Saturday, 24 December 2016

Business Daily Life and Margaretta celebrated with Chocolate Cake at Nation Centre

SANAA AWARD WINNERS BD LIFE AND MARGARETTA CELEBRATED NATION CENTRE.
(photos by Salatan Njau)
Chocolate Strawberry cake with Black Forest frosting for Sanaa Awards celebration by BD staff 12.16
BD Managing Editor Rapuro Ochieng speaking to BD staff at Cake Cutting event. 2 trophies from Sanaa Theatre awards given December 14th at Kenya National Theatre
          Gennevieve cutting the cake as Rapuro and Margarettaa stand by with Wahome next in line
                                Margaretta getting set to hand out cake to hungry staff like Wahome
Eager cake lovers like Stellah and Lynet (below)

Friday, 23 December 2016

Kenyan Theatre Exploded with electifying energy and genius in 2016


KENYAN THEATRE EXPLODED WITH TALENT IN 2016

BY Margaretta wa Gacheru

2016 was a break-out year for Kenyan Theatre as it not only saw a spate of new scripts being staged, and a whole slew of new troupes and ad hoc ensembles being formed; we also saw a number of new venues being used to stage amazing productions.

For instance, while audiences were happy to fill theatre halls at Alliance Francaise, Goethe Institute, Louis Leakey Auditorium and even Kenya National Theatre (which attracted more brilliant productions this year than ever before), many were equally pleased to watch shows everywhere from the Oshwal Centre (to see ‘The Jungle Book’), PAWA254 (to watch Jalada players perform Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s ‘The Upright Revolution’ in seven mother tongues) and The Elephant (to see ‘Tinga Tinga Tales’) to the Storymoja stage (to watch Nyef Nyef Storytellers perform ‘A White Wedding’),  the African Leadership Centre (to see the Performance Collective dramatize portions of Yvonne Adhiambo’s novel, ‘Dust’ and even at Kwani? (where five women storytellers dramatized notable African women’s novels in ‘And then she said…’).

The fact that nearly all these venues were fully booked for every performance is a further testimony to the attention that Kenyans themselves are paying to local theatre. This is a dramatic departure from years past when shows were staged for half-full houses (a problem that Phoenix Theatre sadly had most of 2016).

It signals people’s greater appreciation of the entertainment value of live theatre; but it also reflects on the quality of the acting, the directing and even scriptwriting since 2016 is a year when we saw many more original works performed. They included Elsaphan Njora’s ‘51-Nzilan: A Man on a Journey,’ Silvia Cassini’s ‘A Man like You’ (which won accolades at the recent Sanaa Theatre Awards), Eric Wainaina’s ‘Tinga Tinga Tales’, Sitawa Namwalie’s ‘Room of Lost Names’ and Martin Kigondu’s ‘Who’s Your Daddy?’ among others.

But I also have to say the quality of acting shot sky high in 2016 with both actors and actresses giving captivating performances. The Sanaa awards for best actor and best actress went to Maina Olwenya for his role in Cassini’s A Man Like You and June Gachui for her part in Millicent Ogutu’s ‘Three Fold Cord’. But I know the judges had a hard time narrowing down the field to one ‘best’ performer since there were so many outstanding performances this past year.

Just take Three Fold Cord with June co-starring with Nice Githinji and Wambui Kamiru Collymore. All three women gave marvelous monologues, but June had the edge for her special sparkle and intimate style, something we also saw when she launched her first music album, June at 20, at KNT in extravaganza-style.

In fact, as exceptional as Maina and June’s performances were, there were many others that I also found thrilling to behold. For instance, Joe Kinyua in the August Wilson classic, ‘Fences’ was amazing as was Maimouna Jallow in ‘And then she said…’ and Muthoni Garland was in ‘A White Wedding.’

Indeed, the talent that was unleashed this past year in shows like Heartstrings’ ‘Behind my Back’, Festival of Creative Arts’ ‘Nuts+’ and Nyef Nyef Storytellers’ ‘Sheros’ was phenomenal.

And while I am tempted to say that the women actors were stronger than the men in 2016 (in light of performance by Maggie Karanja in Smile Orange, Bernice Nthenya in ‘Kiss of Death’, Anne Kamau in ‘Grass is greener,’ Fridah Muhindi in ‘The Hitman’, Agnes Wangithi in ‘Sheros’, Patricia Kihoro in ‘Life in the Single Lane,’ Marianne Nungo in ‘Who’s your Daddy?’ and Helena Waithera in ‘Nuts+’ among many others) I have to step back and reflect on the whole of 2016.

Then I must admit that there were sparkling performances by guys like Nick Kwach and Victor Nyaata in ‘Behind my Back’, Elsaphan Njora in ’51 Nzilani’, Tete Burugu in ‘A White Wedding’, Checkmate Mido in ‘Silence is a Woman’, Andrew Tumbo in ‘The Jungle Book’, Cyprian Osoro in ‘Grass is Greener’ and both Bilal Wanjau and Bilal Mwaura in countless FCA shows this past year.

