Posts Tagged ‘National Museums of Kenya’

The highly acclaimed TV drama Game of Thrones might be on its last stretch but it would appear that it has left a mark on Kenyan audiences. In the drama series there is an Iron Throne that every person, who thinks they have leadership blood in them, wants to occupy.

The throne is forged out of many swords said to have been melted by fiery dragon breath. Now, the quest to occupy this throne leads to a lot of bloodletting. Closer home, Sebastian Kiarie, a visual artiste from Ngecha Village in Kiambu County has come up with his local version of the Iron Throne.

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Like the throne on King’s Landing, Kiarie’s throne is made up of hundreds of machetes. He calls it The Seat of Impunity. The image is, at once, terrifying. This is especially when one takes into consideration Kenya’s blood soaked election cycles. Starting with 1992, the machete or panga became the weapon of choice for politically inspired ethnic clashes during election time.

 

Politicians who felt threatened by voters from ethnic communities, other than theirs, hired goons to finish off these ‘enemies’. The dark climax of these killing was witnessed in 2007, when Kenyans turned upon fellow countrymen in an orgy of mindless violence that left more 1,000 people dead; all in the name of politics and the quest to acquire power.

Kiarie’s sculpture is thus a timely reminder of the deadly nature of our politics, where politicians will do anything, including shedding blood in order to get into power. These politicians are encouraged by the fact that they will get away with it. In short, the top political seat in Kenya is drenched in blood.  This is the impunity Kiarie addresses in his unique sculpture.

Seat of Impunity is among artworks that have been on display, at the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) since the beginning of this month. Titled Art Creative and Beyond, this is a joint exhibition by artists drawn from Ngecha Village. This village has been made popular by the large number of self taught artists who have left a mark, nationally and even internationally.

This is a village where everyone knows someone who is an artist. Besides, Ngecha could well be the only village in Kenya with two active art galleries. Some of the popular names from Ngecha include, Brush Wanyu, Sane Wadu, Shine Tani, Chain Muhandi, among others.

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Artists are said to be mirrors of society and true to type, the artistes from Ngecha have not shied away from happenings in society including politics. Still on the topic of violence and impunity, Brush Wanyu has a painting that depicts the violence that took place in Mpeketoni, Lamu County, a few years ago, that resulted in the death of a number of people.

The explanation given to Kenyans on those killings was that it was the work of terrorists, but Brush is unconvinced. “This is impunity at play; perpetrators know they will get away with it,” he says. “Life in our country has completely lost meaning.”

Then there is King Dodge, whose painting style mirrors that of Brush. Dodge has a painting that talks about the foundations of nationhood. He says that the Kenyan Nation was founded on falsehood. “The true fighters of freedom were shunted and power was taken by home guards and loyalists,” he explains. “That is why the Kenyan flag is upside down.”

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There are a total of 14 artistes from the Ngecha collective, who have taken part in the exhibition that ends at the end of the month. Notably missing from the exhibition were Sane Wadu, who now has his base in Naivasha and Shine Tani, who runs the Banana Hill Gallery.

With such an abundance of artistic talent one would assume that the Kiambu County Government takes good care of these artistes, after all they are a positive marking point for the county. Sadly, this is not the case. King Dodge explained that the county government has been aloof at best. “We’ve tried getting in touch with the county government to see how we can work together but we were taken round in circles; we eventually gave up on them,” he said.

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It is ironical that while the top leadership in the county is busy airing its smelly fabric in public, they have completely ignored this artistic village in Ngecha, which if well embraced, would catapult them to the top of the charts as it were. Yet, this is a county with a Cultural Officer under its payroll.

Meanwhile as the Kiambu County Government continues to bury its head in the sand, NMK knows too well the important place these artistes occupy in the country’s cultural heritage. This explains why they keep hosting them for exhibitions.

