We have seen monumental sculptures standing outside in public spaces in Nairobi.
There is the giant figure created by the Kenyan sculptor Oshoto Ondula of Tom Mboya standing tall just next to the National Archives.
And at the start of Kimathi Street, another larger-than-life sculpture of Dedan Kimathi, created by Kevin Oduor who collaborated with Kenyatta University, stands tall.
Probably the most renowned outdoor sculpture in Nairobi stands right next to Kenyatta International Conference Centre. It’s the one of the country’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta, dressed in full stately regalia.
But outdoor sculptures need not be only of national leaders or even public figures like the palaeontologist Louis Leakey whose sculpture, created by the late Charles Bwiri, is seated outside the Louis Leakey Auditorium at the Nairobi National Museum.
The museum itself is proof of that point. There’s amazing public art at the main entrance of the museum. One stone sculpture, called ‘Mother and Child’, is by the Ugandan artist Frances Nnaggenda while a humble ‘Working Man’ is a short distance away created by Jackson Wanjau.
And leave alone the gigantic dinosaur and life-size elephant called Ahmed that all school children who visit the museum know very well.
They also know about the tall glass and metal sculpture that’s been erected just behind the Nnaggenda, although they probably don’t know it was created by the glass artist Tonney Mugo.
Outdoor sculptures have increasingly become popular in both public and private gardens. Two that were specifically commissioned for the Garden City Mall are by Maggie Otieno and Peterson Kamwathi.
And three that stand tall and proud on the grounds of George Waititu’s Tafaria Castle are all by Joseph Bertiers Mbathia.
But one need not own a shopping mall or even a castle to appreciate the way an outdoor sculpture can beautify someone’s garden. Just ask the American-born scholar Dr. Dana Seidenberg about the pleasure she finds in both owning Kenyan art, including sculptures that she’s placed all around her garden, and supporting local artists in the process.
Her two Kenyan sculptors whose works she owns the most of are Irene Wanjiru and Elijah Ogira.
“I have pieces by other Kenyan artists but I’m particularly fond of Irene’s and Ogira’s art,” says Dana. Both artists work mainly in wood, but interestingly enough Dana has placed more of Irene’s sculptures out in her garden while Ogira’s more functional sculptures are to be found at the front entrance of Dana’s home.
According to Boniface Kimani, an artist, most of the sculptures that he creates are commissioned by private individuals who know the quality of his art.
“Some of the commissions are for sculptures that remain inside people’s homes. But quite a few are meant to stand outside the house, either at the front entrance, outside the front door or out in the garden,” says Boniface.
Another sculptor who spent a lot of time creating sculptures for people’s private gardens and front gates is the late Expedito Mwebe.
His son Michael Angelo worked closely with his father and so, he can point out practically every house in town that’s got an example of his and his father’s outdoor art.
One man who says he loves the sculpture he created at the front entrance of his home is Edward Njenga.
The 95-year-old sculptor says the giant bust of a beautiful young girl which is situated just outside the front gate is an excellent marker to help visitors easily find their way to his house.
The other artist who’s created outdoor sculptures to show visitors the way to her home and business is Nani Croze of Kitengela Glass Research and Training Trust.
In fact, all around the grounds of Nani’s place one can see outdoor sculptures (made both by her, members of her staff and visiting artists) that will make one wish that they too could have outdoor sculptures in their backyard.