Print works of fiction where tortoise shell is a chair

 John Silver Kimani
John Silver Kimani. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Life and Other Fictions is an exhibition of printed works by John Silver Kimani and Clinton Kirkpatrick that tells stories through different media.

Kimani taught Kirkpatrick woodcut printing. However, the work had very distinct personalities.

Kimani’s is surrealist and any attempt to make sense of it within the confines of real world would be futile.

In his work, a woman plays a wavy piano, another rides an elephant with spindly legs, a seller uses the shell of a tortoise for a chair, huts grow on trees, a bird wears clothes and a woman rides a flying book.

Some of the work seems to trick your eyes so that, upon closer look, a baby on the mother’s back becomes a fish or in another piece a zebra looks like it has the body structure of a giraffe.

Due to the repetition of animals, particularly the elephant, birds and fish, and the representation of motherhood in so many different forms, Kimani seemed to be telling one story throughout.

In contrast, Kirkpatrick’s work is a collection of many stories.

Even though it also features animals and motherhood prominently, his work is actually a representation of stories from many different Kenyans.

According to the artist statement, he did not direct respondents on what stories he wanted to hear.

That birthed a sort of wild collection of stories. Some seemed steeped in mythology while some simply seemed like what you would recount to someone who asked you to cite the strangest thing that ever happened to you.

Though also abstract, Kirkpatrick’s work is more casual. The glass frames that encase Kimani’s work are absent. Kirkpatrick’s work is playful even in terms of colour, quirky titles and representation.

Both artists, because of their peculiar representation of real world, provoke imagining the possible background stories about the mythology.

However, as much as Kirkpatrick’s work was based on true stories as told, they still stretched imagination.

What is the story behind, for instance, pieces such as “beard on fire”, “holding the hyena at night” and “witchdoctor”?

This exhibition is interesting because the artist’s work is remarkable, but also because it drives you to examine how the relationship between a mentor and mentee affects their work.