Musyoka’s Covid conscious art


Michael Musyoka' s painting. PHOTO | POOL

Michael Musyoka's first solo exhibition in 2019 entitled 'Time and other Constructs' was filled with mystery, magic, a mixture of vibrant colour, restless motion, and curious charm.

Therefore, the opening of part two of the exhibition at One Off Gallery in Nairobi on August 27 sparked interest among art lovers.

Covid-19 protocol required art lovers to attend the event with masks and mindful of social distancing.

For those who did not make it to the show, One Off’s owner and curator Carol Lees has most of Michael’s works up on the gallery's website.

His paintings have just as much magic, colour mix, and dramatic action as those exhibited last year. Musyoka still has a fondness for his stubby-legged, stout little men who seem to be avatars for the artist's emotions. That was one of the ‘giveaways’ shared by the artist in a Whatsapp chat shortly before the show’s opening.

Acknowledging that part two is a continuation of his first solo exhibition a year ago at Red Hill Gallery, one can nonetheless see qualitative differences in this second collection of almost 20 paintings. In part one, many more of his colourful avatars were on their knees, keeping us wondering if they were in prayer or bondage.


Michael Musyoka' s painting. PHOTO | POOL

Musyoka has been a master of metaphor in much of his artistry since he emerged from Buru Buru Institute of Fine Art (BIFA) less than a decade ago. Often featuring clown-like characters, one might initially find them amusing and innocent until you realise that they are part of a larger drama that the artist has in mind.

Michael may have kept us guessing in part one of 'Time', one at least felt we knew he was talking about man-made constraints, limitations that society puts on us in the name of civility and social cohesion, proper socialisation and the public protocol of right and wrong, good and bad.

In one powerful work, he paints more muscular men dressed in a dark brownish-black blend and all running as if on a collision course toward the painting's centre. In another, his men seem to be floating aimlessly in space, but it does not look like they have been freed from time. They could only be momentarily adrift, unclear about what to do without their social construct.

But the most telling characters animating Musyoka's second instalment of ‘Time and other Constructs’ is more revealing of the artist's main concern. They are the ‘Time Servants’ who are most severely punished. These are the men being treated literally like dogs on a leash. One can easily see their misery, but why? It's because they've been deemed disobedient, truant, or somehow in violation of the dominant man-made rules.

Unpacking Musyoka’s art, one can see that it is dark. It's also more attuned to Covid-19 times when a violation of the new rules (like wearing masks, sanitising and social distancing) can be punishable not merely by shame and humiliation but by disease and ultimately by death.

Just before the show's opening, Musyoka noted the irony of his exhibition being about 'constructs' at a time when Covid-19 rules compel us to obey the new rules or else we won’t get to see his Part Two showcase first-hand.