painting cats

I thought about renaming my blog from “Kikuyumoja’s Realm” into “JKE’s photo safari blog” for a moment, but then…

Harrycane, the kids & I went to the christmas bazar at the German Embassy/Church place on Riverside Drive in Nbo today, and despite of meeting some old friends I hadn’t seen for a long long time, I also had a chance of meeting one of Kenya’s finest artists: Bertiers.

Joseph Bertiers, this humble sign writer from Dagoretti who has actually won some prestigious awards in the past, is no stranger to me. I had this really funny poster on “toilet use” in my bathroom he made for the GTZ some 12 (?) years ago, I remember he made a painting of our graduation class in 1996 (Mathias, where is it? in Frankfurt?) and even fellow blogger / videojournalist Ruud Elmendorp made a short documentary on him some time ago. Bertiers’ name was on my “things to do” list earlier this year when I came to apply for that internship in Embu. I urgently wanted to meet him and see his atelier.

Now, I gave him my card and wrote “Kikuyumoja” on it – and Bertiers instantly told me “yeah, Kikuyumoja’s Realm, I know that site on the internet…”.

Atereere…. :-)))))))))))

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Kibs painting cats while Agwambo enjoys an orange drive.

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WDR-Wim reporting live from the “rapids cats painting centre”.

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These paintings sell for about Ksh. 20.000 /= each, which of course is a proud amount of money. Yani, Bertiers ever-returning theme of “painting cats” is something we’ll continue observing in Kenya’s political scene – which still delivers free-of-charge daily templates for perfectly placed satire. Just imagine the Arthurs saga and their bling bling styles – that’s free entertainment which needs to be turned into art.

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Now, despite of the true political observations painted in oil, there are a lot of small and interesting details one discovers by closely looking at these paintings. And I think there’s no better compliment for an artists if a crowd of young kids interestingly inspects these paintings for about 15 minutes. And even after some years, these paintings don’t lose any of their energy.
Trust me: if you’re interested in contemporary Kenyan art, and would like to get something unique – Joseph Bertiers is the man to ask.

@Bertiers: see I don’t have transport at the moment and need to get back to Embu kesho, lakini asap there’s more time, let’s pls arrange for a visit at your studio, ok?

sanaa, part 2

As promised 3 months ago, I would like to continue my series on contemporary Kenyan art and let me please mention that it will never be complete or even in-depth – just a small scratch on the surface of the ever growing art scene. Also, I needed to blog this now as long as I am on bandwidth here :-)

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Earlier this year in May 2006, I visited the Kenyan painter Evanson Kangethe Njuguna at his shamba north of Nairobi (off Tigoni Road, somewhere in Limuru) and the first thing that greeted us at home was his cow. For a city kid like me, this of course was the perfect reminder of the overall rural lifestyle in Kenya. Whereas a lot of fellow Nairobians would consider this shaggz-style somewhat awkward, me must not forget that the majority of Kenyans live in rural areas and that this does not necessarily represent a negative, underdeveloped lifestyle. After all, Evanson has it all: a beautiful wife, healthy children, water, a shamba….and lots of space to follow his ideas. But the best thing about him is that he has a good heart and colourful dreams. And like many other artists, he knows how to mold them into art. Art that eventually and hopefully sells and manages to feed a family.

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I met Evanson at the library of the Goethe-Institut in Nbo where he showed me a pic he had been working on and invited me for a date at his place. Showing ppl around and inviting them to have a look at the art work is one of the main jobs of Kenyan artists – as exhibitions often only generate a temporary publicity and galleries (like the one of Mr. Shah I mentioned earlier) only provide very low revenues. Apparently, being a professional painter comes with a lot of burdens and equals an inconsistent income. I told him that I am just a student these days without any income at all, but that I could at least try to promote him in one way or the other, and also try to compile a blog entry on him where I would show some of his works.

Evanson had been in Germany during the 1990s and even managed to exhibit some of his works in Europe. After a longer talk about the art scene, politics and other sociologically interesting subjects, I took pictures of his work and he meanwhile searched for some older photos. Well…until then I hadn’t told him about my Mzee who was working with him before, but when I told him, Evanson jumped up and picked out of this image of my Mzee and him – shot sometime in 1993 or so. THAT situation made me cry for a moment – inside. My Mzee is old and sick, and can’t remember much these days. Being in Kenya and meeting these people who had been working with my Mzee for some time and are full of praises for him makes me feel at home. It’s like rediscovering parts of your own family from an outside perspective – a good feeling.
Anyways. I told him about these two paintings I have at home – and Evanson quickly picked out this polaroid of his archive, showing the actual painting at home.

