Wednesday, 24 May 2017



By margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 24 may 2017)

Three vintage Kenyan artists will be exhibiting tomorrow for one day only at the courtesy of the Dusit D2 Hotel and the Google Kenya CEO Charles Murito.

Jak Katakikawe, Sane Wadu and Wanyu Brush haven’t an exhibition together since 2008 when the manager of the now defunct Gallery Watutu, Osei Kofi, brought back these pioneering artists to the venue that made them renowned. All three had been nurtured and their artworks taken abroad and sold everywhere from Frankfurt to Los Angeles by the late Ruth Schaffner who’d run Watatu from 1985 till 1996.

Mr Murito responded to our call to assist Jak who despite some of his best works still available for sale, hasn’t had the assistance required to make that exhibition possible. So we are grateful to this local art lover who has a heart for Kenyan art and artists. He also invited the other two share the Dusit Den this coming Saturday.

Meanwhile, one other vintage artists has been exhibiting at the Sankara Hotel since early last week. Timothy Brooke is also in a class of his own. Having come to Kenya at age 3, he grew up along ‘Herds, Flocks and Migrations’ of local wildlife, the kind that populate his current show.

Mr Brooke’s art is neither a clone of the late David Shephard whose realistic animals in the wild attracted visitors from all over the world. But nor is it a clone of all the local copyists who emulate Shephard’s style. Instead, Brooke paints in a more impressionistic style. His strokes are looser and more relaxed. His lifelong familiarity with the elephants, zebra and impala are painted with an affection that makes this show at Sankara quite special.

And having grown up with flocks and herd, Brooke is especially conscious of the crisis affecting the wildlife and potentially the tourist industry. “If things don’t change, I foresee that in 50 years, there won’t be any Kenyan wildlife,” he said pessimistically. This could mean his art is even more valuable since he’ll have recorded the life and demise of Kenya’s most precious living resource.

Meanwhile, there are also youthful Kenyans exhibiting currently. For example, Jesie Otumba has a show on at the British Institute of East Africa. It opened last week, entitled ‘Kingdom Within.”  Otumba who is currently doing a short residency at the Brush tu Art Studio is one to watch since we’ll surely be seeing more of him as his visual repertoire expands. This show is all about chess boards and dark chess metaphors.

Finally, the other up and coming artist who is currently exhibiting Goethe Institute is Kawira Mwirichia. Her show entitled To Revolutionary Type Love opened last week and will run through June 3th.

Upcoming from early June is Circle Art’s innovative show entitled Young Guns which will feature of slew of so=called emerging Kenyan artists. More to come on that story.

And at the Polkadot Gallery in Karen, ’Shades of Gray: the Art of Monochrome (with just a hint of color will up until June 4.

Meanwhile, ongoing shows include Anthony Okello at One Off Gallery and Boniface Maina’s

‘Transition’ at Nairobi Gallery.

On another front, we want to congratulate those Kenyan artists who worked assiduously to make it to the Venice Biennale, especially as they got there after not receiving the funds they’d been promised to set up the Kenya Pavilion by the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Sports.

Some artists have disputed the idea that what’s been set up in Venice is not the Kenya Pavilion since Kenya is not even listed on the docket of countries exhibiting in a pavilion this year. But whether a pavilion or an exhibition of Kenyan art, we’re happy Kenyan artists got to Venice irrespective.

Friday, 19 May 2017



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (

The second Nairobi International Design Conference (NIDEC) is taking place this coming Thursday and Friday, May 25th and 26th at the new University of Nairobi Towers.

Organized by the Design Kenya Society (DKS) in collaboration with University of Nairobi’s School of the Arts and Design, the Conference is bringing together professional designers, academics and design students as well as jua kali designers from all over the world.

“The conference is essentially grounded in the notion of Design as a driving force for sustainable social change in Africa,” says Dr. Lilac Onsanjo, who is the DKS Chairperson as well as Director of Nairobi University’s School of Arts and Design.

Reflecting that same concern for Design as an agent of sustainable social change, the Conference theme this year will be ‘Integrated Design Solutions for a Better Africa: Seeing the Big Picture.”

To explore the topic, the gathering will feature a series of panels, presentations and workshops as well as exhibitions generated by a Design Challenge addressed to students coming from the Technical University of Kenya, Nairobi Institute of Technology and University of Nairobi.

Other Kenyan universities to be represented at the conference are Kenyatta and Moi Universities as well as Universities of Machakos and Maseno.

As Design Kenya Society was established in 2010 as an initiative of the World Design Organization (WDO), board members of WDO will also be attending the conference. They’ll be coming from China, South Korea, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark as well as from Uganda, Tanzania, Botswana and South Africa.

