Some two decades ago, Anthony Okello was making art with the hope that one day he would find his own style.
Now, his works are easy to spot from a gallery of paintings. His solo show, “Between Losing and Finding”, opened on June 25 and is to end on July 24 at One Off Art Gallery in Nairobi. A total of 13 artworks curated by Carol Lees, is on display. This show is a moment for him to introspect his artistic journey of getting lost in myriads of styles to find what best spoke to his craft. Anthony uses oil on canvas, and a palette knife for a textured look. The dull colours add to the focus of the moods of the images. This informs his artistic style.
Okello He began his creative journey as a graphic designer. It was a completely different form of expression for him as he used flat colours, which involved a neat and uniformed approach. Painting, which he later picked, required another creative output from him.
“I had to develop my own style as a painter. Over the years, I had to listen to everything, experiment on a lot of things, learn everything, and then go within to listen to what I wanted. No place can an artist express their style. Sometimes an artist has to go deep within to know their style,” he says.
He came up with his personal style and introduced it to the world through his first solo show ‘Okello Recent Paintings’. “God made sure that I did not have anything else to occupy my time with at the time so that I could put all my energy into creating art. He denied me everything so that I could solely do this. This was the time in my life that I became more serious as an artist,” he reflects.
Even after finding his style, Okello still had moments where he doubted his skills, enhanced them, while taking risks. Some of his previous works have explored tribal mythologies and identity. “Art has its own timing. I have had ideas before which needed me to first improve my skills. I have had those instances where I did not know what I was doing but with my personal journey, experience as an artist, and continuous learning, I was able to express those ideas in my art,” he says.
The “Between Losing and Finding” exhibition immerses both the artist and the audience into a contemplative experience. It brings bereavement into focus through ‘The Heaviness’, created after he went through a personal loss. Okello also poses a question to the audience in ‘Which Side?’ and ‘Prayer Pearls’, works that give them the freedom to think about their identity and where they draw theirs from.
What is the one thing that Okello hopes the audience will take away from this show? “The Journey.”
The Nairobi art scene has become vibrant again. Sculptors, pencil artists, painters and photographers are back to creating and displaying pieces in galleries.
This was not the case in March. The pandemic affected the culture and arts industry. Galleries closed. Concerts and exhibitions were put on hold. Creatives then took up spaces digitally.
Picha Images presented the first virtual photo and art exhibition titled “Africa Covid Exhibition”. Installation artist Wambui Kamiru Collymore hosted #ArtistConversations on her Instagram page. Several art competitions were held.
Presently, physical exhibitions are now opening.
Recent exhibitions were Camille Wekesa’s “Lattice” at Red Hill Art Gallery. Michael Musyoka’s “Time and Other Constructs” at One Off Contemporary Gallery. Michael Soi and Thom Ogonga’s “Sex and the City IV” at Alliance Francaise. A pop -up exhibition at Village Market.
There are more this weekend. Here are some of the shows we can catch up on this weekend.
Boniface Maina: ‘Waiting, Watching, Wishing’
Where: Circle Art Gallery
When: October 28 to November 18, 2020
Boniface’s body of work explores changes to everyday life. For instance, the paintings portray his characters in bondage, desolate and helpless situations. Some move about while others sit on the floor with ropes tied around their bodies.
Paul Kariuki Munene: ’10|20|30′
Where: Alliance Francaise
When: October 8 to October 31, 2020
Paul has been documenting the live music scene in the past decade. Here, he presents a collection of 30 black and white photos of performances.
Some of the musicians captured are Achieng’ Abura, Juma Tutu, Makadem, Sauti Sol and Karun.
‘Then and Now‘
Where: One Off Contemporary Gallery
When: October 31 to Novermber 22, 2020
This group exhibition features 18 artists and it opens this Saturday.
The artists are Peter Ngugi, James Mbuthia, Simon Muriithi, Sophie Walbeoffe, Richard Kimathi, Bertiers, Camille Wekesa, Anthony Okello, Kyalo Justus, Mary Collis, Beatrice Wanjiku, Thom Ogonga, Peterson Kamwathi, Xavier Verhoest, Mandy Bonnell, Timothy Brooke, Syowia Kyambi and Patrick Mukabi.
Affordable Art Show
Where: Nairobi National Museum
When: October 30 to November 1, 2020
More than 125 pieces are on sale at this annual art display. You would be required to make an appointment for today’s visit or walk in any time without one during the weekend.
The Kenya Museum Society organized the event and the proceeds will go towards supporting the National Museums of Kenya.
