Nairobi museum pays tribute to young deceased artists

Portrait of Maasai Mbili, by Ashif Malamba.
Portrait of Maasai Mbili, by Ashif Malamba. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU 

The Nairobi National Museum has paid tribute to three outstanding Kenyan artists who are deceased but whose artwork remains in the museum’s permanent collection.

One is JD Mainga. He passed on in 2000, but his ‘batik’ on leather paintings reveal a genius talent who died too young at only 46 years. Another is Jimmy Rakuru, a founding member of the Lake Basin Artists Group whose death in 2012 aged 36, also robbed the country of an incredible artistic talent.         

George ‘Ashif’ Malamba died in May this year at 43 years. His memory galvanised the Kenyan artists’ community in remarkable ways. Local artists and friends of Ashif are still smarting over the loss of the warm-hearted and talented man.

The Nairobi museum exhibited a painting by him featuring the core members of the Kibera-based artists’ collective, Maasai Mbili (M2).

Painted in M2’s classic sign-writerly style, the artwork featured four members of the Maasai Mbili: the co-founder Gomba Otieno, Ashif, OK Rabala and Stevo Irungu. Many other prominent Kenyan artists who have been members of M2, such as Kota Otieno (co-founder), Wycliffe Opondo and Mbuthia Maina, left the group.

The museum was not the only local art centre that paid tribute to Ashif.

In order to assist his family with funeral arrangements, Kuona Trust helped to mobilise the visual arts community to contribute artworks to be sold for a pittance compared to what it would otherwise be worth.

A few artists preferred to give cash towards the Ashif Family Fund rather than lose a major sale on their art, some of which is currently able to fetch six figures or more.

In order to ensure the required Sh250,000 was raised, artists calculated they’d need to sell 50 works of art at the low price of Sh5,000 apiece to ensure the funds were raised in less than a week.

The art sale at Kuona sadly was not widely publicised but those who attended quickly bought the artworks, much of which was by artists whose works one could never find that that ‘bargain-basement’ price!

Nonetheless, the sale was a success showing not only how artists can rally together in support of one of their own, but also revealed the deep affection that many people felt and continue to feel for Ashif Malamba.

Many of his paintings are still in Kibera at the Maasai Mbili, but currently none are for sale since M2 wants to ensure Ashif’s memory will be preserved through his art.