The actual founder of DKS is Professor Mugendi M’Rithaa who was also the president of the World Design Organization from 2012 to 2016. Dr Onsanjo says he will be especially honored at the Conference for his contribution to advancing the dynamic role of design in social development in Africa.

Opening the conference on Thursday, Dr Onsanjo will speak about ‘Design as the Heart of Societal Change.’ But she will be followed by Professor Mugendi who will address the broad theme of ‘Global Design Integration Trends.’ Dr. Mugendi will also be part of a panel focused on the topic, ‘The Impact of Globalization on African Design'.

The keynote address will be given by the South African director of Innovation & Transformation, Africa, Abbas Jamie.

Case studies of local design firms like Kitengela Hot Glass, will be illustrative of how far product design has come in Kenya.

But product design is just one of the design areas that are taught at Nairobi University, says Dr Onsanjo. There’s also interior design, graphic design, fashion and textile design and Illustration, all of which has the potential to play pivotal roles in bringing about positive and sustainable change in African societies.

Dr Onsanjo added that all the papers delivered during the conference will be published in a special edition of Habitat Design, a journal published by University of Nairobi.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017


Breaking News: (posted may 17, 2017)

National Museums of Kenya ban artworks by 3 of Kenya's leading artists, Patrick Mukabi, Michael Soi and Bertiers Mbatia, all of whom were specifically asked to prepare work for Thursday's International Museum Day which is May 18th. It was the top management of the museum (or a minority of the management) that insulted the artists in this way. whoever made this decision should have informed the artists before they worked so hard to create works especially for this exhibition.. Instead, they held meetings with the artists and encouraged them to do as the theme of the exhibition advised--- to Speak the Unspeakable, which they did apparently. Unless the artists decide to have their own Unspeakable exhibition to illustrate the Museum's censorship of the arts in Kenya, we the public wont be able to understand that we need to do as the artists who are now in Venice did. they had put their faith in the Government to be true to its word, that it would support the artists and specifically those involved creating the Kenya Pavilion (the first featuring Kenyans themselves not Italians or Chinese). those Kenyans waited for government to come through but when they did not, the artists found their own ingenious ways of reaching Venice and setting up the Kenya Pavilion. Self reliance is the key to further creative development of the arts in kenya. Don't wait for big brother to come with sweet words only to leave you high and dry. Shame on the National Museum. This is why Kenya needs its own National Gallery, and not rely on a museum that showcases fossils and old bones as the best things they have to offer in the way of Kenyan "culture".



By margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 17 May 2017)

The fine art of three of Kenya’s most acclaimed visual artists have just been censored by the management of the National Museums of Kenya.

The exhibition of works by Patrick Mukabi, Michael Soi and Bertiers Mbatia was meant to open yesterday coincidentally with the National Museum’s celebration of International Museum Day.

The irony of the museum management’s decision is that the theme of the day is ‘Speaking the Unspeakable in Museums.’ So for the museum to tell the artists on the day before the exhibition opening that their artwork is essentially ‘unspeakable’ is contradictory to say the least.

On social media, the museum management’s decision was more precisely called “hypocritical”.

But the Museum’s argument is that its main audience is school children. Their decision is apparently based on the notion that the art would be ‘inappropriate’ for children to see.

As I was informed by the Museum’s Creativity Gallery curator, Lydia Galavu that all the art was packed up, I couldn’t see them first hand. But whatever the works contained that caused the Museum management to take the drastic action of banning the art of three of Kenya’s most esteemed artists, there was clearly a breakdown of communication between the Museum and the artists.

What makes matters worse is that all three artists were specifically asked by the Museum to create art especially for International Museum Day. According to Mukabi, they’d been encouraged to feel free to create works that were in keeping with the theme, which made the last minute decision to effectively ban their art even more disturbing.

Michael Soi says he spent a good month preparing for the exhibition. One can only hope the artists’ works can be shown elsewhere so the public can see what three outstanding artists envisage as ‘speaking the unspeakable’ in any venue other than the National Museum.

Meanwhile, on the performing arts front, tonight through Sunday, Moliere’s ‘Tartuffe’ (The Imposter) will be staged at its Ukumbi Ndogo. Then, tomorrow the Point Zero Book Club meets from 11am to talk about books and see The Performance Collective dramatize those same books. And Kenya Cultural Centre’s new Performing Arts Academy’s registration is still open to fill the last few spaces for this semester.

Finally, the European Union’s 26th Film Festival runs through Sunday at Alliance Francaise and through Tuesday at Louis Leakey Auditorium



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted May 17, 2017)

‘The Journey is the Destination’ is an astonishing film. Screened for the first time in Nairobi last Friday night at the International School of Kenya, the feature film is exceptional for several reasons.

