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Art

Bringing Millennial Artists to the Fore

Agnes Waruguru with her embroidered art
Agnes Waruguru with her embroidered art. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG 

With its latest exhibition ‘I will see what I want to see’, Circle Art Gallery has made a choice to tap into fresh, new and occasionally even untested talent. It’s a decision that has paid off.

The current showcase of 16 mainly young millennial artists at Circle illustrates the reality that ‘the beautiful ones have finally been born’ to paraphrase and update the title of Ghanaian writer Ayi Kwei Armah’s acclaimed novel.

Even the title given by the show’s curator, Jonathan Gathaara Fraser reflects that spirit of assurance and affirmation, blended with a touch of cocky defiance. And why not. The show is beautiful. It’s alive with mixed media, multiple genres and messages.

For instance, Onyis Martin has an entire wall on which to convey the theme he’s currently creating a series of works around.

“It’s ‘We are all the same'” says Martin, flashing his sparking smile and noting that all 125 paintings that he’s completed thus far (with only six in this show) have similarities in form but otherwise they’re all different.

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“I want to interrogate the concept of sameness,” he adds ironically.

Then there’s Agnes Waruguru Njoroge whose every piece is delicate, detailed but also very different. Yet whether it’s a watercolour, pen and ink or hand-embroidered design, all her works are distinctive and refined.

The one I found most arresting was her embroidered work which resembles a multicoloured aerial view of a village, rather like a Google map.

“I spent most of my life in boarding school, so now that I’m back [from art studies in US, Germany and Australia], I’m remembering the handwork my mother taught me when I was very young. I feel it’s helping me reconnect with her now,” says Waruguru whose mom was at the show’s opening.

The youngest artist in the exhibition, Florin Iki Mmaka, 20, presents amazing mixed media collage art like a professional. Already having won the top prize at the last Manjano’s student contest, she will be off to art school soon. In the meantime, her art makes one of the most emphatically feminist statement in the show. For like Waruguru, hers has a delicacy and appreciation of the female form that is stately, self-assured and shameless.

Onyis Martin with his painting

Onyis Martin with his painting ‘Same Men Behind. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

Out of the 16 artists showing at Circle, there isn’t exactly an equitable gender balance. Nonetheless, Florin and Agnes are not the only women exhibiting. It’s fascinating to see Beatrice Wanjiku presenting fresh pen and ink ‘studies’ that suggest she’s exploring new avenues of expression that we may see more of in future.

It’s also exciting to see some of Jess Atieno’s latest works which she sent to Circle from Chicago where she’s studying at the city’s prestigious School of the Art Institute. Then Yaye Kassamali is always fun, working now in paper collage. The other young Kenyan woman picked by Fraser is Precious Narotso who’s best known as a book illustrator and finalist for the 2018 Golden Baobab Prize for African Illustrators. But her black blond female ‘Bullfighter’ and green-haired ‘Be Honest’ female cyclist both confirm she is also a blossoming artist.

Finally, one other young female artist in Fraser’s showcase is Sudanese painter Miska Mohmmed whose work was in Circle’s East African Art Auction this year. She, like a number of artists in this show, has created minimalist works that have allowed the gallery to include all these young talents in this historic show.

But as much as I love the women’s contribution to “I will see…”, the men have also shared stunning new pieces. Like Longinos Nagila’s Untitled work on paper which is unlike anything we have seen him create before.

Fraser himself has also shared a few of his newest pieces which reflect a vibrant experimental style. And even Peterson Kamwathi has brought one intriguing new paper collage from his ‘Noble Savage Series’ to Circle’s show.

Gor Soudan has also shared some beautiful mixed media miniatures, like his ‘Aloe Vera Study’ which is intricate like the plant’s root system. Elias Mong’ora also brought a few paintings from his current focus on the theme of ‘Weddings’.

And probably the elder statesman of this exhibition is Dennis Muraguri whose sculptures take centre stage at Circle. Like Muraguri, Lemok Tompoika has both new and older works in the exhibition. Meanwhile, two other newcomers showing in ‘I will see …’ are Sujay Shah who’s exhibited often but elsewhere and Anthony Muisyo.

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