Lydia Galavu, the curator of the Creativity Gallery at the NMK says that the story of Kenyan contemporary art would not be complete without mentioning artistes from Ngecha. “The beauty of these artistes from Ngecha, who also include women, is that they live and work in the village,” she explains. “They are mostly farmers, which is their main source of livelihood. Their day to day existence is reflected in their artworks.”

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Artists have until October 14 to submit their pieces for this year’s Affordable Art Show which is set to be held at the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) between October 23 and 25. This is an event of the Kenya Museum Society (KMS) aimed at raising funds in support of NMK.

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The art show is open to paintings, sculpture and mixed media work. Submissions will be juried. An individual artist can submit a maximum of two pieces, which should not be priced at more than Sh99,000. “Each piece should measure 100cm x 100cm (paintings and sculptures) for easy carrying of the art pieces by buyers,” says the communication signed by Lydia Galavu, the art curator at the museum and Patricia Ithau, who chairs the KMS Affordable Art Show.

The artworks to be submitted must have been created in 2015. Artists can also submit a third, A3 piece priced at Sh10,000.  The opening of the art show will take place in the courtyard behind the Louis Leakey Auditorium on Friday evening, October 23, 2015. The show will continue on Saturday and Sunday until October 25.

Artists’ work should be delivered to the former NMK boardroom at the rear of the courtyard on Wednesday, October 14, between 10am and 3pm. Artists from outside Nairobi who send work by public means,  must ensure that their submissions arrive no later than October 12.

Unsold art must be picked up on October 26, between 10am and 3pm. After that date and time, the art will belong to KMS and will be used to raise further funds for NMK.

That Kenya is teeming with artistic talent came out in the open on the night of Friday October 24 when the Affordable Art Show opened at the National Museums of Kenya. About 300 artists had their works on display at the three-day event organised by the Kenya Museum Society.

New entrants in the visual art world had their works displayed alongside those of established artists, all competing for the attention of buyers keen to acquire reasonably priced art. None of the pieces on display cost more than sh100,000; there were smaller pieces going for between sh6,000 and sh10,000.

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Lydia Galavu curator of the Creativity Gallery at the National Museums explained that artistes were required to submit two big pieces and two small ones. The Safaricom and Java sponsored event attracted a full house, with a carnival-like atmosphere. The turn-up was clear testimony that local art has quite some following.

The pieces on display covered a wide spectrum of themes, from the mundane to sophisticated stuff like geopolitics. There are also those who tackled topical issues. David Karibu Karanja had reproduced the iconic picture of Abdul Hajji rescuing a terrified girl at the Westgate Mall armed with only a pistol. Karanja’s piece was selling for sh25,000.

Keen users of Kenya’s social media will by now have come across a picture of a rugged old man, bent almost double by age. This image is routinely tossed into the comments section of pages with wide following, for nuisance value. Here it went by the title Do you have a phone charger please? I wonder if this one got a buyer.

Adrian Nduma

Adrian Nduma

Then there were pieces that were in huge demand. Adrian Nduma’s semi abstract pieces Contempt and Strong were bought even before the event came to a close. Each were going for sh55,000. I am sure if he had more pieces they all would have gone. Next to Nduma’s pieces was Martin Muhoro’s The Wild Vision, which an observant collector remarked looked like it had been done by veteran Yoni Waite, to which Wangechi, the curator at The Nairobi Gallery agreed.

Speaking of impressionable artists Leonard Ngure’s Dagoretti Market and Kinyua Kimani’s Heroes would easily be confused with something that Joseph Bertiers did. Seeing my dilemma, Lydia said they both are students of Bertiers. Clearly, here is an artist keen to mentor the next generation of artists. Bertiers himself had two pieces, namely Cat Painting and Caught in the Act.

