When can a game of Bingo earn Sh96,000 in minutes to help save a virgin forest in the heart of Maasai land?
Only when four dedicated and creative conservationists get together to curate an art exhibition dedicated to both protecting one of Kenya’s last indigenous forests and to raising public awareness with their art of ‘Vanishing Wonders’ that we can still conserve through conscious efforts.
The Naimaina Enkiyio forest is a sacred forest, a valuable water tower and a vital elephant corridor that the Forest Guardian Project started in 2015.
The project, started by Rob and Sarah O’Meara, brought together four environmentalist-artists to both show and sell their art on behalf of the ancient forest. In addition to all the Bingo money going to the project, a portion of sales of the artists’ paintings, photographs and sculptures will also go to it.
But the artworks of Evans Ngure, Milena Weichelt, Niketa Fazel and Usha Harish all have a broader message than just preserving one virgin forest.
For instance, Usha’s wildlife photography is both touching and breathtaking as she managed to capture a whole pride of lions drinking together at a water hole in Maasai Mara.
Her series of cats is also stunning as is the one on mothers (including cheetah, lion, elephant and gorilla) fondling their offspring in the most affectionate way.
Milena’s semiabstract wildlife paintings are elegant. She never allows you to lose sight of the real zebra, cheetah, lion or gorilla even when she paints them with an imaginative twist or with just a portion of their face extracted from the whole.
Or even when she takes the liberty to paint a zebra red instead of white and black, you still see the unmitigated beauty of the creature.
Niketa’s seascapes and urban-scapes are all like imaginative journeys into the city and sea. But her most surprising pieces of all are the colourful African fabric collages that she has created using scraps of material that she picked up from tailors.
They have a texture, multicolour and three-dimensionality that illustrates one of the key messages of this show.
The most comprehensive collection of serious junk art in the show is by the fourth member, Evans Ngure.
He is the most enthusiastic recycler, using everything from a bicycle handlebar, diesel tank and drainage grate to a float ball from a toilet, tear-gas canister, side mirror and all sorts of nuts, bolts and sundry springs — all as means of making creatures we might lose if humankind does not change their ways and be better stewards of our environment.
Increasing numbers of African artists are recycling junk and upcycling it into intriguing works. But Evans’ contribution to this rising genre is highly original and inventive.
It is especially apparent when he creates an interactive ‘Manamba fish’ using so many different spare parts and otherwise ‘useless’ items that only he could see their artistic potential.
He realised a wide-eyed fish crafted out of an enamel-white and aluminium lid.
Evans most ingenious contribution to the show is the full-sized fisherman whose hook only catches plastic bags and dead fish.
The man and his boat tell the whole story of where we are headed if we do not make a radical turnaround and change our ways to be as conservation-inclined as the O’Meara, founders of the Forest Guardian project.
Probably the most unifying effort that this quartet devised was a mini-project in which Usha’s four wildlife photos became the inspiration of the other three’s painting and sculpting.
Her baby gorilla, large-maned lion, brightly-coloured chameleon and zebras moving across the savannah as the sun was about to set, these were recreated either as acrylic paint, African textiles or ‘found’ scrap metals.
Their exhibition was brief, running through this past weekend. But all four Bingo winners took home one of the works of art by four artists, each one having donated one for a game prize. Plus Milena, who is also a silversmith and creative conservationist, also gave demonstrations all weekend of practical ways one can simply conserve the environment.