- Waterboarding, the infamous practice of interrogation and torture practiced during the Iraq War, made a profound impression on Lincoln Mwangi.
- He was still in his early teens the first time he saw it on CNN.
- Veronica Paradinas Duro, the curator of his current solo art exhibition and CEO of Gravitart Gallery says Lincoln was disturbed that he could not see the identity of the one being tortured.
Waterboarding, the infamous practice of interrogation and torture practiced during the Iraq War, made a profound impression on Lincoln Mwangi.
He was still in his early teens the first time he saw it on CNN. Veronica Paradinas Duro, the curator of his current solo art exhibition and CEO of Gravitart Gallery says Lincoln was disturbed that he could not see the identity of the one being tortured, but he could feel the man’s emotions.
“That realisation shaped the way he’s worked ever since,” she told BDLife.
“Lincoln is committed to conveying emotions and feelings through his art. He aims to communicate the unseen more than the seen,” she says, an explanation that answers why the faces of Lincoln’s characters are invariably veiled.
The archetypal animals, the goat and egret, that often appear in the 40 paintings in his show are free from that encumbrance. Could it be that the creatures embody innocence and freedom while the veil conveys a sense of separation and concealment?
Veronica, who is also an artist, suggests his works can have many interpretations. The collection which is up until mid-May in her Nairobi’s Peponi Gardens gallery comes with Lincoln’s own esoteric code and symbolic language.
The code serves as a kind of key enabling one to appreciate the broader significance of the artist’s creative concerns. It also allows one to see the way even the title of his exhibition, “A Painted Book of Life, Time, and Feeling” signifies the unity of all the paintings.
One can miss out on how to translate his visual language into meanings that make sense. For instance, the egret and the goat have feminine and masculine qualities respectively. One further signifies the sky while the other the ground. Colours also carry symbolic value, be they red, blue, black, or white. And the person who recurrently appears in Mwangi’s paintings is Wanjiru, who is his feminine symbol of every woman.
“All of these images are meant to be archetypal,” said Veronica several days after the show’s opening on April 11. She adds that Lincoln intentionally keeps Wanjiru veiled not to have us focus on her individuality, but rather to see her in more “universal” terms, particularly in terms of the feelings he aims to affect through his art.
So when one sees these symbols set against a neutral backdrop, what is significant is not just the delicate details of his egret or the draping of Wanjiru’s gown, which we can see in works like ‘Decisions’, ‘Anointing a Harvest’ and ‘Fire and Ground.’ It’s the unspoken interaction going on between the characters that he wants you, the audience, to contemplate.
I especially like his goat portraits since Lincoln allows them to have individuality and character, unlike his anonymous Wanjiru whose emotions feel ambiguous. Ironically, it is his goats that convey a depth of feeling that allows one to see them as conscious beings.
The three portraits of Wanjiru that succeed at being contemplative are his ‘Silence I’, ‘Silence II’ and ‘Pleasure.’ In these three, her body language communicates more than the stoical standing Wanjiru who is in a work like ‘Changes’ which is made with mixed media on linen. His other mixed media works are either on canvas or paper.
The other innovation about Lincoln’s show is the three-dimensional virtual exhibition on the Gravitart website. Veronica, being an architect as well as an artist, works regularly constructing virtual 3D structures for her clients.
So it was not difficult for her to transfer Lincoln’s paintings onto a brand new gallery platform that enables one to click around corners and see the entire show, decide whether to buy or not. The price range of his art runs from less than Sh30,000 to more Sh500,000.
Lincoln, a fine arts graduate from Buruburu Institute of Fine Arts, can be found at his studio at Brush Tu in Buruburu.