Equally impressive was the versatility of virtually all the actors’ performances. For while there are those like Victor Nyaata, Cyprian Osoro and Bernice Nthenya who have a special knack for tickling people’s funny-bone (a gift that Heartstrings’ director Sammy Mwangi has also been blessed with), I watched many actors perform in a range of theatrical genres, shifting from comedy to drama to social satire with ease.

But now that new year is about to begin, thespians and other Kenyan creatives are deeply concerned about the Ezekiel Mutua initiative to censor artists’ creative expression with his proposed ‘Film, Stage Play and Publications Bill’. Mutua’s meddling mustn’t be allowed to stifle Kenyans’ imagination which is generating so much joy for the public and also revenue for the country’s thriving creative economy.

KENYAN THEATRE 2016 IN REVIEW


Kenyan Theatre round-up for 2016

By Margaretta wa Gacheru

Kenyan theatre in 2016 had many more wins than loses. There were new theatre groups formed, new theatre venues established and new playwrights who emerged over the past year.

There were also more established groups taking fresh initiatives (like Gilb’Art Productions doing ‘Edufa’ and Aperture Africa doing ‘Jungle Book’); older theatre venues also picking up steam (like Kenya National Theatre); and known writers being more innovative and often more collaborative in their approach to theatrical productions.

The best example of this last notion of creative expression by collaboration is Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s working with Jalada’s Moses Kilolo and his crew to PAWA254’s Mageuzi Theatre among other venues.

But then, there are also other groups, like Heartstrings Kenya, that produce some of their best shows through a collaborative process (like their last play, ‘Behind my Back’). Other groups that work collaboratively to produce wonderfully creative shows are the Nyef Nyef Storytellers who devised A White Wedding, Maimouna Jallow’s ‘And then she said…” and the Performance Collective which dramatized  Yvonne Adhiambo’s ‘Dust’.

There was also good news that came to light as the year drew to a close, when the Minister of Sports, Culture and the Arts, Dr Hassan Wario informed theatre fans at the 2016 Sanaa Theatre Awards that the Kenya Cultural Centre finally had the title deed to the land on which resides the Centre and Kenya National Theatre.

He also told us of the plan (no longer a rumor) to construct a Kenya International Arts and Culture Centre on the land adjacent to the National Theatre. In these announcements, Dr. Wario seemed to be signaling greater support for theatre from the Kenya government in the coming year.

The National Theatre itself was finally being utilized relatively well in 2016 as there were more events staged there than previously: everything from the Nutcracker Ballet and the Sanaa Theatre Awards to June Gachui’s musical extravaganza marking her album launch of ‘June at 20’, Elsaphan Njora performing his ’51 Nzilani, a man on a journey’ and Millicent Ogutu’s staging of ‘Three Fold Cord’.

Fanaka Players continued doing their popular Kikuyu plays at KNT as did Festival of Creative Arts (staging ‘Nuts+’ twice due to popular demand) and even Gilbert Lukalia’s company Gilb’Art Productions put on the West African musical ‘Edufa’ twice at National Theatre this year.

Other amazing venues that attracted attention and substantial audiences in 2016 were The Elephant, especially when Eric Wainaina and Sheba Hirst produced Claudia Lloyd’s enchanting interpretation of original Kenyan folktales, ‘Tinga Tinga Tales’ and The Oshwal Centre where Aperture Africa produced ‘The Jungle Book’ twice during the year.

Both settings were perfect for performances that enchanted both children and adults alike. Both shows also set high standards of professionalism, not only in terms of the scripts, acting and directing but also the costuming, lighting and sound. 

But there were also some disappointments in 2016 One that I found most surprising was the absence of plays by William Shakespeare staged, especially as there have been worldwide celebrations of the 400th anniversary since he passed on.

The other local playwright that I missed in 2016 was John Sibi [Ms1] Okumu who previously promised his public that he would produce one original play a year. He’s been fairly consistent up until now, but we’ll have to wait for his next new script, he says, until early next year. Other outstanding local playwrights who entertained us with original scripts were Silvia Cassini with ‘A Man like You’, Kuldip Sondhai whose historical drama Don Geronimo was revived at Mombasa’s Little Theatre and Sitawa Nambelie for both her new script, ‘Room of Lost Names’ and her older ‘Silence is a woman’ which she just staged at National Museum.

Another disappointment is news that Phoenix Theatre may die in 2017 if it doesn’t pay the rent soon. This is disheartening, especially after great shows like Fences, The Hit Man, Middle Ages and Black Maria Striper were staged well at Phoenix in 2016.

Finally, the biggest disappointment of all in 2016 was Ezekiel Mutua’s audacious move to monopolize power over Kenyan creativity with his aggressive proposal of a so-called ‘Film, Stage Plays and Publications Bill’ in the name of protecting Kenyan morality and children’s minds (as if they don’t already have access to YouTube and the worldwide web on their mobile phones).

