Circle Arts’ current show of ‘Young Guns’, which opened last week in Lavington, is a landmark exhibition. It’s a showcase of some of the very finest artistic talents who have been quietly cultivating their creative skills over the last five years.
Of the 26 on display in this beautifully hung show, there are a few who’ve been working far longer than five years such as Dennis Muraguri and Kepha Mosoti (both at Kuona Trust) .
Indeed, Kepha’s finely-grained wood carving of the skull and horns of a water buffalo is stunning. And Dennis’ soft-seen matatu is thickened and enriched with layers of lovely multi-colours.
At the same there’s at least one young ‘gun’, Isaiah Mwangi had never exhibited before.
So his debut in this Circle show is quite an opportunity for his work to stand side by side some of Nairobi’s best known young artists such as David Thuku, Boniface Maina, Mwini Mutuku and Dennis.
Yet there’s little doubt there’s been a tremendous surge in artistic energies manifesting themselves in a whole range of communal art spaces, such as those that Circle Arts’ Danda Jaroljmek went round to see recently. All based in and around Nairobi, young artists haven’t discriminated as to where they wanted to work.
For instance, Maasai Mbili is based in that most notorious Nairobi ‘slum’, Kibera. Yet none of the M2 artists ever apologise for their location or even hint that they want to move somewhere else since Kibera is home. The same is true for Wajukuu artists, Joseph ‘Weche’ Waweru and Ngugi Waweru whose art space is in another so-called ‘informal settlement’, Mukuru. They both consider Wajukuu their artistic home.
And even Brush tu Art artists like Michael Musyoka, Waweru Gichuhi, Boni Maina and Elias Mun’gora are delighted to be based in Buru Buru Phase 1 in Eastlands, especially as it’s so accessible to fellow Kenyans.
But even Dust Depo Studio, which technically is on the edge of CBD, is not an upmarket site. But the issue among most aspiring artists working there is the opportunity to be mentored by Patrick Mukabi, whose creative generosity has enabled many Kenyans to emerge as gifted artists themselves.
And even the two precursors to these newer art spaces, Kuona Trust and The GoDown, are still attracting so-called young guns (both women and men) like Lincoln Mwangi and Petros Ndunde who just had a joint exhibition at Kuona not long ago.
Others based at Kuona who are now among Circle’s young guns include Alex Njoroge, Lemek Tompoika, Paul Njihia, Sidney Mang’ong’o, David Thuku (one of the Brush tu Art founders), Mwini Mutuku and Ugandan artist Ian Mwesiga who’s worked and exhibited at Kuona in times past.
Among those who have passed through or are still based at the GoDown include Kaloki Nyamai, Dickens Otieno and of course, Patrick Mukabi who was mentoring aspiring artists all the while he was based at the GoDown.
It’s hard to sight any one work as super-exceptional since so many (even among those whose work we know well) seemed to put a special spin on their artistic expressions.
But one painting that veritably blew me away was Joachim Kwaru’s ‘Into the Ghetto’, followed by Churchill Ongere’s intricately drawn ‘Tableau X’.
Then too, the newest works by Michael Musyoka and Waweru Gichuhi were both surprising for their fresh, innovative appeal.
But so much of the Young Guns’ show confirms what we already know, that young Kenyan artists are seriously on the move and advancing aesthetically in the process.