Michael Soi: ‘No Country for Black Folk’
Where: Montague Contemporary, New York
When: October 16 to November 6, 2020
He explores different subjects such as racial injustices, xenophobia, economic disparity and corruption.
Fierceness in animals is a defining characteristic of Lennox Ogada’s work.
He combines movement, shape and realistic details to tell stories about animals to show similarity in traits with human beings. He also seeks to capture distinction between them in some of the pieces he created in the past few months.
Some of his paintings capture a grizzly bear walking out of water after catching a fish, one is of a lioness fearlessly with two cubs, and the other is of a stretching leopard. He related to seeing an animal stretching like he does in the morning. “We are just like a leopard, remembering to stretch, promoting its flexibility and move fluidly,” he said. He believes animals are gifted with an extension of the senses which we can access too, sometimes after losing that or never having attained it. The animals “are the bridge between us and the beauty of all that is natural, connecting us back to ourselves.”
Lennox is selling these works. It is a challenge since a lot of people have been keen on buying essentials in the last couple of months. Art, which has been considered a luxury item more than a necessity by many people in Kenya, has evidently decreased in sales during this pandemic. The focus of many people has not been buying paintings. What he can do now is showing people what he can do while hoping that those who are able and willing to invest in art can get to know about his work.
Lennox began painting when he was nine years old and he was then guided professionally by two artists, his father and uncle. Painting portraits, on shops and hanging boards became the first skills.
Early this year, the fine artist from Malindi, was to supply his work to a lady in the United Kingdom to sell them. He saw that as an opportunity for his art to make its way into the market, one that is more established. As he was rooted in this idea which he put on hold right after the pandemic hit, the other thought of opening an art gallery rang in his mind. Hotels and restaurants had wanted artworks. Tourists were travelling back with pieces of art. Lennox wanted to grow this culture of investing in art. He plans to display art pieces of other artists in his region, and to make his name synonymous with preservation of and selling of art. This is after an unfortunate incident he recalls when he sold a painting at a cheap price only for the client to sell it to someone else for large amounts of money.
“I have grown to understand the value of art. I am careful to put a worthy price on my work. I want to do the same for others,” he said.
The Alliance Francaise in Nairobi is resuming monthly exhibitions in its art gallery after four months. And “Wheels of Life” art exhibition by Evans Ngure sets this in motion.
The exhibition which opened on July 6 and ends on July 31, is a reflection of life experiences. Evans recycles brass wheels, brass wire, wine corks, drift wood, metal irons, kettles, side mirror casing, belt buckles and many other found materials. This he does to form shapes of animals as well as share his views on the present day-to-day life and the memories of his past.
One of the rewards of upcycling, the technique of recycling found objects and repurposed to create new artworks, is that it preserves the environment. Objects that would otherwise be considered trash are assembled together to become a treasure.
Evans explored this concept too in the messages in some of his artworks such as “Monkey Revolt” through which he speaks against human encroachment into wild habitats. This has been a huge concern.
Some of his other works are functional as seen above. This lantern has a bulb inside and it is connected to a socket to produce electricity.
“Functional art is a great way to share my work at an affordable cost while creating something which can be used at home,” Evans explains.
If you would like to go to visit the gallery, in person visits are allowed. Measures such as sanitizing, wearing of masks and physical distancing are practiced.
Here are a number of the pieces of this exhibition.
If you have ever wanted to experience an art exhibition but for one reason or another that is yet to happen, then that has been made possible from wherever you are. You can now get lost in exhibitions from around the world.
And the first art and photo virtual exhibition to be witnessed in Africa during the Covid-19 pandemic is taking place now. Visual artists and photographers are documenting the current times surrounding Covid-19 for the digital exhibition. Picha Images are the organizers of the exhibition.
Since most art galleries are closed from the public at these times, the creative industry is sharing more of their work online. More people are now able to interact with art, whether that is in live concerts, song releases, and now an art exhibition.
We share some of the images that are compiled by Picha Images for Africa Covid Exhibition. You could check the many others using the hashtag #africacovidexhibition and on their website africacovidexhibition.com
Visual artists and photographers can continue to submit their works on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram before June 6 using the hashtag.
The piece above by Samod Wilson from the US explores the desire of children to go and play outside as they would normally do before the pandemic hit.
It is a reality for many parents now who are trying to explain to their children why they should stay inside the house. Children may also not be fully aware of the situation. And they seek answers from parents who are not certain when it is safe for them to go outside.
If you have ever stepped outside your home even once or watched the news, you have certainly see some people wearing their masks wrong.