The bill is a huge over-reach for a man who’s only CEO of the Kenya Film Classification Board. But it’s also wonderful to see Kenyan creatives taking on this bully-man to ensure 2017 will be an even more artistically innovative than the outgoing year.  





Wednesday, 21 December 2016

POST-TRUTH, OXFORD DICTIONARY'S 2016 WORD OF THE YEAR, VISIBLE ON NAIROBI STAGE


POST-TRUTH PLAYS ON THE NAIROBI STAGE

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 23.12.2016)

At a time when the Oxford dictionaries just recently selected ‘post-truth’ as their 2016 ‘international word of the year’, the local theatre scene has apparently tuned into the same global trend that claims big talk based on hot air and fat egos are more influential than truth and fact.

Staging shows that amplify the power of duplicity and presence, theatre companies like FCA and Heartstrings have lately put on combustible social satires that implicitly make fun of liars and cons who seem to win hearts and minds by being basically deceitful, audacious and passionately self-serving.

In shows like ‘Nuts+’ and ‘Behind your Back’ (both of which were staged last weekend), it’s the biggest and most presumptuous liars who seem to be succeeding simply by making the boldest, most outrageous claims which they pronounce with so much pompous self-assurance that supposedly only fools and simpletons would believe they’re not lying.

The problem is that con-men and con-women have proved in 2016 that it’s not only the simple-minded and semi-literate who fall prey to believing lies. Even supposedly smart people get lost in the miasma of mendacity and Ponzi schemes.

Some might disagree that Nuts+ is a social satire since there’s a man who’s been murdered and a young wife who’s not only charged with bumping her hubby off, but also charged with being mentally sick, so much so that she needs to be locked up for life since she’s supposedly a menace to society.

What’s more, the young woman, Claudia (Helena Waithera) is a survivor of child-abuse inflicted by her step-dad, Donald (Bilal Wanjau) who’s a politician keen to get this smart-ass kid put away for life.

Nuts+ is actually a serious play that grapples with hard-core hot-potato issues, but for me what gives it that satiric edge is the way a scheming prevaricator like Donald has managed not just to become a politically powerful mayor, but also to persuade the public, including the shrink (Mourad Sadat), the prosecutor (Bokeba Mbotela) and even his wife, Agnes (Marianne Nungo) Claudia’s mother, that he’s an honest, good man despite being the worst of the worst.

So seamless are his lies that he almost gets away with locking up the one person who can destroy his political career and quest for power.

Fortunately, it’s finally the Judge (Angel Waruinge) who manages to see through the pretentious plan of both parents, and rule in Claudia’s favor.

But just image the way everyone else was duped by Donald, the child predator and the one who ought to be put away.

Probably, the better example of a ‘post-truth’ play that more flagrantly satirized con-men and women is Heartstrings’ ‘Behind Your Back’ which seriously spoofed so many ways that some Kenyans have learned how to play kleptomaniac games and slip into other people’s shoes (pocket-books and beds) without the slightest pang of conscience.

Stealing other people’s identities isn’t simply a ‘Kenyan thing’ by any means. Sadly, it’s happening all over the world, to the point where hackers can get into people’s personal secrets and even their bank accounts without fear of getting caught.

Amos (Victor Nyaata) is Dominic (Nick Kwach)’s house help but when the boss leaves town (almost), Amos takes on Dom’s identity, all so he can woo the pretty lady, Nyokabi (Adelyne Wairimu) who shows up at his door.

Not quite equipped to step in the boss’s shoes, his pretentious ineptitude is terribly funny, but Nyokabi initially seems impressed. But then the boss shows up, (his flight having been cancelled) and quickly sizes up the scene, so he also pretends to be Amos in order to help his houseman save face.

Their dexterous duplicity is delightful, especially as they swap identities severally, reverting back to the truth, every time Nyokabi leaves the room.

But what’s really fun is when the boss’s mistress Elizabeth (Mackryn Adhiambo) shows up, only to discover her maid, Nyokabi is there, wearing her clothes and pretending to be her.  It’s a shocker, especially as we see everybody’s playing a game.

But the ‘coup de grace’ comes when the Elizabeth’s spouse (Cyprian Osoro) shows up and the whole charade explodes, only showing that post-truth ultimately isn’t likely to last forever. Truth, we have heard, is ultimately bound to win the day. But one can only believe that if you too are a true believer.

Finally, Martin Kigondu’s directing a brand new dramatized production of poetry by Joan Sikand, all about ‘Peace and Love’ with music by Checkmate Mido and Serro, dance by Brigette Ikwara and a cast including Nick Ndeda, Angela Mwandanda and Laura Ekunbo. It’s happening at The Tribe Hotel January 6th and 7th.




Saturday, 17 December 2016

GIFT GIVING WITH KENYAN ART

GIFTING KENYAN ART

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted December 16, 2016)

It’s never easy to know what to give a special family member or friend at Christmas that is novel and new. You’d like to surprise them with something they didn’t even know they ‘needed’ but once you’ve given them, they’re delighted to have it.

