Wild About Art is a tented showcase of four artists; two painters, one photographer and a guest sculptor whose identity was kept secret until the exhibition’s opening last Friday afternoon at Ulwazi Place, in Kitisuru.
Yet the sculptor, Oliver Weichelt, in a sense, serves as the glue that holds together this three-tented show. That’s because his stylish lamps, made out of various auto spares found in garages around Nairobi, are displayed in all three tents, with Niketa Fazel, Imran Awan, and Milena Weichelt each having a tent of their own.
“We chose to have our exhibition here because there’s a lot of space and a beautiful garden that visitors should enjoy,” Milena told the BDLife. But since Ulwazi didn’t actually have a gallery per se, the artists had to create their own space inclusive of walls on which to hang their art.
Fortunately, Oliver didn’t have to engage in the wall-hanging issue since many of his sculptures are either floor lamps or chandeliers, one of which hangs from each of the three tents. T
he problem he may have had was finding tables large enough to display all of his lamps, made out of everything from flywheels, brake disks, assorted gears, oil plates, and ball bearings.
Happy to share the exhibition with his painter wife, Milena. However, the one who helps Oliver assemble his auto spares, and also weld them together is Kahindi Katena.
“Kahindi serves as both my eyes and my hands,” Oliver says explaining that he is blind.
But the Oliver-Milena connection is only one of the bonds that brought the foursome together. Milena and Nikela have been exhibiting together for years, both at Village Market and Tribe Hotel as well as at the UN Recreation Centre. And in this show, Milena links up with Imran to create several diptych-like paintings on canvas.
One side is an actual photograph featuring a portion of either an elephant, rhino, zebra or lion. And on the other side is Milena’s painted reflections of the same creature including their prominent parts.
Inran doesn’t consider himself a professional photographer, but their diptychs suggest otherwise. Practically all of Milena’s tent is filled with semi-abstract chunks of local wildlife that one can still see around the country.
Admitting that she takes photos to use as reference points to work with once she gets home to her studio, her tent finds space for everything from a majestic leopard, elephant, and giraffe to a ground hornbill, beekeeper, zebra, and genet cat to a chameleon, and Lake Nakuru filled with pink flamingos.
But Milena is also a children’s book illustrator, so a few of her original paintings which she created for the books are also included in the show.
Finally, Niketa’s art is a radical departure from a focus on wildlife apart from her delicately drawn wildflowers. These include everything from Blue Iris and Hibiscus to Dahlia and one giant sunflower.
Niketa’s real strength is in her portraits of urban and intercity sites, like one of the blue oil barrels piled high at the junction and round-about linking Landhies and Jogoo roads.
Or the view from the top of KICC where Nikita painted the CBD running from City Hall Lane down Wabera Street straight to Jamia Mosque.
At the same time, in her previous working life, Niketa was assisting her father who was in construction.
It was in that capacity that she made her way all around the city, including to so-called ‘informal settlements’ (or estates) like Kibera where she snapped a quick shot of the Kibera railway line and a chicken casually crossing it.
After that, the photo was transformed into a painting based on both her recollection of the event and the photo meant to ensure the realism of her portrait.
She even found an old photo of a charcoal dealer selling his giant bags at a site near Githurai but snapped before Thika Road became a super highway.
“Back then, I think that area was called Roy Sambo, but now I’m told it’s called Homeland,” Niketa tells the BDLife.
Her glimpses from Nairobi’s past were actually not so very long ago. But the rapidity with which the country has changed, especially with regard to our expressways and superhighways, makes us forget our heritage.
Yet it also leaves us grateful that artists like Niketa have painted portraits of the city that are grounded both in the artist’s memory and her photos, reflective of the past.