First and foremost, it’s a labor of love orchestrated by a mother who apparently moved heaven and earth to ensure the film was made, and made with tender loving care and a professionalism that’s impressive. So much so I hope it wins independent film awards.

Kathy Eldon wasn’t in East Africa at the time that her only son, Dan died tragically in Mogadishu in 1993. Dan was just 22 but he was already recognized as a brilliant photojournalist who’d landed himself a job at Reuters, one of the most renowned media services in the world.

The story of his daring as well as his demise along with three other journalists, including Kenyans Hos Maina and Anthony Macharia was widely publicized in the international media at the time.

Based on the first three journals created by Dan, it still took a mother to flesh out details of how he’d found himself in Mogadishu right at that pivotal moment when the Americans’ mission in Somalia changed from being humanitarian to becoming militarized.

That fateful change would enflame the local population which had previously been so fond of Dan they’d nicknamed him ‘mayor of Mogadishu.’

But the terms of endearment ended suddenly as Somalis’ rage, reacting to the Americans’ aerial assaults, unleashed the cruel violence that ended Dan’s, Hos’, Anthony’s and Hansi Krauss’ lives in the blink of an eye.

‘The Journey is the Destination’ is ultimately painful and poignant to watch, particularly at the movie’s climax. But that’s another reasons I found the film remarkable, knowing Kathy must’ve been intimately involved in the storytelling.

In the film credits, she’s not listed as a screen writer. But she and her daughter Amy’s Creative Visions Foundation is credited with being a co-producer of the film.

That explains for me how ‘The Journey’ could paint such an intimate portrait of this imaginative, idealistic and multi-talented young man. In fact, what we see in the film is a fun-loving lad who was also a natural leader capable of ‘chaperoning’ a lorry-load of age-mates on safari from Nairobi to Mozambique. Their mission as defined by Dan was to deliver food aid and other bare-boned essentials to refugees displaced by the war in Southern Africa.

Initially, I found it eerie to watch a full length feature film on Dan (played by Ben Schnetzer). I hadn’t known what to expect but once I realized ‘The Journey is the Destination’ was more like creative non-fiction than documentary, I settled in and got fully engrossed in his colorful life story.

What I was also amazed to see was the way Kathy was portrayed by actress Maria Bello in the movie. She was nearly as friendly and flamboyant as Kathy is in real life. But the film also conveyed Dan’s profound disappointment at his mother’s decision to leave home for London and another man.

Most astounding is when he visits her in London and she begs him not to go back to Mogadishu. He says he can’t comply with her wish any more than she could comply with his, when he’d asked her not to leave him and their home.

That level of emotional honesty is ultimately what made ‘The Journey is the Destination’ so touching and indeed so tragic. Cinematic devices employed in the movie-making were also first class, but it was the storytelling that cinched my appreciation of Dan’s bio-pic.

Sunday, 14 May 2017



By margaretta wa Gacheru (

If anyone’s in doubt of Nairobi’s status as a global city, they needed to be out this past weekend to see the incredibly rich diversity of cultures and nationalities living and thriving in the city.

From morning to late night, several dozen communities celebrated and shared their cultures around town. By day it was at Nairobi National Museum that the 5th International Cultural Festival ran from morning until late afternoon. And by night it was at Hotel Intercontinental that the 20th annual Gala dinner of the West African Women’s Trust held a glamourous fund-raiser for the visually impaired children who attend the Kilimani Integrated School.

Apparently it was sheer coincidence that both events transpired the same day, especially as only one country participated in both festivities. That was Nigeria.

Otherwise, the countries that took part in the Museum’s festival were mainly Asian (namely China, Indonesia and Japan) African (Somalia, Sudan and Kenya) and Spanish-speaking (Mexico, Spain and a slew of Latin American states).

European cultures (other than Spain) were not represented, unlike previous years. But no matter since the countries who came to the museum created a multicultural food fest, featuring everything from sushi from Japan, tostadas from Mexico, pepper goat stew from Nigeria and yummy sweets from Indonesia. Kenya’s ‘cuisine’ included Swahili dishes while Somalis also brought traditional foods given freely to all who reach their booth in good time.

Plus practically every country had a chance to perform their people’s traditional songs and dances, from the Chinese (who were taking part in the festival for the first time) and Indonesian to the Somalis, Mexicans and Kenyans. The Museum also laid out ancient skulls and skeletons to illustrate why Kenya’s called ‘the cradle of humanity’.

In all, the global showcase at the Museum was impressive. However, when it came to global glamour, the West African Women’s Trust event was incomparable. From the moment the ladies walked into the InterContinental’s Grand Ballroom, one witnessed a glorious fashion fest.

The men who accompanied their wives were also immaculately attired. But it’s simply a fact that West African women have the continental corner on glamourous gowns made out of brightly colored materials that are classically designed both as dresses with matching headpieces and elegant shawls.  