SENTIMENTAL ART
The Family portrait by Seth 'Sketcher' Odhiambo
Nobody feels good about giving something that you value but once given, you suspect it will either be tossed in a bottom drawer or into the garbage. So gift-giving isn’t easy.
Why not try gifting art to the special people in your life. You can do so by spending a little or a lot, depending on your taste and that of the gift-recipient.

Probably the surest gift you can give is something sentimental, for instance, something associated with their family. There’s also fine art that is functional, be it for their home, their wardrobe or something that will brighten up and beautify their life.
Family portrait by Jack Birgen
Graphite portraits of family are one of the easiest yet most appreciated gifts you can give. There are quite a few outstanding Graphite artists in Kenya who, when given a family photograph, can replicate that image perfectly or as close to perfection as you can imagine. Most of them are quite reasonable price-wise. And I can assure you, family will be thrilled a nicely-mounted drawing to hang on their wall. Among the artists best known for their pencil portraits are Seth ‘Sketcher’ Odhiambo, Nicholas Odhiambo, Jack Birgen, Bebeto Ochieng Thufu and Victor Opiyo. The easiest way to find them is on Facebook.

FUNCTIONAL ART
                                 Outdoor/Indoor dining room set in wood sculpted by Elijah Ogira

Functional art consists mainly of home furnishing that are extra-ordinary, often organic as in they are made out of natural wood and hand-carved by a sculptor who knows how to enhance the elegance, beauty and eye-catching originality of their work.
Gakunju Kaigwa with his wood root mirror frame@Art Space

One of the best-known Kenyan artists who specializes in functional art is Gakunju Kaigwa who creates everything from benches, stools and chairs to mirror frames, coffee and dining room tables.

     Kenyatta University Art Lecturer Anne Mwiti sitting on Gakunju Kaigwa wood seat

Elijah Ogira is another outstanding sculptor who creates functional art, including bed-frames that are beautiful. Both artists are environmentally sensitive and only work with found wood to create one-of-a-kind functional works of art.
PAINTINGS & PRINTS
      Patrick Kinuthia's landscape paintings&portraits can be bought either as an original or a print
Prints and paintings. Beautiful paintings by local artists can easily be found in galleries and art centres, ranging from One Off, Circle Art and Banana Hill Galleries to GoDown and Kuona Trust where one can visit artists in their studios where they’re at work. Prices for paintings, be they landscapes, portraits or abstract art, can run from one thousand to one million shillings and more. But you’ve a tight budget, the best way to go is to buy prints of original paintings by everyone from Jak Katarikawe and Patrick Kinuthia to Yony Waite, Dennis Muraguri and John Silver Kimani.
Signed print by Jak Katarikawe of his original oil painting now at Nairobi Gallery
FASHION ACCESSORIES
Michael Soi with his hand-painted fashion bags were on exhibit at the Italian Institute of Culture in 2016
Fashion accessories are always fun items to receive since they invariably add a touch of luxury to one’s wardrobe and even notoriety. For example, Michael Soi’s hand-painted tote bags are all one-of-a-kind items that Soi initially publicized on Facebook. But then, once Kenya’s own Academy award winning actress and model Lupito Nyong’o got one and showed it off to the paparazzi photographers who populate her life,
A happy recipient of a Michael Soi Afro-Beauty bag

Soi’s sales in these sturdy Afro-beauty bags began to soar and have been flying out of Soi’s GoDown studio as quickly as he can create them.
ICONIC WOOD CARVINGS
The Last Supper in mahogany wood carved by Rwandese artist Bahimba

As we’re in the Christmas holiday season, receiving a polished, hand-carved wood panel portraying an iconic image like ‘The Last Supper’ might be a truly memorable gift. Created by Rwandese artist Bahimba Thaddee Macumi who also carves amazing tables and chairs, the wooden panel is a cross between a painting and a wood sculpture. Bahimba can be found at his workshop in the Kivuli Centre in Riruta, Dagoretti or on Facebook. He also makes beautiful checker-board-like rugs and carpets with goat and cow skins.
OUTDOOR SCULPTURES
         Scrap metal sculptures of birds and Gazelles are just a few creatures made by Kioko Mwitiki
Outdoor sculptures can have a stunning impact on the recipient of such a gift. They are best given to someone with a garden since they deserve to have a bit of space to be seen and appreciated. Kioko Mwitiki is Kenya’s best known scrap-metal sculptor whose specialty is monumental wildlife sculpture. He’s especially popular for his life-size elephants, rhinos and giraffes which he often exhibits in the USA at the San Diego Zoo in California. Kioko’s art is so well received at the Zoo that he fills whole containers with his metal creatures. His Pimbi Gallery in Lavington is the easiest way to find him. It’s also where one can see his marvelous menagerie of wildlife sculptures which come in all sizes, not only life-size but miniature as well.

WALL MURALS
         Lupita Nyong'o on wall at the GoDown Art Centre by Graffiti artist Bankslave (Kevin Esendi)
Finally, one gift item you may not have considered before is a wall mural made either with paints (be it acrylic, spray or wall paint) or mosaic tiles.