His archive? Yes. Like many other artists, Evanson keeps record of his works and stores important papers in his shelve:

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Now, let’s focus on his work. The following photos are just snap shots of his work in his studio – I am still a lousy photographer so pls try to bear with me while I tried to focus on content. Also, there’s no chronological order – I only know that the following picture is one of his earliest works:

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leather works
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sculptures and paintings
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smoke art

“Kangethe is a social chronicler who portrays everyday Kenyan life experiences in a charming, whimsical style. He captures both rural and urban life. Kangethe’s works say much about the changing times in Africa and how to make the best out of challenging situations.

Social realism is only one aspect of his developing style. Kangethe is well versed in various artistic trends and schools. He seems to have been fascinated by the Impressionists, who, like himself, were intrigued with the playful effects of light and color. Kangethe grew up the son of a florist, so intuitively has a glorious sense of color.” (source)

I really like the head+tongue painting. Good art – to me – is the combination of interesting elements with lots of passion. While the photographs here just portray a small portion of his work, and also not his best (at least not all of them), it does show that Evanson has a creative mind and is always searching for new ways to express these emotions inside. Different techniques! Or would you rather prefer to invest your money into well known trademarks – like Jak Katarikawe’s cow pictures? Customers decide. But that’s another story…

For more pictures, please feel free to have a look at the complete flickr collection of snap shots I took in May 2006 at Evanson’s place. Karibu(ni)!

sanaa, part 1

Now this is something I wanted to do for a long time:

Some years ago, I thought about renting the domain msanifu.net (someone already stole sanaa.net) to build an online resource for East African artists and help them promote their work. A project like this one of course requires some funding/sponsorship as well as enough time to come up with something decent in terms of webdesign, usability and accessibility – all factors that I was short of as I am still a student @ varsity + despite of the publicity factor, there would be no other ways to promote the artists (~ organizing a sponsored tour through Europe, broker them to potential customers, etc.).

However, what I can still do is write about them in my blog (and keep on posting their images on flickr) and hope that the world, especially Kenyans in Kenya, pay a bit of attention to their artists – a profession that is often only considered valuable when artists sell paintings for a lot of money. After all, we are talking about art – and not an investment/commodity.

Fellow blogger Steve Ntwiga Mugiri recently blogged about the art scene and it made me realize that my art-website-idea from 2000 wasn’t such a bad idea. The demand is there – only, many artists apparently aren’t in a position to produce and also sell their paintings for a price they deserve.

This is where the Gallerys come into place. There are of course some interesting artists associations in Kenya – and I guess all these groups owe BIG TIMES to Mzee Elimu Njau of Paa Ya Paa gallery who assiduously tried to promote the scene and clearly identifies himself (with lots of emotional enthusiasm) with his work. I personally think that Elimu and the late Ruth Schaffner of Watatu Gallery contributed a lot during their heydays to the cultural scene in Kenya.
Anyways, back to the main issue (I know there’s still lots of interesting history that needs to be blogged one day :-)….So I dropped into Watatu Gallery for a few snapshots and also payed Mr. Shah of Sarang Art Gallery a quick visit.
While I was a bit dissappointed at Gallery Watatu and their downfall since Mr. Schaffner’s death in 1996 (well that’s my impression!), Mr. Shah proved to be vivid as ever.

You know I met a few potential customers in Nairobi (read: wealthy Wazungu with red UN-number plates on their cars) who are actually interested in and willing to spend some mbeca on paintings. The only problem is that often they don’t know where to get those really GOOD paintings. And of course Mr. Shah knows his business too well – something, a lot of artists in Kenya dislike him for as he buys their paintings for a few Shillings and sells them for much more. Business, simple as that. Who wouldn’t do the same?

I think the most interesting development so far has been with the Kuona Trust – “a not-for-profit organisation set up to research, support, innovate and promote contemporary visual art in Kenya and East Africa” – and the best way to find out more is to visit their website (i like, i like! :-)

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Gallery Watatu in Nairobi. Among the many artists they represent are Chain Muhandi, Charles Sekano, Francis Kahuri, Tinga Tinga, Eunice Wadu, Hans Seuren (R.I.P.), J.M. Mbugua, Jak Katarikawe, Sane Wadu, Wanyu Brush (LOL) and Zachariah Mbutha.

Opposite Gallery Watatu on Standard Street (Nairobi), we find the Sarang Art Gallery run by Mr. Shah – who has a huge variety of really good, but also expensive paintings. In case you are willing to invest some money into good artists, this is the place I’d recommend as he really knows which artists consistently produce (professional!) good work and he won’t try to sell u low quality. That is, this might help in case you can’t decide or have no idea what’s good and bad…

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(Sasa Mahendra, now you’ve been blogged – hope u don’t mind! :-)
And then I realized that he has some really good paintings by our (old) friend Abushariaa Ahmed (Mohammed) from Karthoum (Sudan) which sell for a lot of money. Hey Abu & Afrah, in case you are reading this, please drop me a line, ok?

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Sanaa, part 2 will be on Kenyan painter Evanson Kangethe whom I visited at his shamba and took some pics of his work. In case you like this, please stay tuned….THX!