Friday, 23 March 2018



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 23 March 2018)

The recent Art Auction-East Africa held at the Dusit D2 Hotel in Nairobi should have laid to rest the old-fashioned view that ‘artists are an impoverished lot’ and you wouldn’t want your son or daughter to become one.
The reason for the re-think is the kind of price tags attached to the artworks that got sold at the auction. Most people never dreamed that one painting (by the late Ugandan artist Geoffrey Musaka) could sell for almost KSh2 million.
Yet Musaka’s art was not the only one sold for more than a million shillings that night. The Kenyan-American artist Yony Waite’s painting went for KSh1.4 million and the Sudanese painter Rashid Diab (who often exhibits here in Kenya) commanded KSh1.4 million for his art. But since Diab’s paintings normally sells for at least Sh1.6 million, it couldn’t be sold that night.
There’s no longer any doubt that the works of quite a few Kenyan artists are selling well both on the local and the international art market. Granted, it’s relatively recent that the world has woken up to the Renaissance in African art, including the art of East Africa. Nonetheless, I was told by one globe-trotting Kenyan painter recently that “You would be surprised at how many Kenyan artists are millionaires.”
No, I would not be surprised. But that’s not to say quite a few wannabe artists are not struggling. And even the top-selling artists will admit they have had to work hard to achieve success.
It isn’t difficult to name artists who’ve created the top ten most expensive works of art in Kenya. They include the likes of Peter Elungat, Paul Onditi, Timothy Brooke, Peterson Kamwathi, Yony Waite, Dennis Muraguri, Adrian Nduma, Michael Soi, MaryAnn Muthoni and Wanyu Brush.
But those are just the tip of the iceberg. One could easily add names like Cyrus Kabiru, Beatrice Wanjiku, Elkana Ong’esa, Maggie Otieno, Anthony Okelo, Samuel Githui, Camille Wekesa, Jak Katarikawe, Sophie Walboeffe and Edward Njenga.
The difficulty comes first in knowing all the local art collectors who have quietly bought art but haven’t made their collections widely known. They’re aware that thieves are starting to realize that stealing art can be a good investment.
The bigger challenge is that some of the most expensive artworks sold by Kenyan artists is bought overseas so that we locals may never know those works, leave alone the prices they were sold for.
To illustrate, Paul Onditi is said to have just sold two paintings in New York City for USD35,000 (KSh3.5 million) each. That could be a record sale for Kenyan art. But the other difficulty is that many artists don’t like to talk about how much their art sells for.
Nonetheless, we can begin with Edward Njenga, the 94 year old former social worker and sculpture who sold his installation of terracotta sculptures of Mau Mau detainees for more than Sh1.5 million. The buyer had them shipped abroad.
Kenyan painter Wanyu Brush sold one of his paintings for Sh2 million to an Italian tourist who also shipped Brush’s piece back to Italy. Adrian Nduma also sold one of his colorful abstract paintings for Sh2.2 million. It was bought by a local art lover, although he or she prefers anonymity.
There are many more than ten valuable artworks by Kenyans that have remained in the country. Whether they are the ‘most expensive’ is almost impossible to calculate since the value of art fluctuates almost as inexplicably as the stock market does.
But I can easily identify the following works as being valued at well over one million shillings:
1.      Peter Elungat’s painting at the Reception of the Villa Rosa Kempinski Hotel
2.      Mary Ann Muthoni’s murals at Two Rivers Mall
3.      Dennis Muraguri’s junk art World Map at Delta House in Westlands
4.      Maggie Otieno’s Gate Keeper sculptures at Garden City Mall
5.      Timothy Brooke’s Landscape paintings at One Off Gallery
6.      Elkana Ong’esa’s Dancing Birds Kisii stone sculpture at the US Embassy.
7.      Camille Wekesa’s murals at the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy
8.      Anthony Okelo’s Luo Mythology at Nairobi National Museum
9.      Peterson Kamwathi’s Steel People sculptures in Banana Hill. He has another set of metal sculptures at Garden City Mall.
10.                       Samuel Githui’s Nairobi Street triptych at the Safaricom headquarters.
We could add to this list the Tom Mboya sculpture by Luke Oshoto Ondula as well as his giant Peace Sculpture in Kisumu which was meant to commemorate the centenary of the Kisumu Sikh Temple.
The Dedan Kimathi sculpture on Nairobi’s Kimathi Street is also an expensive work of art conceived by Kenyatta University’s Department of Fine Art and executed by Kevin Oduor.
So the list of precious Kenyan art can go on and on. One of the most priceless pieces of Kenyan art is the Mau Mau Freedom Fighter created in cement and steel by the late Samwel Wanjau. It was recently damaged when one Philistine woman tried to destroy it. Now in need of repair, Wanjau’s Freedom Fighter could be one of the most expensive works of art by a Kenyan if it can be repaired and then protected and preserved like the priceless work of art that it is.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018