Having spent time working in West Africa, I was well aware the evening would be an event of high fashion. But I hadn’t known that in a somewhat similar style to the museum, the ladies also organized traditional dances from the 13 Trust member countries as well as popular traditional foods. There were also several performances of traditional cultural practices specifically related to pre-wedding ceremonies, which were spectacular as well.

Among the countries represented by the Trust are Nigeria (which founded the Nairobi-based West African Women’s Trust two decades ago), Ghana, Gambia, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea Bissau, Guinea Conakry, Cape Verdi, Sierra Leone and Mauritania among others. But as the Gala’s Guest of Honor, the Stanbank CEO for Kenya and East Africa observed, the Trust is commendable for its focus on service and advancing the cause of Kenyan education. The women have raised funds to build classrooms and a science lab in slum areas. They’ve given out scholarship to girls enabling them to complete secondary school and university. And currently, they’re fundraising to the Kilimani School that’s got a special unit to serve visually impaired students.

So as glamourous as the ladies of the West African Women’s Trust may be, they are not just beautiful people. They also take serious interest in serving the Kenyan community.

Thursday, 11 May 2017



By margaretta wa Gacheru (posted May  11, 2017)
                                Dickson Kaloki's artwork (e.g.above) will be representing Kenya at L'Atelier 2017

Seven Kenyan artists have just been selected to represent the country in the Barclays L’Atellier Art Competition. 
Selected by a four-man team including professional Kenyan artists and art-collectors, the artworks of the seven will now be sent to Johannesburg, South Africa where they will be judged alongside art coming from a number of other African countries. They include Botswana, Ghana, Mauritania, Mozambique, Seychelles, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia.

                      Jessica Atieno's art will also be representing Kenyan contemporary art at L'Atelier 2017
The seven artists whose names were announced on May 10th are Dickson Kaloki, Jessica Atieno, Lionel Richie Garang, Mwini Mutuku, Maral Bolouri, Elias Mungor’a, and Nadia Wamunyu. All fit the criteria set by the L’Atelier, namely they are between 18 and 35 and they submitted their artworks before the deadline set of April 28th.

The announcement of winners was made at Kuona Trust where the final selection was made by judges Kevin Oduor, Justus Kyalo, Sandeep Desai and William Ndwiga, CEO of the Little Art Gallery.

Elias Mungor'a's art is also going to Johannesburg to compete in the L'Atelier
The Barclays L’Atelier Art Competition has been running in Kenya for the past two years. Prior to that, the competition included fewer African countries. But with the recognition that contemporary African art was vibrant in countries other than South Africa and several others, it was extended to include Kenya and others.

Among artists whose works were selected and sent for adjudication in Jo’burg in the past two years were Jackie Karuti, Onyis Martin, Cyrus Kabiru, Kevin Irungu, Andrew Mwini and Brian Omolo.

Nadia Wamunyu's art is also going to the Barclay's L'Atelier 2017
The winners of the competition will be announced September 13th. We applaud both the seven artists and the judges for making excellent choices.

L’Atelier Art Competition has been happening in Kenya over the past two years, but the competition itself, which comes out of South Africa, started several years ago.

Andrew Mwini Mutuku's and Maral Bolouri/s artworks will represent Kenyan artists at the L'Atelier

Wednesday, 10 May 2017



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted May 10, 2017)

Anthony Okello’s art never fails to amuse or to arouse suspicions that he’s sending an oh-so-subtle message concealed in paintings that has immense visual appeal. His current exhibition at One Off Gallery fulfills both those expectations.

Okello hasn’t had a one-man show for quite some time. So this one was ‘highly anticipated’ by fans who’ve been curious what style of presentation he would make this time.

Calling his exhibition “Black Tie Affair” the title refers to miniature works displayed in one corner of the Gallery which serve as a sort of visual sequel to a previous solo show entitled ‘Class of 2012’. That ‘class’ had been filled with politicians who campaigned prior to the 2013 general elections.

So the ‘black tie’ apparently alludes to ‘class’ members who won in 2013 and now fraternize with fellow ‘black tie’ elites who apparently entertain lavishly, far-removed from their humble constituents. At first glance, his paintings seem simply playful and innocent. That corner is filled as all sorts of animals (from turtles, roosters and donkeys to fish including a sea horse dressed in a full-length fancy orange gown). They’re all dressed up like party people in fancy dress, such that Okello’s works seem shaded with Orwellian ‘Animal Farm’-like ideas. His ‘cut-out’ paper paintings actually have more of a satirical and even allegorical edge to them.