There have been concerns that wearing masks for a prolonged period of time can have other effects especially for children and anyone who has breathing problems. That aside, celebrated painter Kenyan painter Michael Soi expresses his worry for those who can wear masks but choose to do so wrongly to be cool.
By now you must have known that masks prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Kenyan illustrator known by the single name Machira explores parts of the fashion, identity and culture of the African people. The lady is seen wearing an African print mask and African jewelry.
Many people in Kenya are going for masks that are in full African colours and fabrics.
This is a mural art by artists from Mombasa. Tito Onodera, Teddy Shakes, Moha Freeman, Mchula Art, Nuru, Shee and Dankiz took to a wall in Mombasa to celebrate the healthcare workers.
They have been at the forefront in fighting the pandemic. They risk their lives while saving those of others. They continue to spend days and nights taking care of patients.
The world has seen a new normal. There has been lockdowns, companies adopting work-from-home lifestyle, increased online shopping, and so on. In one way or another we have all had to adjust.
Peter’s artwork smartly expresses that the best thing we can do for those we love is by following the directives put in place by the government. Wearing masks, practicing physical distancing, sanitizing and washing hands show that we care for ourselves and for others.
“Awareness in most informal settlement areas is still a great challenge. But two Kenyan organizations (Art 360 degrees and Foundation of hope) came together to craft public awareness on the Covid-19 pandemic with murals,” explained Africa Covid Exhibition on their page.
When he moved to Nairobi from Colombia three years ago, Javier Aranzales was a difficult name for many to pronounce. The professional ballet trainer and content creator was then given the nickname ‘Kamau’, which ended up to be his pseudonym.
‘Kamau’ is now his brand, and one that his 100,000 followers know him as. The Harvard graduate has since learned to speak Swahili fluently, made parody videos of Kenyan songs shared on @afrobeatswithkamau on TikTok, and taught ballet to children in Mathare and Kibra.
He was born in Colombia, moved to Miami as refugees and worked in Seattle. He now lives in Nairobi.
‘Kamau’ tells us how his passion for Afro beats came about, the dance culture in Kenya and Colombia, his creative process, and more.
KAMAU The first time to come to Kenya, I was on a development program. I was also studying Swahili through it and I was teaching dance in Mathare. The organization which brought me here combines all of these things which I am passionate about.
NAFSI What has stood out for you when it comes to the art of dance in Kenya?
KAMAU The African dance is already established like the way salsa has been in Colombia. When I teach ballet in Spanish-speaking countries, it is going to be questioned. There is that stereotypical thinking that it is for the European elites. How can a Colombian, a refugee for that matter, a man, dance and teach ballet?
Ballet is still very much new where I come from. From my experience, ballet is embraced in the places I have taught in Kenya; Mathare and Kibra, and in several dance schools. I have seen many professional productions and children pursuing ballet. My main focus is on children from underprivileged backgrounds.
NAFSI How did your passion for Afro beats come about?
KAMAU It all started when I was in college. I became really close with many Africans, and particularly with Kenyans and Tanzanians. We formed friendships and exchanged cultures. When I studied the Swahili language, I fell in love with the East African music. And since no one around me was playing the music, I began promoting it. My first platform was Instagram.
NAFSI The College you referred to was actually Harvard University. Let us just get that out there. Now, how did TikTok happen?
KAMAU My little sister told me about it when it was initially called Musical.ly. There were very few content creators from the African continent at the time. I shared content on Instagram for nearly a year and then received a message from TikTok who brought me on board as one of their content creators.
I can be the most authentic version of myself on TikTok. My experience has been organic too. The number of followers has grown very fast too. The numbers are important to me since it gives access to opportunities.
Now the challenge is to balance both Instagram and TikTok. My sister told me she thinks the content and strategies should be different in the two platforms.
NAFSI It can get demanding to regularly share content and keeping your creative juice pumped up all through.
KAMAU I take it a day at a time. I do not plan my content in advance. My content is very short-term and when I say that, I mean tomorrow-kind-of short-term. I post three videos a day. I just want to have an overflow of content. I am part of the TikTok creative program. The managers send us trendy ideas.
NAFSI How do you earn money off content creation?
KAMAU Through marketing campaigns. I also do freelancing work on Upwork as a TikTok expert. I have just spoken to a producer in United Kingdom for a marketing campaign. This is my full-time career.
NAFSI Who are your favourite Kenyan musicians?
KAMAU I really like Nadia Mukami. I like her especially for her lyrics. I like Sauti Sol too. I did a Suzanna challenge on my platform.