             (L-R)Wanuri Kahiu, Mo Pearson and Mkamzee Mwatela in The Vagina Monologues at Kenya National Theatre
By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 21 March 2018)

Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues have been staged in this country since 2003 when Mumbi Kaigwa first had the guts to join an international community of women standing up and speaking out loud against patriarchy and all forms of violence against women as well as for women’s freedom of expression, empowerment and honest exploration of their sexuality.

                   Mumbi Kaigwa produced and co-starred with 19 other extraordinary women in The V-Monologues 2018

This year the V-Monologues are celebrating twenty years of women’s performing this incredibly powerful script. But this past Tuesday and Wednesday nights at Kenya National Theatre, women were also celebrating 15 years since Mumbi took courage and boldly used that word on stage which was rarely utterly in public in those days.
Back then, she both produced and directed The Monologues. But this time round, she only produced them while Kaz Lucas took the reins and directed 20 beautiful women (including Mumbi and her daughter Mo) in a production that never fails to amaze, amuse, electrify and awaken deep-seated feelings of feminist pride, passion and power.
                                   Kaz Lucas directed and co-starred with 19 other brilliant women in VMonologues

I’ve seen the Monologues several times, four times in Kenya and once overseas while I was in grad school in the States. The first time I think they made me slightly uncomfortable. But then, I was attending a religious university and I suspect I was feeling other women’s discomfiture as much if not more than my own.
But since I’ve been back here and seen Kenyan women perform them, I’ve loved every single show. I’ve also felt the production I’ve just seen is the best one yet. Nonetheless, after every performance, I’ve invariably said the same thing! The women are always amazing entertainers.

                                           June Gachui performed the National Anthem as well as one Monologue

But in 2018 I was especially impressed with the Monologues. In part it had to do with the beautiful V20 video that launched the production and visibly linked it with those by women all over the world. The video was exquisitely edited combining music and poetry, dance and women working in ways that felt fresh and liberating and attuned to Ensler’s follow-up theme of One Billion Women Rising. Her poem “My revolution lives in my body” was also brilliant and set the stage for this lovely cast of creative beings to come out on stage and share incredible stories that seemed more poetically presented than I’ve heard before.

                                                                          Lorna Dias' moans nearly stole the show 

Prior to every performance of The Monologues that I have watched, a kind of apology is made to the effect that not every performer is a professional so ‘bear with us.’ This year they needed no such introduction since all the women performers—not only June, Lorna, Patricia, Mumbi and Mo — gave deeply moving monologues.

Some were funny, others ironic, a few angry or at least militant. But all made one feel proud to identify with the sentiments they expressed. All made one feel amazed that Ensler would have captured such earthy and honest emotions.

                                                           Patricia Kihoro was beautiful on Wednesday night

But then, at the outset of the show, we were told that the script actually began as a research project. Hundreds of women were interviewed and what they shared was so revealing that Ensler felt the most poignant had to be adapted for stage, which is apparently how the Monologues were born.

                                                                           Nini Wacera was exquisitely angry

All I can say is I felt honored to attend this year’s performance. I also must applaud the way every woman in every single show that I’ve seen has made the lines her own. That’s meant that every production has felt fresh and stunningly new.
                                                                    Jenny Mungai was a gem as well

So I thank all of these women and also say I am grateful that the Vagina Monologues has one other amazing benefit. It fosters and fuels a fierce sense of sisterhood, a spirit that I’ve seen at every show. And especially this time round, that sense of sisterhood was blessed and beautiful. For me that’s the true meaning of feminism, so happy V20 and V15 women of Kenya.