You can have one painted or put up on a wall inside your home, be it in a child’s nursery, a kitchen or sitting room, or outside on a garage or front door, a side wall or even on a front or back gate. You can see Maryann Muthoni’s mosaic tile murals at the entrance of Two Rivers mall, Graffiti wall art at the Railways Museum and Dust Depo, and mosaic scrap metal sidewalks at Kitengela Glass Trust.
You can also buy hand-blown glass beads at Kitengela Glass Trust (blown in this glass bead 'Hut' where mosaic glass tiles are everywhere, on the walls, in the doors, used as windows and even on sidewalks.
  


CELEBRATING THE HOLIDAYS WITH ERIC WAINAINA AND KING DODGE'S NEW MUSICAL

CELEBRATING THE HOLIDAYS WITH SONG

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 16.12.2016)

‘Tis the season’ to be jolly and to sing with joy and storytelling that inspires others to appreciate the finer things in life, such as family and friends, beauty and creative expression.
Eric Wainaina singing with his 7 year old daughter 'Noel' at The Elephant. show to be aired Christmas day on NTV
Last weekend, ‘Tis the season’ was the title of a wonderful musical medley made up of many of Kenya’s brightest and most beautiful voices, accompanied by an excellent band including trumpeters, keyboard players, guitarists and drummers.

It all happened in Lavington at The Elephant Club, produced by Sheba Hirst, directed by Kenya’s most popular crooner Eric Wainaina. It was moderated by the delightful duo, Patricia Kihoro and Elsaphan Njora,
with mainly classic Christmas carols sung in such a funky, R & B style that even small children were on their feet dancing to the rhythmic renditions of everything from ‘The Little Drummer Boy’, ‘Away in a Manger’ and ‘Go tell it on the mountain’ to ‘We Three Kings’, ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ and ‘God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen.’

Sung with a polish, poiseand professionalism that has come to be associated with all of Sheba Hirst’s productions, the vocalists included Eric and Patricia of course, but also Noel Nderitu, Karimi Wamai, Chris Adwar, Atemi Oyingu (who also slipped in a bit of Beyonce’s ‘Drunken Love’) and Kanju Mbugua among others.

But the shining star of the night was Sheba and Eric’s seven year old daughter Seben who sang ‘The First Noel’ (accompanied by her dad) with show-stealing style!

The Good News is that if you missed the live performance, it will be shown on Christmas Day on NTV in the afternoon.

Meanwhile, the other musical gift to be screened this coming Sunday at Ngecha Art Centre is ‘Wendo wa Mbomboi’, a production scripted and directed by King Dodge Kingoroti. Loosely translated from the Gikuyu, the title refers to a children’s game called ‘Mbomboi’ that Dodge recalls playing as a child. It’s also the game that three young girls are playing as the film opens and which two boys innocently interrupt. So the title translates is ‘Love of Mbomboi’, suggesting the child-like innocence of the love that unfolds in the film.

Yet there’s nothing innocent about the old men subsequently negotiating the child marriage of one of the girls to one of the old men as they drink muratina (honey beer) and carelessly plan to deprive the young girl of her agency, her right to choose and the first love of her life.

She rebels, taking the only way out that she can see, which is suicide. I won’t be a spoiler and disclose what happens next. You will either have to go to Ngecha to see the film at 2pm when you can watch the film and meet the cast. Or you can get the DVD from Dodge.   

King Dodge wrote Wendo wa Mbomboi some years ago; but out of concern for the disappearance of beautiful Gikuyu songs that he could see were being forgotten by the present generation, he decided to revive his play and also film it for present and future generations.




Friday, 16 December 2016

FIVE PIONEERING EAST AFRICAN ARTISTS AT NAIROBI GALLERY TILL APRIL 2017

FIVE VETERAN EAST AFRICAN ARTISTS SHOWCASE@NAIROBI GALLERY
By Margaretta wa Gacheru 17.12.2016

Most Kenyans don’t seem to have much interest in their history. We’re so busy living in the present, interacting with our cell phones and our social media, we don’t have much time to reflect and research into our past.
Francis Nnaggenda's Mother Goddess Africa at Nairobi Gallery

Yet we have been giving some thought to our heroes these days. Yet most of the heroes we celebrate are defined in terms of politics, which is great and important, especially when we are thinking about freedom fighters.

But how often do we think about cultural freedom fighters, artists who came forth to pave the way for our current crop of visual artists, our sculptors and painters as well as those experimenting with various media which is a common theme and interest among Kenyan artists today.

At Nairobi Gallery (just next door to Nyayo House, in the old PC’s headquarters), the art of five East African artists who the exhibition’s curator calls ‘pioneers’ are on display from last Saturday December 17th up to April  2017.

Several of the five are Ugandans, which is understandable given they had their own Fine Arts School way back in the 1930’s. The late British artist Margaret Trowel saw the rich artistic potential among her students at Makerere University. Thus, an art school established in her name created an atmosphere conducive to emerging African artists taking hold and developing that creative capacity.

