On the surface, the art of Michael Musyoka and Lincoln Mwangi may seem to have little in common, apart from being up together at The Attic Art Space currently.
The new Nyari gallery has only been open less than a year, but the Dutch Kenyan art-lover, Willem Kevenaar has made a slew of good choices in his Attic by combining pairs of locals who have had excellent chemistry artistically.
From the duos of Longinos Nagila and David Thuku, Ehoodi Kichapi and Yassir Ali, to Onyis Martin and Mwini Mutuku, the art of each pair has blended well, each enhancing the artistry of the other.
So one would expect Musyoka and Lincoln’s art to do the same. In fact, their joint show is entitled ‘Yearnings’ for good reason. Both reveal in their art that they yearn for things better than what they see, feel and understand about relationships and life generally. You could say they both are searching for an ‘alternative reality’ from what they know. One might see this is ‘escapist’.
But just as science fiction might be dismissed as escapist nonsense or irrelevant fantasy, others can see it as exquisitely imaginative and full of limitless possibilities.
The latter way is how I see the ‘yearnings’ of both artists, one apparently yearning for more honesty in relationship, the other yearning for freedom from the constraints imposed on him by society in the form of conventional codes of conduct, the does and don’t of everyday life.
Both artists use specific symbols to represent their respective points of view. In Lincoln’s case, he uses a veil to signify the way both women and men have a way of presenting a self-conscious persona that often hides their true feelings, both about themselves and the other person. One can’t be sure if he’s passing judgment on the veil, except that what his art does seem to represent is his yearning for honesty in relationships.
Working in charcoal and oils, Lincoln sticks with well-shaded black and white which reflects a delicacy of line and shadow that gives even his veil (also appearing as scarves loosely draped around his figures’ full heads). The artist says he cultivated his care in shading during his days at Buru Buru Institute of Fine Art (BIFA), which is also where Michael Musyoka went to art school.
But in Musyoka’s case, it was technical drawing that interested him most.
“Everything starts with a square,” Michael says, which partly could explain why so many of his paintings have multiple squares in them. Yet some of his squares represent boxes that he can sometimes feel confined in and yearning for a way out. Others have a broader, more philosophical turn to them.
“I think I see life as a giant sieve or a meshed structure that’s meant to float, but unless the holes [in the mesh] are filled, it can’t,” says Michael who sees those square holes as needs, desires or yearnings.
In some of his painting, which are full colour (in contrast to Lincoln’s black and whites), the yearnings are for deeper, more meaningful relationships as in his twin paintings ‘Ways of the heart I and II’. One can easily assume the yearning is simply sexual since both of those paintings contain shapely torsos, each with their heads hidden behind planks that are part of a box in which both figures are to be found.
But then, his four flying tunnel paintings convey the truly surrealistic vision of Michael since his flying tunnels also contain flying boxes with hands reaching out as if they too are yearning for freedom and ways to escape their respective box.
But for me what are the crowning paintings in his side of the show are the two paintings, each with a man [who’s also floating] bent over backwards gracefully.
But clearly, he’s in discomfort since there’s a hand, his symbol of a yearning heart, exploding out of his chest in a passionate reaching out for freedom to fulfill his desires.
In one of the two, the hand bursting from the man (whose silhouette looks like the River God in the film, ‘The Shape of Water’) seems to be releasing a powerful, almost volcanic explosion of energy.
In the other, the rectangular glow behind the silhouette is already aflame with a burning light, as if the man and probably also the artist is equally on fire!