But then the rest of the gallery is filled with ‘portraits; of people which he calls ‘Mug Shots.’ And again, they are attractive faces have a vaguely cartoonish quality to them. But then again on second glance one sees perpendicular lines drawn around or across their faces.

Those lines would’ve remained a mystery, but for the fact of Okello speaking to ‘Business Daily’ and explaining they reference 20th history.

“During the Nazi era, people’s faces used to be measured to determine if they were Jews or Gentiles,” the artist said. “They’d measure the shape and size of noses and other facial features, so those lines would determine people’s fate.

There’s just one painting at One Off that doesn’t have a subliminal message to it. Instead, ‘Me & Water-A Study’ has a cultural connotation related to a series of extraordinary paintings on indigenous Luo folklore that Okello created several years ago. The painting only suggests the magnificence of the massive multi-metered work which (fortunately or unfortunately) was sold and shipped abroad so this piece is a gem suggestive of the genius Okello’s art shows.



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (Posted Appril 10, 2017)

Some folks dispute the fact that Kenyan theatre is alive and well. It’s true, we have seen better days. We’ve seen shows that have had more depth, more passion, and more grounded in Kenyan realities.
              Festival of Creative Arts staged 'Whose Wives are they Anyway?'at Louis Leakey Auditorium in May

But there’s no denying Kenyans have the theatre bug. The recent Kenya Schools Drama Festival easily confirmed that fact. So does the recent opening of a new Performing Arts Studio at Kenya Cultural Centre (KCC) which is taking in new students right now. And so did last weekend’s staging in Nairobi of no less than three production.

One was a clever children’s play performed by kids from Logan Christian School and staged at KCC’s Little Theatre. ‘When did you last hug an orphan?’ was directed by Friends Ensemble’s Ellis Otieno who’s doing important work training children from ages 6 through 12 in performance skills. Kids like Wairimu Makena as Robin and Nkaeha Kaberia as his Princess proved that clever child actors are definitely being groomed at Logan.
                       Prevail Theatre restaged Peace and Love, Joan Sikand's poetry mixed with music and dance

One was a farcical comedy about the way corporate management can creep into employees’ private lives, effectively becoming ‘moral police’. Ironically, we saw ‘Whose Wives are They Anyway?’ several months back under a different title by Heartstrings Entertainment. Fortunately, the Festival of Creative Arts’ version of the script was quite different from the way Sammy Mwangi and his cast staged it.
Logan School, directed by Ellis Otieno, performed 'When was the last time u hugged an orphan

Nonetheless, the basic storyline was the same: Two corporate VPs (Joe Kinyua and Kieran ‘Popo’ Ratanya) take off for a weekend of golf, only to discover the new CEO of their company is staying in the same hotel. The CEO (Veronica Waceke) is a stickler for ‘family values’, insisting she will sack all employees who take vacations without their spouses. Mayhem ensues as the guys, who left their wives to shop, struggle to find surrogate wives so they don’t get fired on the spot.

Both theatre companies did a brilliant job staging farcical moments that fans who came to Louis Leakey Auditorium last weekend found hilarious. The differences in the FCA show were due both to brand new casting and to radical reinterpretation of several characters, including the handyman Wilson (John Kung’u) and the Hotel manager (Victoria Gichora). Nice Githinji, who directed ‘Wives’, was also marvelous as the weepy wife who finds her husband ‘cheating’ on her with hotel receptionist Tina (Valentine Wambui).
                                  Fridah, Brigette and Laura in Peace and Love restaged in May

But the actor that elicited the most robust laughter was Popo Ratanya who played his fellow VP’s ‘wife’. Dressed in drag, and wearing a blond wig, high heels and fancy dress, he stayed in character even when the whole audience was throbbing with laughs at his exquisite transformation.

Finally, the other performance we watched last weekend was a restaging at Alliance Francaise (AF) of Prevail Theatre’s mixed media project called ‘Peace and Love’. Director Martin Kigondu was again effective in transforming Joan Sikand’s autobiographical poetry into a delicious mix of contemporary dance (by Laura Ekundo), music (by Checkmate Mido, Mike Mbogo and a mellifluous Victoria Gichora who was ever on key, even when singing Jony Mitchell a cappella) and spoken word (by Nick Ndeda, Laura Ekunbo and Fridah Muhindi).
                Popo playing his buddy David's surrogate 'wive', dressed in drag, in Whose wives are they anyway?

What made big differences in this version of ‘Peace and Love’ were the venue (AF was far more intimate than The Tribe), the singing (Victoria was magnificent) and Fridah Muhindi who breathed fresh life into the script. Overall, Martin made several subtle changes in the way he dramatized Joan Sikand’s words so there was more fusion of feeling, mood and motion.

Finally, Sitawa Namwalie is restaging “Room of Lost Names’ next month, but many theatre-goers have requested that she please reduce her ticket fees.

