibition. There were several so-called ‘emerging artists’ in Luminescence, one of whom was Zephaniah Lukamba whose ‘Matoke Street’ is an example of nightlife illumined by a single light source, a street-lamp whose light is met by leaves of palm trees that seem to be welcoming the light like a friend.

Then there is Mumbi Muturi-Muli whose abstract watercolours, entitled ‘Scapes I, II, III’ are evocative and share a fascination for horizontal horizons with her senior, Anne Mwiti whose first Horizon work is one that earned her the prestigious Global Citizens award in London, making her the first Kenyan and first African to ever win the award.

In contrast to the women’s fixation on the horizontal comes Emmaus Kimani’s photograph entitled ‘My Balcony’ which features vertical lines between which one could see a bright glow coming from below. 

Meanwhile, one of Zihan’s good friends, Andrea Bohnstedt, had been attending local artists’ exhibitions for years, but recently decided to attend a woodcut workshop to try her hand at etching and printmaking to see if she could play a more active part in Kenya’s burgeoning art world.

She had only been at it a few months before she dared to share her prints with her friend who was so impressed with Andrea’s etchings that she insisted they be in the show. They are miniature untitled woodcut prints that reveal a thoughtful sense of balance in their composition and are carved in delicate fine lines.

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Michael Musyoka's 'Unassuming Man" at Luminescence art show in Organic Farmers Market on March 30, 2024. PHOTO | POOL

Unsung artist

Two of the most important artists featured in the exhibition mustn’t be forgotten. They are the show’s curator, Zihan, who isn’t just a painter and curator; she’s also an art instructor, art critic, feature writer, and editor. Just two of her impressionist paintings were in the show, leaving space for four or five of Yony Waite’s last works made available by the executor of her ‘estate,’ Linda Benvenuti who is also Yony’s sister-in-law.

These were the crowning works in an exhibition filled with tiny gems of creativity and originality, like Shabu Mwangi’s ‘Finding Balance’ and Michael Musyoka’s ‘Reservoir of Uncried Tears’.

Finally, the unsung artist who played an integral part in ensuring Luminescence had gallery space at the Market, was Zihan’s husband Tom Herr. He’s a professional carpenter who constructed the whole gallery out of bamboo beams. He was also the one who disassembled it until Zihan’s next showcase later this year.

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