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Art

Railway Grounds a Haven for Artists

Boda boda by Patrick Mukabi’s mentee Eric
Boda boda by Patrick Mukabi’s mentee Eric Muriithi. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG 

The Railway Museum used to be the place to go to learn about that important element in Kenyan history, the establishment of ‘Lunatic Express’ that went all the way from Mombasa to Kampala, passing through Nairobi.

But nowadays, the best reason to go to the Railway Museum is to discover what is happening among a myriad of Kenyan artists.

It started several years back when Remy Musindi got together with two other Kenyan artists, Frederick Mbugua and Evanston Kangethe, to establish the Nairobi Railways Museum Art Gallery.

That lasted from 2012 to 2015. By then, several other artists, among them Moses Nyawanda, Peter Ndirangu, Samuel Githinji, Lia Berhane and Stephen Njenga had found space across the way from the Museum and set up the Railway Art Studio. But once the Museum Gallery was free, coincidentally Patrick Mukabi had decided to move out of The Godown Art Centre where he had been based since it first started in the early 2000s. That is how he ended up moving into the Gallery space and setting up Dust Depo Art Studio.

From the beginning, Patrick was not alone. He had been mentoring young aspiring artists at the Godown, many of whom chose to also shift and stick with him.

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Quite a few of them have learned what they needed from him and moved on to establish themselves in their own right.

Among them are artists like Nadia Wamunyu who is now based at Kobo Trust, Mike Kyalo who now paints in South B at the Mukuru Art Club, Joan Otieno who works at Kariobangi North at Warembo Wasanii which she founded and Eric ‘Stickky’ Muriithi who is still with Patrick at Dust Depo but also operates independently.

Nadia’s painting. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU

Nadia’s painting. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

Two graffiti artists who were based with Patrick for a time subsequently teamed up with another local artist, and moved just behind the Museum where they set up their own studio inside a railway car.

Kenneth Otieno, aka KayMist and Bebeto Ochieng’, aka Thufu were the two artists who met at Dust Depo and found they were kindred spirits artistically.

Then they met Brian Musasia, aka Msale and the threesome became known as BSQ, short for Bomb Squad.

The great thing about Patrick as a mentor is that he never holds on to artists who have benefited by his guidance. Nor does he claim accolades for influencing so many artists’ life opportunities.

It is clear however that countless Kenyan artists who have been mentored by him have become both artistically and financially self-sufficient.

In other words, Patrick, who is also known as Baba Supaa to TV fans who used to watch his children’s art classes on the ‘Known Zone’, is a born ‘mwalimu’ teacher.

Patrick says he currently has about 20 artists regularly working there. But in all, including those who come and go, depending on their classes and other responsibilities, he has around 50 mentees or students whom he shepherds into the world of fine art.

In fact, his teaching style is so genial and effortless that Patrick is invited to many schools and art centres, both locally and abroad, to teach.

“I have been to around 20 countries where I have taught and also exhibited,” says Patrick.

STICKKY painting by Eric Muriithi.

STICKKY painting by Eric Muriithi. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

In Kenya he has taught everywhere from refugee camps to schools like Brookhouse, Braeburn and Hillcrest to hotels like Dusit D2 and Malls like the Hub.

One has to wonder when he finds time to do his own art since he gives so much of his to others.

“I usually paint early in the morning or late at night,” he says in his understated style.

He works in a wide range of media, from charcoal and ink to acrylic paint on canvas and paper collage.

Best known for his portraits of beautiful buxom market women, he also is known for his anatomical accuracy as witnessed in his PEV series of nude warriors entitled ‘Siasa mbaya maisha mbaya.’

Patrick is also among the first Kenyan artists to paint a series of clad-less women whom he had advertised for. He had invited women of ample sizes who felt comfortable being painted in the nude to contact him.

A number did and those portraits are remarkable in their own right. But they were sadly censored from being shown at Nairobi National Museum’s Creativity Gallery, an event that stunned many observers who did not think censorship of art was appropriate.

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