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 21 March 2018)

Mara Mendiez is a passionate believer in the power of storytelling.
“What we need in this world is more storytellers,” the Edinburgh-based performing artist tells Business Daily during .her brief stop-over in Nairobi.
“Why?” she’s asked.
“Because stories allow us to tackle all sorts of taboo-ed topics without offending people personally,” says the storyteller whose pedigree in both Kenyan and British.
It’s not just that listening to stories allows people to let go of inhibitions and open up their minds, she says.
“Stories have a way of seeping into people’s souls and causing them to change the way they see and do things.”
Stories also enrich people’s sense of identity, continues this globe-trotting performer whose repertoire of stories come from Kenya and Scotland as well as from Africa and elsewhere.
For instance, she just came from Nigeria where she performed ‘The Illusion of Truth’ at the Lagos Theatre Festival. ‘The Illusion’ is a trilogy of tales, one Nigerian, one Kenyan and one Scottish, which she was meant to share last week at The Alchemist produced by Positively African. Sadly, the show was rained out.
Explaining how she got started performing professionally, Mara says she only began writing her first story while expecting the birth of her daughter Imani. She’d wanted to ensure her child felt connected to Kenya so she recalled a tale her Luhya grandmother had told her long ago. 
After that, she self-published “The Chicken and the Eagle” and started performing it publicly to generate sales. But then, she discovered the Edinburgh Storytelling Centre and shortly thereafter started storytelling professionally.
Born in Kwale, Mara didn’t move to Scotland until she was 13. Up until then, she spent time listening to her beloved grandmother’s countless tales.
Right now, Mara’s busy building something she calls the Kwale Sculpture Park and Heritage Trail. It’s her dream to construct a cultural centre that can build on a tradition of storytelling and generate jobs for the community.
“In Scotland, the legend of the Loch Ness Monster generates millions from tourists intrigued by the monster story,” she says.
“We also have wonderful stories at the Coast,” she adds, noting how she recently started running workshops in her home village of Mbegani. 
“Through the workshops we’re raising awareness of the people’s own cultural wealth in terms of their traditions and stories,” says Mara who envisages a ‘Loch Ness’ equivalent in Kwale that can appeal to legend-loving tourists as well.



BY Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 21 March 2018)

