The coronavirus fears proved fatal to several exhibition openings and closings this past weekend. Among them was the Nairobi Design Week which cancelled last Saturday’s finale event at Lava Latte and Elkana Ong’esa’s ‘Wizard in Stone’ exhibition opening at Nairobi Gallery.
The one event that did not shut down altogether was the Manjano Art Competition and Exhibition. The most important aspect of the day was the announcement of Manjano’s award-winning artists, videoed and quickly posted on Facebook.
The three judges, Judy Ogana, a former GoDown director who is now at Unesco Kenya, Kevin Oduor, vice-chairman of Kuona Artists Collective and Wangari Nyanjui picked winners in the two categories; established artists and student artists.
The student winners were Isaiah Malunga for his painting ‘Three Musketeers’ which won first prize, receiving Sh50,000, Benson Nyangiru for his three-dimensional painting ‘Mama Mboga’ which won second prize and Sh30,000 and Brian Oirya who won third prize and Sh15,000 for his painting ‘Party Life in Nairobi’.
Judy said the judges were impressed with the quality of artworks by student artists which she felt had risen significantly.
Joy noted that the judges had not been privy to the artists’ names until after they had made their selections. That was how they chose a second piece by Benson Nyanjiru to receive a special mention award for his ‘The City under Geared Watch’ which Wangari said was unique for its combining artistry and functionality. Its cash prize is yet to be determined.
It was the established artists’ awards that proved most controversial. Nadia Wamunyu’s ‘Kenyatta Market’ won the third prize and Sh75,000, but there was no second prize.
Instead, there was a tie for first between Leevans Linyerera’s ‘Umoja Series’ and Onyis Martin’s ‘State of the State’.
Both first-prize pieces were more conceptual art than the majority of 123 works (out of 263 submitted by 170 artists) in the exhibition. Both were thought-provoking and told stories that are socially relevant and timely.
Leevans’ piece assembled found objects including an old wooden door frame that was covered in rusty padlocks.
“This piece is all about security. It’s really about the insecurity that many people feel about protecting their personal things,” said Patrick Mukabi who was proud to note that Leevans had been mentored by him for a time.
Mukabi had come to Manjano the day after the opening to correct an error in the labelling of his large painting and installation entitled ‘Tatu Kumi’.
“I received a call from a friend saying my piece was selling for Sh50,000 whereas I priced my work at Sh450,000,” he said.
All the pieces are for sale on the top floor of Nairobi’s Village Market.
Onyis’ ‘State of the State’ too was a found object, an old battered car similar to the vehicles placed near accident-prone zones to remind drivers of the danger they could face.
Taking the junked car as a metaphor, Onyis was also making a statement about the current Kenyan society.
The artists raised concerns about the judging, particularly why one award was deleted when the judges decided on the tie. This year there was no second prize winner and last year after they removed the first prize winner on a technicality (a violation of one of the criteria).
This year, they chose to add the first and second prize cash awards of Sh300,000 and Sh150,000, divide it by two and give both first prize winners Sh225,000 each.
The exhibition runs at Village Market until April 13.