For the longest time, Kibera has been held up as the poster child for poverty in Kenya. Known for being the biggest slum in the country, its shabby mabati rooftops were immortalised when the French street artist JR painted giant faces across a sea of shiny slum shanties best seen from the sky.
Yet just as the Nairobi visual arts world is changing fast, as young up-and-coming artists are swiftly streaming into the local art scene, so Kibera hasn’t been left behind.
On the contrary, Kibera and other so-called slums, like Korogocho, Mukuru and Kayole are now being seen as spawning grounds where new talents are being nurtured.
The best evidence of this is at Polka Dot Gallery where artists from the Maasai Mbili (M2) collective are currently exhibiting their works.
M2 artists are all based in Kibera, yet their art is sought after in Karen as PDG’s founder Lara Ray is gaining a reputation for not only showing established artists like Yony Waite (co-founder of the defunct Gallery Watatu) but also opening her space to younger artists like those at M2 and Brush tu Art Studio who are base in Eastlands.
What’s more, a whole new crop of works from Kibera artists are on exhibition at another upmarket venue. The Sarova Stanley hotel is presently hosting a two-week Art Festival, curated by Lisa Christopherson and featuring an eclectic assortment of painters and sculptors. The most surprising are the three young exhibiting artists from the new Kibera Art Centre.
Alpha Odhiambo, Chesta Nyamosi and Baraka Joseph represent an even younger generation of gifted young artists from Kibera, aged 18 through 20.
Lisa met them through the Kibera Town Centre which was started eight years ago by a fellow Dane, the Hollywood actress Connie Nielsen.
Ted Nyaima, the art centre director, says Connie came to Kenya to make a movie, a few scenes of which were filmed in Kibera.
“She fell in love with the place and decided to start a project focused on assisting the Kibera community,” says Ted.
“That is how the Kibera Town Centre [including the art centre] was built,” he adds, proudly noting Ms Nielsen not only played the dynamite mom of ‘Wonder Woman’ in the DC comic-based film. She got her big break in Hollywood playing the Queen opposite Russel Crowe in ‘The Gladiator’.
The Kibera trio were easily among the best-selling artists on the Festival’s opening night. That’s largely because their black and white drawings had been made into affordable prints in contrast to some of the other works on show, by well-established artists like David Marrian, Mary Collis, Anthony Russell, John Silver, Alexandra Spyratos, Chris Dei, Johnney Dwek and Fawaz Elsaid.
The price differential is easily explained. First, the difference between a print and a painting is the difference in originality which is obviously more highly valued. Plus, all the other artists exhibiting at Sarova Stanley have earned names for themselves after years of study, practice and exhibiting both in Kenya and overseas.
The Stanley’s first ‘Art Festival’ has been on for a full week and will close later today, June 1.
Meanwhile, this past week a number of exhibition opened around town. At Circle Art Gallery, Sidney Mang’ong’o’s ‘Imagined Structures’ are on display through June 9. Sidney is another artist inspired by the Kibera artists of Maasai Mbili.
Last Saturday, at One Off Gallery, an exhibition of paintings by Timothy Brooke entitled ‘Earth and Sky’ opened and will be on until June 26. It’s a show art lovers won’t want to miss.
And following the successful showcasing of six Ugandan artists last month at Village Market, last week saw another seven Ugandan painters present their works at the Exhibition Hall.
The colourful works of Anwar, Kalule, Mukiibi, Ogwang, Sebandeke and Tindi will on display the same place through June 4.
One of the six Ugandans who exhibited last month, Jude Kasagga is also having a show at Photizo Gallery in Valley Arcade with Kenyatta University lecturer Anne Mwiti. As for solo shows, David Thuku’s Barcode is still running at Red Hill Gallery while Moses Nyawanda’s show just closed yesterday at the UN.
Finally tomorrow, Beta-Arts is hosting a one-day Pop-Up Art Exhibition in Muthaiga Heights while the Ngecha Art Centre is having a revival opening the same day featuring works by Sebastian Kiarie, Wanyu Brush, Chain Muhandi and King Dodge Kangoroti among others.
And at Dream Kona in Uhuru Garden, Kenyan artists will be painting and performing all day.