Minister Karibu, staged last weekend at Kenya National Theatre proved to be just as relevant today as it was eight years ago when John Sibi Okumu wrote it and saw it produced by Phoenix Players prior to the 2013 election.
In fact, during a Q&A session following the second performance of Karibu on Sunday, the consensus was that the script was even more relevant now. In part, this is due to Sibi’s prophetic vision which directly addressed issues of corruption and other social ills still plaguing Kenyans, like tribalism, sexism, nepotism and ‘land-grabbism’, a term used by the ‘black Englishman’ Jamhuri Katana (Ben Tekee).  
What’s more, Sibi’s chosen genre of satire is one that rarely grows stale. This the writer implied as he confessed he’d drawn inspiration from the work of previous satirists like Gogol, Moliere and even Shakespeare, all of whose plays are classics, still staged today. 
But the other reason the play has withstood the test of time is the director, Tash Mitumba, who Sibi said had adapted aspects of his script, like the music and social trends like selfies, which Winston Churchill Matumbato’s (Bilal Wanjau) youthful sidekick Hippo Dudi (Ibrahim Muchemi) takes with his phone while the two are busy hoodwinking the self-serving politicians.
But beyond relevance, what drew me back to see MK a second time last weekend (or rather a third time since I’d seen it once before when it was staged at Phoenix, co-directed by George Mungai and Nick Njache) was the depth of the message.
In fact, on Saturday night, I was totally charmed by the comic genius of Sibi’s caricatures: the two media men (Peter Orinda and Kevin Kasyuki), flaming feminist Ph.D (Beatrice Kimuya), pedant professor turned pol (Benson Ochungo), black Briton (Big Ben), money-minded hotelier mama (Susan Kavathe) and her fake Maasai watchman (Mark Okoth), all elicited large laughs, to the point of distraction.
So I had to go back Sunday to ensure I got the deeper implications of the story itself. First and foremost, Sibi’s play is all about corruption. But it’s not only the politicians who are corrupt. All of his characters (apart from the media men whom he parodies, but who at least are clean) are tainted with short-term self-interests. Even the Mama Toto whose greed for cash blind-sides her when WCM makes off with everybody’s cash and carry-ables.
Sibi’s got more sympathy for the workers since they play-act as a means of surviving these tough financial times. But all the politicians who come to the conference called by WCM are there in the hope they’ll cash in on the master politician’s substantial account. (It reminds one of some of our current politicians who want lunch with the Big Man.)
During a second Q&A, Sibi confirmed that the show’s ending (which I won’t spoil by describing) was meant to symbolize what could happen to Kenya if it stays the course of corruption and disregards the interests of the country’s future.
On a final note, I must say Tash Mitambo’s directing was superb. The acting was also first class and even the set design was economical and maximized the mini-stage at KNT’s annex. We also congratulate Aroji Drama Academy for producing Minister Karibu and promising to bring theatre or film to the stage every month this year. May they fulfill that promise!
Meanwhile, Hearts of Art are premiering in Walter Sitati’s intense political thriller, ‘Repair my Heart’ tonight and Saturday at PAWA 254, starring Peter Kawa and Ellsey Adhiambo.
Today is also your last chance to see Aga Khan Academy stage the Ray Cooney comedy “It Runs in the Family” at 2 and 8pm at Louis Leakey Auditorium.
Then Saturday and twice on Sunday, the Dance Centre Kenya’s elite Ballet Company is performing in Prokofiev’s enchanting fairy tale, ‘Cinderella’ at Kenya National Theatre.
The two principles in the 65 member cast are Tara Brmbota as Cinderella and Lawrence Ogina playing the Prince. DCK’s own artistic director Cooper Rust will return to the KNT stage performing the role of Cinderella’s wicked stepmother. Her two nasty step-sisters will be played by Kayla Hotz and Stella Eising so it’s sure to be a glorious performance.
Finally, next Tuesday, March 27th the World Theatre Day will be celebrated at the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development. Organized by Mabingwa Theatre Productions, the celebrations will run from 8am through 5pm with Ezekiel Mutua as the Guest Speaker.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018



BOOK REVIEW of “Not African Enough”
By The Nest Art Collective 2017

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 20 March 2017)

Just the title “Not African Enough’ challenges one to open this 366 page book to find out how a culturally innovative team like The Next Collective is involved with production of ‘A Fashion Book’ with a title as curious and cryptic as this one is.
And once the book gets opened, it’s impossible not to start flipping through the pages. After that, one can hardly put the book down or close the cover until one’s examined all these enticing and incredibly original fashion photographs.
Thereafter, it’s must easier to understand the title: ‘Not African Enough’. What does it mean? Well, first and foremost, it’s clearly the comment Sunny Dolat and other members of the Nest must’ve heard often along the way as they journeyed into the uncharted terrain now called the Kenyan Fashion industry.
But the text, starting with the Preface by Sunny Dolat, makes it plain that the whole process of producing a book is something that came long after a multitude of issues cropped up and got answered through trial and error, and a range of innovative artistic experiments. Dolat manages to make the process sound like a delectable journey which began in Gikomba.
Mitumba was the fashion mode that intrigued him at the outset of an exploration that led Dolat to enlist his friend Jim Chuchu in their first fashion project called Stingo. It began as a rollick, getting friends together and having them dress up for ‘photo shoots’ in Nairobi streets.
The fruits of those shoots got posted on Facebook and a Stingo website and presto! Mitumba morphed into Kenyan creations, locally designed and produced garments that attracted those who were (and still are) bold enough to experiment and design alongside the Stingo line.
But as one thing led to another, Stingo became an online retail experiment that morphed again, this time into something Sunny Dolat named Chico Leco.
And early on, Chico Leco stocked, displayed and sold edgy designer items by Kenyans who’ve become ‘household names’ like Kepha Maina, Anyango Mpinga and Wambui Mukenyi, all of whom feature prominently in the book.
In fact, after giving that historical background, including Chico Leco’s becoming a projects of The Nest, up to 14 Kenyan fashion designers are given whole chapters in the book. And in those pages, each one speaks about his or her perspective on what they do, what materials they use and why. Most importantly, a sampling of their original designs appear, some in striking black and white, others in sepia and quite a few in glorious colors.
But in the course of gaining appreciation for this courageous lot of young creatives, one has to reckon with the issue (as Dolat and Nest members do) of identity? Who do these fashion concepts represent? More precisely, what aesthetic are they expressing in their art?
 There’s little doubt these designers are all artists working in what could easily become a multi-million shilling fashion industry, although in Kenya it hasn’t gotten there yet.
Nonetheless, with artists like Dolat advancing the industry through the creation of fashion videos and films that are already winning awards overseas (even at the Berlin International Film Festival), the future is looking brighter by the hour.
So once one’s finished flipping through the pages and admiring all the stylish artistry of Kenyan fashion designers (including the lovely models and amazing photography), one can see the question: is this fashion “African enough?” is really a moot point. What’s important is that this creativity transcends national, regional and especially ethnic stereotypes. Call it Kenyan if you like. The point is it’s exquisitely fashionable.


