Artists exhibit in Nairobi despite Covid-19 restrictions

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Artists exhibit in Nairobi despite Covid-19 restrictions


meron hailu

Ethiopian artist Moron Hailu’s Landscape at Circle Art Gallery, 1 May 2021. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

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Summary

  • Covid-19 protocols have compelled most art centres in Nairobi to either shut down or go about their business quietly, without attracting much attention.
  • Yet there have been several outstanding group exhibitions underway in part of April and May that deserve wider recognition. Just one is ongoing, that of ‘Contemporary Reflections’ at One Off Gallery.
  • Meanwhile, the works of the winners and finalists in the Manjano Art Competition were on display until early this week at Alliance Francaise. 

Covid-19 protocols have compelled most art centres in Nairobi to either shut down or go about their business quietly, without attracting much attention.

Yet there have been several outstanding group exhibitions underway in part of April and May that deserve wider recognition. Just one is ongoing, that of ‘Contemporary Reflections’ at One Off Gallery.

Meanwhile, the works of the winners and finalists in the Manjano Art Competition were on display until early this week at Alliance Francaise. And the exhibition of 16 Ethiopian artists at Circle Art Gallery also just came down in Lavington.

Fortunately, galleries have gotten much better at putting their exhibitions online so one can still see the artworks from the ‘Addis Contemporary Six Years On’ show at the Circle Art website.

Mike Kyalo's Road Workers in Manjano show at Alliance Francaise May 1, 2021

Mike Kyalo’s Garbage Collectors won Manjano prize, shown at Alliance Francaise, May 1, 2021. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

One can also catch a portion of the eight Kenyan artists’ works in ‘Contemporary Reflections’ at the OneOff website.

Not so with Manjano which had none of even the winning artworks on the website which is too bad. I was glad to see the show at Alliance Francaise just before it closed, although only the more ‘established’ artists were on display, not the category of students.

Artworks by the three winning artists were hung, although there was no catalogue or indication of who they were (apart from reading every painting’s caption to figure it out).

Fortunately, word had already gone round that Eddie Ochieng won the first prize of Sh150,000, while Benson Gicharu was the first runner up winning Sh75,000 and the second runner up, Mike Kyalo was awarded Sh37,500.

There were many original pieces in Manjano this year, including an installation by Kevo Stero paying homage to his dear friend and fellow member of Maasai Mbili Artists Collective, known as Tola. The other installation that stood out included six colorfully painted papier mache busts of beautiful women by Dickson Nedia Were.

dickson nedia's black beauties

Dickson Nedia’s Black Beauties in Manjano show at Alliance Francaise on May 1, 2021. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

The women all looked like chic young African beauties with each bust perched on a metal pole as if each was an elegant trophy.

The other exhibition that just came down at Circle Art was a dazzling show curated by Mifta Zeleke who had brought an entirely different selection of artists’ works to Circle six years ago.

I can’t compare the two shows. But what I must say is that these works exuded an air of aesthetic confidence, revealed in the artists’ use of color, their bold brush strokes, diverse subject matter, and even their use of various mixed media.

One might not be surprised to find contemporary Ethiopian art being so advanced, given the country has a history of religious painting that goes back centuries.

eyasu's reputation of colors

Eyasu Tilayeneh’s Reputation of Colors at Circle Art Gallery on May 1, 2021. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

Artists also had government patronage from the time of Menelik in the 19th century. And with 20th century Ethiopians going abroad and returning home, the country has had fine art schools since the 1950s.

Personally, I found the two women artists in the exhibition most appealing. Selome Muleta painted young women veiled in green leafy curtains while Meron Hailu created landscapes out of colorful yarns and textiles.

But there were many more stunning works in the show, such as Eyasu Tilayeneh’s ‘Reputations of Color’ and Amare Seifu’s Untitled black and white line game.

Meanwhile, at One Off Gallery, the eight Kenyans had also been busy during the lockdown, each delving more deeply into the subjects, styles, and techniques they are best known for. For instance, Dennis Muraguri is renowned for his matatu woodcut prints, but the one at One Off has a different face, hue and monumentality to it.

12. Dennis Muraguri

Dennis Muraguri’s Nairobi Matatu at One Off Gallery on May 3, 2021. PHOTO | POOL

David Thuku’s paper cut paintings have also gotten more colorful and narrative, while Alan Kioko’s ‘Monday Blues’ are more cartoonish satiric than I had known him to be.

But I have to say, the lockdown has given several artists the opportunity to discover more of their latent creative resources, like Justus Kyalo whose abstract acrylics on canvas have a muted tonality suggestive of a lovely sunrise and Xavier Verhoest (a Kenya resident) also created an immortal Baobab tree that feels timeless and fruitful.

David Thuku at One Off Gallery 3 May 2021

David Thuku’s Paper Cut art at One Off Gallery on May 3, 2021. PHOTO | POOL

Anthony Wanjau is the only sculptor in the show, but he doesn’t disappoint with his classic theme of Mother and child. Wanjohi Maina is still focused on street venders. But just as the venders are ever changing in their sales items, so Wanjohi manages to keep up with their newest street promotions, like the sale of children’s guitars.

And Elias Mung’ora, who is one of the rising stars on the local arts scene (and who recently joined the OneOff clan of artists) also shared Nairobi street scenes, the most remarkable one being his diptych portrait of Cattles grazing in the City.

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