Monday, 8 May 2017



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 8 May 2017)
The precarious life of a Kenyan artist was unceremoniously exposed early this week when Jak Katarikawe’s landlord alerted one of Jak’s friends by text that auctioneers were coming Tuesday morning early to cart all of Jak’s possessions, including his art, away.

The reason Shallow Management was taking such drastic action was due to the rent arrears that one of East Africa’s most acclaimed artist owed.

“No, we won’t give him until the end of the week,” Mr Wachira told The Daily Nation. “We informed him he had to pay up and we’ve already given him more than one extension, so this is it,” he added.
The landlord clearly didn’t care that Jak would have nowhere to go, nor that his tenant (a painter whose art hangs in museums and private homes all over the world) could barely walk, having arthritis in his legs. Instead, he said Jak would have to pay for the auctioneers’ transport costs as well as their labor charges. Furthermore, Jak wouldn’t be allowed to leave his Shallow flat until he paid all those bills.

But the landlord was shrewd to contact Alan Donovan, the friend of Jak‘s who first heard about the dire straits the artist was in. If anyone could get Jak out of hock, it was the curator of the Nairobi Gallery who had actually exhibited Jak’s art in the past.
“If we could just sell one of his paintings, we could cover the arrears,” noted Donovan who knew that several of Jak’s best remaining artworks were at Nairobi Gallery (the old Provincial Commissioner’s stone offices next door to Nyayo House). But who was in a position to buy a Katarikawe painting, especially as one could conceivable sell for several million shillings?

This wasn’t the first time Jak had a problem managing his finances. Years ago, after coming to Kenya from Kampala where his artistic talents had been ‘discovered’ by Dr. David Cooke, (the Makerere University professor who’d hired Jak to drive his car), Jak had lived humbly and within his meager means.
He’d set up a sleep-in art studio for himself in the Princess Hotel on Tom Mboya Street. But once he met the late Ruth Schaffner of Gallery Watatu, Ruth moved him over to the Norfolk Towers “for security’s sake”. After she died, Jak had a similar problem with rent arrears, but he was fortunate back then that friends came to his aid and helped him move to his relatively less expensive Shallow apartment.

Jak’s problems largely relate to his paucity of financial acumen. He’d never learned to manage money, especially how to handle the millions of shillings that his art once garnered. Unfortunately, Ruth hadn’t helped in this regard. Instead, she paid his rent with the money he’d earned from his fabulous art sales. She also gave him pocket money whenever he asked, but she never showed him how to invest or even how to open a bank account.
One can’t entirely blame Ruth for what has been called Jak’s ‘donor dependency’. It’s a condition he suffers from due in part to his illiteracy. Back home in Kigezi, Uganda, he’d been the last born in a polygamous home where his father was old and disinterested in paying more school fees. But Jak was also encouraged to believe in European benefactors to take care of him, especially as he painted lovely pictures and always told fabulous stories to accompany his art.

The ex-patriate fans of Jak’s art may not have meant to infantilize the artist, but unfortunately they did. After Ruth died, he apparently lost interest in painting for several years. It was as if he remained in mourning and didn’t have anyone to replace her as a surrogate mother figure.

Currently, Jak’s Ugandan wife Florence stays with him at his fourth floor flat which is filled with his remaining paintings, prints, old photos of happier times and dusty stacks of newspapers. The rest of his family, including his dozen children and uncountable grandchildren are nowhere to be seen. When his artwork was selling well, his flat was often filled with distant relations who were happy to hover around the acclaimed artist. But once his funds dried up, they all disappeared. Meanwhile, Florence has begun to paint herself, emulating her husband’s style and taking pride in her plagiarizing skills.

Fortunately for Jak, just as the eleventh hour arrived, Donovan managed to interest one well-to-do client in buying one of Jak’s paintings, conceived during what’s considered his ‘heyday’ in the 1980s. The client hadn’t quite made up her mind, but she was prepared to put down a deposit on ‘The Family’, a joyful painting that was probably created when Jak was collaborating with Dr Eric Krystall and his Family Planning Private Sector art project.

The deposit was just enough to cover Jak’s arrears. Donovan had managed to meet the deadline the landlord had given him to settle the artist’s arrears. “We sent a check over directly to Swallow Management,” said Donovan whose good deed has practically saved Jak from being thrown out on the street the following day.

Nonetheless, Jak can’t answer the question of how he’ll pay next month’s rent which is Sh44,000. He says he’s now back to painting and hopes to have an exhibition soon. But his long-term plan is as precarious today as the day the landlord set his SMS.
On Facebook, a number of Jak’s fans are suggesting they set up an online account for the artist’s friends living abroad to assist in his upkeep. Ideally, that will happen, but again it will have to be a benefactor of Jak’s to provide the skills required to give him the sort of security that he really needs. In the interim, Jak says his trust in God is his life insurance policy and it won’t let him down.  