Joseph Bertiers Caught in the Act

Joseph Bertiers Caught in the Act

Caught in the Act depicted the clergyman who, a month ago was in the news having been caught with another man’s wife in a lodging. Trust Bertiers, whose work is full of sexual imagery, to pounce on such a topic. In the painting, the nearly naked woman sits on a bed with a cat between her legs – hint! Hint! while the ‘pastor’ had an unpeeled banana and a rungu somewhere between his legs. Does the unpeeled banana represent the fact that the union had not yet been ‘consummated’ by the time the two were caught?

There was another master/teacher team; that one of Eric Wamagata and his teacher Lexander Mbugua. Both had done miniature impressions of Lamu/Zanzibar doors. Interestingly, by the end of the event it is the pupil’s more elaborate ‘door’ that had attracted the attention of a buyer.

Michael Soi, persisted with his theme of sex tourism, an issue tourism authorities are keen to keep under wraps. Weighing my Options featured a Kenyan woman torn between two white men, while I love Diani had a randy white old man tagging at the strings of a bikini-clad African woman.

Culture CS Hassan Wario, who was the chief guest at the event revealed that his ministry has prepared a cabinet memorandum that would see the establishment of a National Art Gallery to give ‘Kenyan art a permanent home’. Also in the pipeline, said the CS, was a ‘vibrant Art Department’.

The Kenya Museum Society (KMS) is a volunteer organization founded in 1970 by a group who included Richard Leakey and Hilary N’gweno, to support the Nairobi Museum. The Affordable Art Show was an event of the Society
from the mid-1990’s when it was held in conjunction with the annual visual and performing Art
Festival.  After a 7-year hiatus the Show was revived last year in response to artists’
requests and popular demand.  The 2013 show raised more than 500,000 shillings which the Society donated for storage structures and the restoration of certain pieces of the Permanent Art Collection.

Below is a press statement from the Network of Kenya Visual Artists (NKVA), who will be holding an exhibition, at the National Museums of Kenya starting Tuesday May 21 to June 4, 2013, titled Unsellable Art

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50 years on; it is about time that visual arts in Kenya had a vital voice for good governance

Since its inception with collaboration of the Ministry of Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs through one of their initiatives, the Non State Actors Support Programme (NSA – NET), together with the European Union and the National Museums of Kenya, the Network of Kenya Visual Artists (NKVA) became the first national network ever put together by visual artists.

NKVA has come at the right time with the ushering in of a new government. A key agenda of the new government is job creation. The NKVA realizes this quest, and more so because it is embracing the concept of collective action for more economic empowerment. By sharing information, communicating better and finding viable solutions to artists’ common challenges, the network hopes to create more demand for art as well as sensitize the general population about art, for better engagement and business.

NKVA convinced that the myth that art is expensive can be addressed by repackaging it and also communicating the same to the target market. The quest for aesthetics in homes is intensifying especially with the expanding middleclass and therein lies the market that needs to be satisfied.

This power of unity amongst Kenyan artists will serve to protect the Kenyan artist from exploitation by middlemen and also encourage upcoming artists to pursue art as a career that can generate continuous and predictable income.

NKVA will use the one year it will be under the umbrella of NMK to reach out to all visual artists nationally and establish regional links. The exhibition questions where art in Kenya is today as Kenya prepares her jubilee celebration of 50 years.

This art exhibition “Unsellable Art” is an exhibition of extreme expressions by artists that address matters that touch on society and the individual. The concept is what is being referred to as ‘unsellable’ because normally people want to buy a piece of art that is ‘nice’ and beautiful with happy themes. Nobody wants to buy a painting that will remind them of injustices and other ‘uncomfortable’ issues of society. Unsellable does not mean the art works are ugly, on the contrary they are very beautiful pieces, strong and done by some of the top artists in Kenya. It is when one looks closely that they see the theme.

 The artists were given the freedom to showcase those pieces of art that they feel have a story behind them. Each art piece is accompanied by a caption so that the audience will be able to explore and interrogate the mind of the artist. Similar exhibitions by NKVA in the regions are taking place at Mombasa (Alliance de Mombasa 17 May – 7 June) and Kisumu Museum (25 May – 8 June)