BY Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 20 March 2018)
One of the best things about the Manjano Art Competition and Exhibition this year is that it looks like a fairly accurate reflection of where the contemporary Kenyan art scene is at right now.
That’s to say it’s a mixed bag, filled will heaps of creative expression and artistic initiatives that are diverse. For instance, the art materials on display at Village Market until 5th April range from more conventional media, such as acrylic and oil paints, charcoal, chalk and woodcut prints on paper to rusted mabati and some mixed media.
But then, there is also a bit of image transferring and digital art, beadwork on wire, recycled milk packaging and grafted wood on stone. One artist even used old paint brushes as characters in his art.
With the usual theme of the exhibition being our city Nairobi, there are several cityscapes, especially ones revealing Nairobi by Night. A few are abstract like the ones by Yasir Mohammed and Agnes Njoroge.
But there are more that interpret a range of social realities prevalent in our city currently. One that stands out as exposing the incongruities of our city life is by Malvin Abwao (although labelled as being by Nadia Wamunyu). ‘For the scale of development’ is apparently set inside Nairobi National Park, with the SGR already built and a speed trai whizzing passed a highway that also runs through the park. City skyscrapers are in the distance and a car is coming our way just as a magnificently-maned lion meanders across the road. It’s positively dystopic.
There’s another SGR painting with a similar theme by Rohini Sengani but it’s not nearly as disturbing as Abwao’s. Nonetheless, this year’s Nairobi County Visual Art collection is steeped in paintings intent on making social statements. For instance, Ron Luke’s “Sold Out” is clearly a symbolic commentary on corruption in the judiciary.
Peter Walala, whose ‘Political twists and tangles’ also implies the disturbing trend in national politics which are less than straight forward and clean. The fact that the artist “grafted” tree branches onto each other to create the ‘tangled’ effect is also ingenious. So it’s no wonder Walala won another Manjano award. This year he earned the second prize in the professional artists’ category, translated as a Sh150,000 cheque.
The winning artist in the adult or ‘professional’ class is Wallace Juma for his collage painting, “Pata Potea”. It’s a dark work, both in color and psychic effect since it seems to be commenting on a profound question of identity in a city that leaves a multitude feeling rootless, homeless and lost. The judges, (namely Bobbi Gassy, El Tayeb Dawelbait, Flora Mutere-Okuku and Mary Ogembo) clearly felt Juma’s piece was poignant since his prize is Sh300,000.
Themes of poverty, homelessness and coping with city life are also apparent in this year’s show. For instance, Taabu Munyoki’s ‘Oblivion’ portrays a homeless woman sleeping on the street beside a set of brightly colored political posters. Again, it’s the juxtaposition of poverty and plenty that is painfully touching.
But Kenyans’ resourcefulness is also revealed in many of the works. It’s visible in works that portray Hawkers and matatu manambas, mkokoteni men and bicyclers balancing bread and water, and even motorcycle taxi drivers (with Hezbon Okoth’s five-panel piece winning first prize in the students category)
The other beauty of Manjano is that some of the most seasoned so-called ‘professionals’ are shameless about having their art hung in close proximity to newcomers like Wallace Juma whose art was relatively unknown before he won the top prize this year.  
What was also clear-cut about Manjano 2018 is that many artists experimented with themes and social practices that are common today. For instance, Evans Yegon’s ‘Selfie’ mirrors a motion we see often on our city streets. Ngugi Waweru took up the topic of gun violence in both prints that made it into Manjano this year.