Ironically, three out of the four Ugandan artists in the East African pioneers show didn’t attend Makerere officially. Only John Odoch Ameny did
and Jak Katarikawe was technically tutored by s Tanzanian lecturer in fine art at the university, Sam Ntiru.

Otherwise, Jak didn’t attend much formal schooling at all. But he had talent which got spotted by another University man who set Jak on the road to a creative arts career. Two of his signed prints are available at the gallery

Francis Nnaggenda got his fine arts training elsewhere before he came to be head of the Fine Art Department at Makerere. He spent quite some time in Kenya and his biggest fan was the former Vice President of Kenya, Joseph Murumbi.

One of Kenya’s earliest art collectors, Murumbi tried to interest his fellow government officials to take sufficient interest in the arts to at least buy a few pieces and at most, help him establish a National Gallery of the Arts in Kenya. But then as now, local politicians were not interest in the arts. In general, their chief concern was and is acquiring power and amassing wealth, which is one reason why Murumbi left politics altogether and devoted his life to promoting Pan African arts, including the works of Nnaggenda and OdochAmeny among many others.

Most of Nairobi Gallery (as well as the ground floor of the National Archives) is dedicated to Murumbi’s collections related to culture and the arts. But Richard Onyango, (the one Kenyan artist in the show) and Sanaa Gateja
were too young to be known or collected by the former VP. Yet both are considered as ‘pioneers’ by Murumbi’s former business partner, Alan Donovan, since both men were recognized artists relatively early in the period now commonly known as contemporary East African art.

Richard has two classic paintings in this show, one of old Mombasa, the other portraying a moment in his life with Drosey, the large English lady who sadly died before the two could be wed. The other is of Old Mombasa (below).

Jak also has just two works in this show; both are prints from an earlier time when his creative energies were at their peak.

Nnaggenda technically has just one painting in the exhibition
however, the sculpture that he created back in the Sixties which had once belonged to Murumbi, is just outside the Pioneer Gallery and is one of the most exquisite examples of sculptural work. Another is the ‘Mother and Child’ stone sculpture that stands at the entrance of Nairobi National Museum.

The most prominent artists in this exceptional show are Gateja and Odoch. Both have been experimenting with unconventional art materials long before the current crop of artists recognized the immense freedom they have to explore and experiment with anything and everything, be it smoke (which Evans Kangethe sometimes works with) to soil, sand, newspaper and scrap metal.

Odoch has made his sculptures with everything from type writer bodies to mobile phones, bike chains and other assorted spare parts. The artist’s genius was early recognized in Nairobi by Donovan who gave him exhibitions at the African Heritage Pan-African Gallery since the 1970s. He was subsequently employed for several years at the AH workshops where he advised on production of art and crafts in even more diverse media.

Meanwhile, Gateja was actually an art dealer before he got into doing art himself. Growing up in Uganda, he came to the Kenya Coast where he opened a successful gallery before he shifted to Nairobi and started working closely with Donovan. But it was after he returned to Uganda in the late 1980s that he began working with women groups who he taught to make paper beads that have now become his main medium of creation.
Twins by Gateja

All the artists have luminous works on display at Nairobi Gallery where the PointZero Coffee House has just launched a monthly book series, starting with Yvonne Adhiambo’s readings of Dust.


Thursday, 15 December 2016

SANAA THEATRE AWARDS 2016 THRILLED MANY


SANAA THEATRE AWARDS FILLED WITH GOOD NEWS ABOUT HEALTH & CULTURAL WEALTH OF KENYA THEATRE


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted  December 16th, 2016)

The 4th edition of the Sanaa Theatre Awards came off without a hitch last Wednesday night at Kenya National theatre apart from the Minister of Culture’s late arrival (forgiven after Dr. Wario made a brief speech promising practical means of promoting the Theatre) and George Orido’s exhaustive classification of potential award winners which were more than 40 this year.
 Minister for Culture, the Arts & Sports, Dr Hassan Wario with Sanaa Theatre Awards founder, George Orido. photo by Margaretta

Offering so many trophies was undoubtedly Orido’s effort to be all-inclusive, but for some of us who prefer awards ceremonies that are short and sweet, one may wish to ask Orido to edit his ceremony which went on until almost midnight.

Nonetheless, the selection of awardees this year was a worthy reflection of the local theatre scene. There might have a few gaps, but I would attribute that to the production teams not bothering to contact the local media for promotion of their shows.

The overwhelming winner of awards this year was from Mombasa: nonagenarian Kuldip Sondhai for his production, ‘Don Geronimo’
at The Little Theatre which won six awards: for Best Production; Best Director, Hillary Namanje; Best Playwright, Sondhai; Best Supporting Actress, Stephanie Masike; Best Play in English; and Sondhai being one of the five to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award. (The other four were Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Wasambo Were,
Caroline Odongo and JPR Ochieng Odero.) And if you count the Little Theatre Club of Mombasa’s winning Most Improved Theatre Space (which Sondhai’s production enhanced), then that makes seven awards that the BBC award winning playwright and his cast can claim.