NAFSI What has social distancing during this unfortunate pandemic taught you?
KAMAU Right now many people are online. It is the right time to post. I am taking advantage of that. I am staying at home. I thought I was an extrovert since I like being in the spotlight and creating content, and I am confident. But I enjoy working from home and being alone. I am an extrovert but I need to spend time alone.
NAFSI And how do you spend your alone time?
KAMAU I schedule it at night. I disconnect from social media. I pick my journal, sit on the bed, and write how my day has been like. It is important for me because the creative process is not only online but offline too. I am a huge believer of journaling. It is something I want to do, I do not force it. I write down my weekly goals every Sunday. Right now I display them in a place where I have to see them every time. I also reflect on my experiences.
NAFSI We think that having a reflective routine like this is why you have been able to polish your craft each time. Would you say that too?
KAMAU It is important for me to spend some time alone since a creative needs to be fully charged like a phone to give their best.
NAFSI What do you do immediately after you wake up?
KAMAU I write down my dreams if I can remember them. If I wait any longer, I may quickly forget them. I pick my phone without looking at the notifications and type my dreams. A glass of water then follows. I have a banana, read the Holy Qur’an, open my curtains and have breakfast. When I go online, I first check on what my family and friends are up to on WhatsApp.
Visual artist Njogu Kuria transformed a room in his home into
a studio. Vinyl records, packets of super glue and paint are all over the floor
and some of his best artworks are leaning against the wall. Njogu calls it “an
organized chaos”. He knows where everything is.
A gaze sweeps the room. A phrase “the earth has music for those who listen” is on the wall.
“I came across the quote in one of the records. I found it to
be profound,” he explains.
He grew up in a home where music was always played. Recently, he attended Koroga Festival for the first time last year to see one of his favourite musicians, Congolese rhumba singer M’bilia Bel, perform. Music found its way to his craft.
Njogu works in vinyl records, fabrics and painting. He mostly brings to life portraits of African figures from records. The artist surprisingly has listened to most of these records from different parts of the world going as back as the ’50s.
“When you look at any piece of art here, there is a lot of music that has been represented and combined from all over the world onto a canvas,” he says.
He treats art as a business and he is able to make a living out of art alone as much as art is still viewed as a hobby instead of a job. A lot of the times he has also seen that aesthetic appeal of a piece of art is appreciated but there is unwillingness to purchase it.
“Art is interesting,” he paused. “You are very passionate about what you do and someone else has to decide whether or not your work is worth their money. Then, art is seen as a luxury and not as a necessity. I am establishing a balance to create out of passion and still earn money.
“Creatives could be making money as teachers of art if the subject was still part of the curriculum as we see in international schools. There still need to be more appreciation of art. It is a job. Artists have a role to play in the society. We put in effort and passion in our work,” he continued.
To make his contribution to the arts world, Njogu went on to co-found Studio Soku with his friend and fellow artist Jeremiah Sonko in early 2018. They held a free art mentorship programme and promoted collaborations and gave a platform for new artists to make a living off of their craft.
And then he abruptly left last year.
Exhaustion, he jumps in. Managing the gallery demanded so much more than he expected from him.
“I do not know how to ask for help. I rather do things by
myself so that they come out as I want them to. I was uncomfortable too in some
of the changes that had to take place at the gallery,”
The exhaustion heightened. Njogu went to Lamu to stay for a
few days. During that time, he says that he stopped to care what would happen
with him being away from the gallery. He came back. His romantic relationship
ended. He left the studio once again, packed his clothes and went to Bungoma
for three months. Although he was not diagnosed, he believes that he was going
through depression and the break in Bungoma helped him come out of it.
Njogu bought a shell of a 1974 Volkswagen and built it with his father. He spent a big part of his time talking about mechanics and life from his father and learned many things about each other and then after three months, he came back to Nairobi to start to work again, this time in his home.
How is he feeling now?
“I am in a good place. I feel at peace. I am living my own life and I want to challenge myself by exploring different techniques in my art. I want to create a lot of works, and have more that I keep than I sell.”
“I want to own an art museum where I get to share what I have created and what I have collected from other artists. Fellow artist Jeffie Magina told me that he is working on building his legacy for his future generations in this way. With an art museum, people can come and pay to see my work even after I am gone. There is a place they can come to and see my collection. We have been leaving our legacy to art collectors and left with nothing of our own. I have realized that I do not have to sell every piece of art.
Will he go back to managing the gallery?
“I may do that. I am not certain of it right now,” he responds.