There are over 80 artworks in the exhibition. According to Judy Ogano, there were 250 submissions from artists this year which suggests the judges were judicious and selective. There’s just to one piece that I feel deserves a special commendation: Erick Musau’s extraordinary ‘Beaded Human Sculpture’ which had an uncanny resemblance to a real human being.

Professional artists:
1. Wallace Juma first prize of KSh300,000
2. Peter Walala second prize of Sh150,000
1. Hezbon 150,000
2. Taabu Munyoki 75,000

Friday, 16 March 2018



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 16 March 2018)

Mara Mendiez is a passionate believer in the power of storytelling.
“What we need in this world is more storytellers,” the Edinburgh-based performing artist tells Saturday Nation during .her brief stop-over in Nairobi.
“Why?” she’s asked.
“Because stories allow you to tackle all sorts of taboo-ed topics (like FGM and HIV/AIDS) without offending people personally,” responds the storyteller whose pedigree in both Kenyan and British.
It’s not just that listening to stories allows people to let go of inhibitions and open up their minds, she says. “Stories have a way of seeping into people’s souls and causing them to change the way they see and do things.”
Stories also enrich people’s sense of identity, continues this globe-trotting performer whose repertoire of stories includes both Kenyan and Scottish tales as well as those from all over Africa and elsewhere.
For instance, she had just come from Nigeria where she performed ‘The Illusion of Truth’ at the Lagos Theatre Festival, which is the largest such festival in all of Africa. ‘The Illusion’ is a trilogy of tales, one Nigerian, one Kenyan and one Scottish, which she was meant to share at The Alchemist last Thursday night, produced by Positively African. Sadly, the show (which was also set to showcase the Sigana Storytellers) was rained out.
Despite not getting the chance to climb onto a Kenyan stage this trip, Mara’s love of both Kenyan and Scotland stories came through loud and clear as she spoke to SN shortly before she flew off to Ghana to give a series of storytelling workshops in Accra.
Explaining how she got started performing professionally, Mara says she studied Marketing and French – not literature or storytelling -- at University of Sterling in Scotland. She started writing down her first story while anticipating the birth of her daughter Imani. She’d wanted to ensure her child felt a close connection with Kenya so she recalled a tale her Luhya grandmother had told her long ago.
She then self-published “The Chicken and the Eagle” and to generate sales, she started performing the story publicly. One thing led to another and ultimately, she found her way to the Edinburgh Storytelling Centre and finally, to a professional career as a Storyteller.
Born and raised in Kwale at the Coast, Mara didn’t move to Scotland until she was 13 years old. That meant she had plenty of time to be with her beloved grandmother and listen to the countless tales the granny loved to share with her. “I’d also come back to Kenya almost every year and spend time with her then,” recalls Mara who still considers Kwale her home.
In fact, her commitment to Kwale has taken tangible form in the last few months when she began construction of what she is calling the Kwale Sculpture Park and Heritage Trail. Describing it as being in the incubator phase, Mara’s dream is to develop a major cultural centre which will generate both jobs and income for her people. Not only that, she plans to build it on the basis of her background in storytelling.
“In Scotland, the legend of the Loch Ness Monster generates millions of euros every year from tourists intrigued by the monster story,” she says.
“We also have wonderful stories at the Coast,” she adds, noting how she’s recently been running a series of workshops in her home village of Mbegani. “Through the workshops [run weekly] we’re getting the community to recognize its cultural wealth in aspects of its traditions, cultural practices and stories,” she says.
In the few months that she’s been working on the project at the Coast, Mara has already started construction. “We already have funds for one sculpture and we have designed the Trail to run through the entire village ensuring the whole community is involved in the project and benefits from it.”
Adding that during her marketing days, she worked for BBC, promoting festivals including the Edinburgh Festival, which she says is another illustration of the way culture and the arts can generate multi- millions if developed well.
That’s the dream and aspiration she has for the Cultural Centre that she and the Mbegani community are building in Kwale.
And that’s the real story!