Best actor’s award went to Maina Olwenya
for his role as the Somali ‘terrorist’ in Silvia Cassini’s A Man Like You (which was also staged to appreciative audiences in New York City) which also won for being the ‘Best Tragedy’.

             Maina Olwenya as a Somali 'terrorist' interrogating a British diplomat (Tom Hardy)

Best actress went June Gachui for her role in Three Fold Cord. This looked like a difficult decision for the judges (who included George Orido, Sanaa awards founder, Dr Fred Mbogo, senior lecturer at Moi University and Nicholas Moipei, Chairman of Kenya Cultural Centre’s Board, among others), because June was up against Bernice Nthenya of Heartstrings (below)
and Veronica Waceke (below)
as the  leading lady in Gilb’art Production of Edufa.
In fact, the number of outstanding women actors who surfaced in 2016 was formidable as in the five we saw in “And then she said…” and Nyef Nyef Storytellers performing Sheroes. But at least Nyef Nyef won the award for Best Production on Women’s Rights and Gender-based Violence (the Maya Angelou Award) for A White Wedding which was performed at the newly-devised Storymoja Stage.

Giving two awards for Festival of Creative Arts’ performance of ‘Nuts+’, for Best Production on Child Rights and Protection and Best Production on Reproductive Rights was also an implicit awarding of women actresses since Helena Waithera (below left)
and Marianne Nungo (above, 2nd from left) were also outstanding in that show.

But so was the whole cast of ‘Nuts+’ which is why FCA was smart to bring back the show this weekend at Alliance Francaise.

In the meantime, Eliud Abuto was again awarded best producer this year, not only for his consistency of commitment to Kenyan theatre over the years, but also for his courage to break out of FCA’s comedic mold to successfully stage a seriously challenging script like Nuts+.

Another category that was clearly not easy for the judges to decide was Best Supporting Actor since 2016 was also a great year for guy actors. To my mind Joe Kinyua could have been considered for best actor in the August Wilson classic ‘Fences’ at Phoenix Theatre as well as for best supporting actor in Martin Kigondu’s Who’s Your Daddy?

But the award went to Kenyatta University’s Irshad Abdullaziz for his role in Euthanasia, a man also worthy of the win.

Thanks to Orido’s substantive list of theatrical classifications, there were many more award winners. Sammy Mwangi and Heartstrings tied for Best Director and My Fish My Choice.

Jungle Book won for Best Lighting and Sound while Tinga Tinga Tales won for Best Costuming as well as for Best Musical Theatre.

Awards also went to Jim Chuchu’s The Bones Remember for the Best Innovative Short Film on Health, Youth and Behavior Change, Best Art and Culture TV magazine: The Trend, Newspaper/Magazine: Business Daily Life and All-Time Supporting Institution: still Alliance Francaise.

Even Primary and Secondary Schools, Colleges and Universities got awards this year as did one of the counties. But the jewel in the crown or the President Barack Obama Award for most Dinguished Diaspora Award went to all four nominees, namely Lupito Nyong’o, Edi Gategi, Odera Owiso and the amazing Moipei Quartet, three of whom are studying overseas but happily came home for Christmas.

Happy Holidays to them all!




Monday, 12 December 2016

KIOKO MWITIKI IN 2012 & NOW: STILL A GENIUS JUNK ARTIST


THE GENIUS OF CHANGING JUNK INTO FINE ART

By Margaretta wa Gacheru Posted January 13, 2012

Kioko Mwitiki may not be the first scrap metal sculptor in East Africa. He gives that credit to Ugandan artists.

“First was Francis Nnaggenda,” says the first Kenyan scrap metal artist, referring to the retired chairman of Makerere University’s Margaret Trowell School of fine art.
Sculpture by Francis Nnagganda @ Nairobi Gallery

“Then came John Odoch Ameny,” whose larger than life-size scrap metal sculpture inspired Kioko while he was still a fine art student at KU and Odoch was exhibiting at African Heritage, quietly in exile from the Obote and Amin regimes.

    John Odoch Ameny 'mass communication' scrap metal sculpture@Nairobi Gallery

Kioko also had his own political problems during the 1980s. “I was a recipient of the same ‘walking papers’ that many student activists got in the post-1982 (attempted coup) period,” confessed the one-time Pambana protester.

“There were 70 of us that got kicked out in March of 1985,” recalls Kioko who is still rather proud to have been featured on a front page photo of The Standard that time, when anti-Moi sentiments were very high.

Briefly incarcerated with 28 others, Kioko was eventually called back to KU so he completed his university degree in 1986. But not before he’d picked up one of his most valuable technical skills, and one which he has used and even taught to others almost every day since then.

Frankly needing a job once he was out of school, Kioko found his way to the Nakuru Aluminium Works.

“That was where I learned welding,” says the man who has taught that same skill to countless school-leavers, many of whom have gone on to become self-supporting sculptors who, in turn train their own apprentices.