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 8 May 2017)

The 57th Venice Biennale is the largest and most prestigious art exhibition in the world. And when it opened May 10th, Kenyan artists were there to participate in the festivities.

Among those who made it to Venice include the six artists selected to exhibit their artwork in the Kenya Pavilion as well as Pavilion curator Jimmy Ogongo and several others.

 It’s an historic moment for Kenya since previous Kenya Pavilions were filled with non-Kenyans, either Italians or Chinese! But this year is different, thanks to the rallying of local artists two years ago who compelled the Kenya Government to commit itself to supporting a Kenya-run Pavilion.

Then, with follow-up from Ogonga and Michael Soi, Kenya’s Minister of Culture, Arts and Sports, Dr Hassan Wario even wrote to the Biennale Board giving government endorsement to the kenya-run pavilion. Wario even established a Commission on the Kenya Pavilion and appointed the National Museum’s Dr. Kiprop Lagat its Chairman, made Lydia Galavu its Project Manager and Ogongo the Pavilion curator.

Initially, things seemed to run smoothly as Dr Wario committed government funding to the project. Ogongo also selected the six Kenyan artists to exhibit in the Kenya pavilion, namely Paul Onditi, Peterson Kamwathi, Richard Kimathi, Arlene Wandera and Ingrid Mwangi.

However, the promised funds has yet to come through. Nonetheless, the intrepid artists made it to Venice, assisted by assorted friends who believe in Kenyan artists and the importance of them being there in Venice.

“It may be that the funds were merely delayed and may be coming soon,” said Dr Lagat hopefully.

But the artists were not willing wait “till kingdom come”. They found their own means of getting there and we congratulate them for so doing.



BY Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 8 may 2017)

Spanish artist and architect Veronica Paradinas Duro understands that the best way to promote Kenyan art and artists on a global platform is to get them online in an attractive visual art gallery that can bring their best works to the attention of international audiences.

Her GravitArt Gallery is such an online art space. It’s one that Veronica, 32 has been planning since late last year. But she’s been meeting up with local artists ever since she first arrived in Kenya three years ago.

She’d been invited by a team of European architects to come here and join them after they’d seen the quality of her work online. She couldn’t resist accepting the challenge and seeing what opportunities might open up to her in Nairobi.

Over the last three years, she’s designed everything from private homes to public offices. But as she’d done a double major at University of Madrid in both architecture and fine art, she wasn’t fully satisfied doing architecture without being more actively engaged in the local art scene.

“Through my architectural work, I learned a lot about web design, so it seemed logical to apply that skill in ways that could assist my artist friends who are Kenyans,” said Veronica who launched her website late last week (April 27) with a pop-up exhibition of 11 Kenyan and Kenya-based artists at the Saffron Spa.

“A spa may not seem like an appropriate space to have an art exhibition,” said veronica who had been an arrangement with Saffron’s management to keep last Friday evening open just for her exhibition of artists’ works that are also the first 11 on her website.

“Unfortunately, there were a few [spa] clients who came for appointments that night,” she added. But it all worked out well in the end since the spa itself is an elegant venue that was beautifully well lit for an exhibition of paintings and sculptures that were easily found all over the spa.

“One of my Spanish friends is a chef so he created a creative culinary installation that was also quite beautiful,” she added.

The 11 artists whose works are on still display and which will be until …. May… are Abusharia Ahmed, El Tayeb, Dickson Kaloki, Justus Kyalo, Shabu Mwangi, Dennis muraguri, Peter Elungat, etc.

Veronica isn’t certain when or where she will have another pop up exhibition, but the current one is filled with colorful, mainly abstract expressionistic paintings, clearly a style that the curator admires.

An artist in her own right, Veronica is quite versatile as she blends fine art into her architectural work. Her most recent focus has been on etching in brilliant colors

As for the artists she has selected to highlight first, what makes her selection exceptional is that most of them have produced fresh new work, coincidentally with their online debut at Gravitart. The most stunning change one could see in artistic style is with Fitsum who is best known from his striking and powerful faces. But at the spa, he has gotten much more playful blending a glorious mix of bright cacophonic colors. He still works around a human face within a brighter almost carnival-like context.

What’s clear about the first 11 artists is they are keen to open up their artwork to wider realms of appreciation which is likely come forth. The assurance comes not just from the quality of their own art but that of veronica’s web design which is simple, clear, and comprehensive.

