Muhunyo Maina is the new kid on the block.
In reality, he has been doing art as a doodler since he was four, studying art in primary and secondary schools, first in South Africa where his Kenyan parents were living, and then back home in Kenya, in a school that recognised fine art in its curriculum.
And he has had the good fortune to study art and art history at Rhodes University (making him a Rhodes scholar) earning him both a BFA and an MA, all in the arts.
But he has also come down to the ground and interned with Kuona artists like Dennis Muraguri and John Silver Kimani whom he considers masterful mentors.
It is this man Muhunyo who is holding his first solo exhibition at Kioko’s Art Gallery in Lavington. It opened last Friday night.
Quoting Shakespeare in his exhibition title, ‘These Violent Delights’, Muhunyo’s show is mainly made up of black and white woodcut prints which strongly suggest that he has painful, and probably quite personal opinions about alcohol and alcoholism.
Speaking to BDLife via social media, Muhunyo recalls one day when he woke up with a throbbing headache (read hangover) and began giving serious thought to the question of why drinkers do this to themselves.
The answer to that query is manifest in his woodcut prints which he rightly names ‘violent’ as they don’t pretend to be beautiful or consoling.
Tragic and fateful
Ironically, the Shakespeare line that Muhunyo quotes comes from Romeo and Juliet which have little in common with this show apart from their both being about tragic and fateful events.
Yet the alcoholic can make the choice not to drink, however difficult that might be. However, just as Romeo was obsessed with his Juliet, the drinker is often just as obsessed with his booze.
It’s that sort of obsession that one sees conveyed in Muhunyo’s art. The exhibition is filled with sculls, (symbols of death) grinning as if they are laughing at all those who will be meeting death very soon.
Some of his sculls are situated inside shapely bottles meant to look alluring. Yet there is something so sinister about them that one doesn’t need to see many more of them.
Muhunyo has his obsession with sculls and hot drinks that invariably come in attractive shapes meant to look expensive and thus, supposedly sought after.
I confess I am a confirmed teetotaller who can’t be objective when it comes to alcohol. I have too many loved ones who I nearly lost, and a few that were lost due to their obsession with booze.
So, I can appreciate the artist’s satiric approach to boozers like his ‘Champions’ and ‘Marinated’ which portrays a guy who looks finished, having drunk himself into a death-like stupor.
I can even appreciate his honest writing his personal opinions into his woodcuts, as when he ironically asks ‘Why remember when you can forget?’ as if he was inviting you to do what many drunkards do, hoping to forget some horrible experience or feeling of frustration, guilt, the negativity of some sort.
But I confess, I much prefer slightly more innocent imagery, like his pikipiki driver being overloaded with two heavy passengers. Or his two wazees entitled ‘Dunda Vets’ even though one can see that their years hanging out together made them veterans of the bars.
Still, they might have lived through larger realms of experience than just a bar room where booze is sold or even a garden where they went to drink over the years.
There are similarities between what Muhunyo is doing and what Michael Soi and Thom Ogonga have done with their ‘Sex in the City’ series over the years.
His wood-cut prints have even more affinity with Thom’s, although the similarities stop after noting that they use similar techniques and materials.
Otherwise, there was a panel discussion last week at Alliance Francaise (AF) in which the gallerist Danda Jaroljmek noted that one factor in valuing a work of art is years of experience working as an artist.
In that regard, the AF director Charles Courdent underscored the point that young artists ought to appreciate that they need not appraise themselves at the same level as their seniors. It’s a controversial topic and one that is actually an ongoing discussion.
I look forward to Muhunyo being a part of it.