Antifragile: emerging artist group exhibition was an unassuming show of contemporary East African art that just closed at Circle Art Gallery’s new location on Raira Road. Yet anyone interested in following the direction our regional art is taking needs to see this exhibition.
But no worries, since you are bound to come across the artworks of the 26 artists who answered Circle’s call out to young artists. More than 250 artists responded, which were then honed down to the final 26.
In the Kenyan case, many of the artists included in this eclectic exhibition have been seen in the local art world at various venues; but not all have been exhibited at Circle before.
Among those youthful talents who we have already seen making artistic strides and were included in Antifragile were Wanjohi Maina, Jonathan Gathaara Solanke Fraser, Churchill Ongere, Margaret Ngigi, Anita Kavochy, Derick Munene, Vincent Kimeu, Shilpi Deb, Antony Ng’ang’a, and Victor Nderitu.
The remaining Kenyans included Zephaniah Lukambe, Brian Ocholla, Oscar Osuma, Tehila Wangeci, Peter Kariuki, Ian Gichohi, James Kagima, Waruini Kimemiah, and Virginia Akianda.
Among them was a diversity of techniques and genres. There were still-lifes by Brian Ochola, abstract art by Tahila Wangeci, Anini Kimemiah, Jonathan Fraser, Antony Nganga, and Shilpi Deb, semi- abstract by Anita Kavochy, Margaret Ngigi, and others.
There was even a touch of surrealism in the art of Trevor Nduni. There were also landscapes and urbanscapes by Victor Kimeu and Oscar Osumu respectively, and plenty of Kenyans’ concepts of portraiture, including those of Wanjohi Maina, Derick Munene, Peter Kariuki, and Victor Nderitu among others.
Meanwhile, some of the most exciting works in this strangely entitled show were by Ugandans, Tanzanians, Rwandese, and one Ethiopian. For instance, the Ugandan mixed media artist Austine Adika was a personal favourite simply because he has a knack for transforming what’s available, (be it in an aluminium plate, crumpled carry-on bags, and tape measure) into works like his ‘Out and About’.
But all the Ugandans’ contributions were interesting, including those by Daudi Kaggwa whose abstract art reminds one of the Russian abstract expressionist Kandinsky who violated all the rules of classical painting. But in so doing, Kandinsky ushered in the modern era, as many art critics contend.
Natneal Ashebir is another Ugandan whose haunting portraits lay hidden within his ‘Layers of Life’ series. All are masterful storytellers, although each one uses a different set of media to make distinctive visual statements.
The one Tanzanian in the show, Masoud Ibrahim Kibwana, is another mixed media artist who blends two and three dimensions on one canvas to bring his message, that life itself is as multifaceted as his art.
Plus he’s got a light touch as one could see in his ironic painting, ‘Hanging to cross’ in which his characters look like runners holding onto an aerial wire that enables them to hang and dance as they propel themselves across the street.
In contrast comes the Ethiopian painter Ashenafe Mestika who used nothing more than a pen and pencil to create works like his series ‘Trace of a Moment’.
Meanwhile, the only artist in the exhibition who painted classical portraits of beautiful women was Romeo Niyigena from Rwanda.
Painting in a regal style immortalised by acclaimed court painters of centuries past, Romeo has his ladies wearing elegant gowns and sitting gracefully in Salon-styled rooms which serve as sophisticated settings for his women to be presented, ‘pictures of perfection’ from head to toe.
So what the Antifragile exhibition illustrated well was the wide array of East Africans who have been busy despite these challenging times.
Circle Art did them well, giving them a platform to show the wider art world that East African art is not to be ignored any longer.