“One is in Mtwapa where he’s trained a small nucleus of scrap metal sculptors who are doing very well,” says Kioko with an undisguised sense of pride.

“There’s another working the same way in Kangemi and another in Dagoretti,” adds the former Consolata art teacher.

These were his first trainees, young men mainly from Western Kenya who had been sent to him by parents worried that their sons weren’t qualified to do anything constructive with the education they’d thus far received.

Initially, Kioko hadn’t planned to teach. Indeed, after a three year stint teaching art at Consolata Primary, he formally quit the profession to devote himself to his art.

But even while he was at Consolata, Kioko was able to find time to work closely with the Nairobi National Museum and achieve a measure of success with his art.

But teaching evolved naturally when, as his art projects grew both in scale and number, he realized he needed to hire skilled welders to help him with his art.
 
But once he saw it might make more sense to mentor young welder apprentices rather than hire old-hands, Kioko also found he had a role to play in uplifting the lives of ‘grassroot’ Kenyans who might otherwise remain trapped in rural poverty and in a peculiar problem that now plagues his mother’s Wakamba community.

Noting that historically, the Wamunyu Cooperative Society used to provide substantial livelihoods for skilled Wakamba carvers, Kioko says that carvers have fallen into hard times.

“The downside of Wangari (Maathai)’s campaign to save African hardwood forests has hit the Kambas especially hard since it’s practically killed the market for hardwood carvings.”

Having found that former carvers are especially keen to adapt and retrain as not only welders but also stone carvers, Kioko isn’t just teaching skills in welding and working with recycled scrap metal. He’s also seen that places like Kitui are rich in shale stone, which can potentially replace hardwood as the main medium that renowned Kamba carvers can now use.

Seeing himself as a sort of ‘marketing consultant’ as well as mentor, Kioko has also found ways to work artistically with calabash goards which are plentiful in Ukambani too.

Clearly committed to improving the lives of local artisans, it’s almost hard to believe that Kioko finds time to travel abroad and take up ‘guest artist’ residencies for several months at a time. But for the last few years, he’s been spending three-month ‘summers’ in the United States, first at the renowned San Diego Zoo in California, then at the Desert Museum in Arizona.

And even before he attracted the attention of the Foundation for Women which helped organize his recent US sojourns, (and who get 15 percent of the profits he makes from the American sales of his art; it goes toward worthy women causes), Kioko was an invited guest to many parts of the world.
                     Kioko's gigantic orangutan with renowned primate scientist Jane Goodell
Ironically, his first trip overseas was to Montana, USA where he worked with Native American Kootnei Indians teaching skills similar to what he teaches Kamba carvers like Mwema Munyao.

The recipient of a Reader’s Digest/Lila Wallace Foundation fellowship in 1995, Kioko had already been recycling ‘junk’ metal into fine art for several years. So his mentoring among the Kootnei was a kind of continuation of his work reshaping ‘found objects’, such as sundry car parts-shock absorbers, ball bearings, spark plugs and chains, into art.

Subsequently, he’s exhibited in Denmark, Spain, Nigeria, UK and France. Most frequently, he’s been invited by private collectors. However in 2007 he went to London, sponsored by the Kenya Tourism Board, hired to do the d├ęcor for the Kenya Stand at the World Tourism Fair.

Kioko appreciates the importance of marketing not only for Kenya generally but specifically for Kenyan artists and artisans who need to know how to market their work to improve their quality of life.

His own quality of life has improved steadily over the years, to the point where his ‘junk art’ is in such demand internationally that he has had to ship whole container-loads of life-size wildlife overseas—everything from gorilla, giraffe and elephant to whole ‘herds’ of water buffalo, warthogs and wildebeest!

Opening Pimbi Gallery in 1996 also makes him one of the few Kenyan artists to feature an art centre in his back yard.

Nonetheless, Kioko remains grounded with his training of guys like Mwewa, who worked for years at Gikomba until the market dried up and he almost lost hope until he met Kioko who has both trained and employed both Mwewa and his son Munyao.

One other indicator of how grounded Kioko remains is to see how he personally continues to scavenge Nairobi’s major junkyards, in Kawangware and Kariobangi North. It’s been a challenge to get good scrap metal, Kioko claims, since the Chinese were exporting it all up until the Government put a halt to that practice.

The problem of Chinese competition for scrap hasn’t died. But even the Chinese can’t keep Kioko from fulfilling his many dreams.

His latest plan is to set up an outdoor Sculpture Park, complete with galleries, an educational centre and rondovals where visiting artists can stay and work for free “as long as they give back by working with the local Maasai community.”

The park will be about 60 kilometers from Nairobi down Magadi Road and he hopes to open it next year in a place called Kona Baridi.

In the meantime, Kioko continues with his training jua kali artisans and recycling scrap metal to make a form of Kenyan art that he doesn’t mind calling “junk art” since he knows the tremendous skill involved in transforming junk into fine art.