Friday, 5 May 2017


Evans Maina Ngure’s first inspiration was his father who showed him how to draw cartoons and cars. He was fortunate to have had art classes up through Kenyatta University where he majored in painting. It was at KU that he was first encouraged to create art using ‘unconventional materials’ which naturally led him to start working with what other people called junk. Today he works with an assortment of found objects, such as zippers, spare parts from cars, buttons and used belts from Gikomba. He continues to ‘paint’ however his canvases are also filled with junk items. He also creating wearable art such jewelry, wind chimes, collages, back packs and purses. But his current exhibition at BIEA focuses on the creation of creatures, both wild and domestic which he designs with more ‘unconventional materials.”

Evans has exhibited all over Nairobi, from the Village Market, Dusit D2 Hotel, Nairobi National Museum, K1 Flea Market, Nairobi Gallery and ISK. His artwork is also available to see on Facebook (evans maina Ngure) and Instagram (Evans Ngure).

‘IRREPLACEABLE’ is an exhibition celebrating endangered species that are crucial to the continuity of life on planet Earth. He chooses to create this series of collage art to raise public awareness of the threat posed to the animals he’s created by human activities which have been the cause of pollution, climate change, degradation of all eco-systems and finally the potential extinction of not only animals but human beings as well.

Thursday, 4 May 2017


BY Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted May 5, 2017)

Ever since he shot to fame in 1990 by winning the ‘Win a Car’ Championship, Fernando Anuang’a has performed his Maasai-styled contemporary dance literally all over the world.
Anuang’a returns to the Kenya stage this Saturday when he’ll dance from 4pm at Alliance Francaise. The Kenyan choreographer and dancer will perform his latest choreographed solo piece entitled ‘Traditional Future’.

The Paris-based dancer fell in love with the Maasai-style of vocals and movement during his secondary school days when he first performed at the Kenya National Music Festival. Soon after that and after making that major ‘splash’ during the ‘win-a-car’ competition, Anuang’a joined the Raw Watts contemporary dancers and hasn’t stopped attracting global audiences ever since.

But it was during his travels with the African Heritage Festival in the 1990s that Anuang’a decided he’d have a better future dancing his way around Europe. Making his base in Paris, the Siaya-born dancer has been choreographing and performing his own original works ever since.

‘Traditional Future’ has already been staged in France and Italy, but it will make its Kenyan premiere tomorrow afternoon. It was originally choreographed while Anuang’a was working at the Studio Akili in Lamu. Since then, he’s performed it at the Musee du Quai Branly in Paris. It was produced by the renowned French Fashion Designer Pierre Cardin. Subsequently, he danced it at the Theatre Cucinelli in Solomeo, Italy.

Anuang’a’s initial appeal was not just his style of Maasai dance. It was also his beautifully-toned and taut body which he covered in red ochre paint mixed with cow fat. Dressed in a brief red loin-cloth that he’d sparingly draped and snugly wrapped around his waist, the only other accessories he wore were a beaded Maasai necklace and belt.

Anuang’a style of contemporary dance works well with his scanty Maasai-like attire since he seems to flex every single muscle in his lean, muscular body as he performs, moving in a sensual style that only enhances the Maasai mystique.

Meanwhile, at Kenya Cultural Centre the Nairobi Performing Arts Studio just opened its second semester registration for classes that will begin May 15. Further details can be found at the NPA-studio website and on social media.

Monday, 1 May 2017



Nuru Bahati’s Labor Day exhibition, featuring more than 60 black and white paintings together with his prints, posters and stickers had to be one of the smartest and most successful art shows that I’ve seen in quite some time. It was also the shortest art exhibition that I’ve attended in years. It only ran for less than half a day, from 2 to 5pm at the Dust Depo Studio.

Nuru’s a veteran in the Nairobi art world, having seen enough shows to know that exhibition openings are what attract the art-loving public to come see what’s showing. Openings are also when people are most inclined to buy the exhibiting artist’s works.

That’s not to say that Nuru’s a mercenary, painting solely for the sake of sales. But he is a pioneer in the genre of portrait painting that he named biro art. He’s also watched as a multitude of ambitious young Kenyan artists have jumped into that field, saturating the market. So as his current exhibition illustrates, he’s largely moved on into a new field of painting and drawing which is steeped in symbolism and designed in a puzzle-like style.
The only remnant of his previous mode of biro art is one masterful painting of Fela Kuti. The rest of the works in his show cover a wide range of concepts, many of which are depicted with easily identifiable images—everything from safety pins and butterflies to elephants, rhinos and snipers armed with AK47 machine guns. So the imagery might look straight-forward. But the way he assembles and juxtaposes those seemingly simple images, blending them with humor, acuity, irony and a touch of outrage, is anything but easy..

On the contrary, Nuru creates art with a clear intent to get his audience contemplating the meaning of his graphic designs. His work cannot be described as either realism, expressionism, impressionism or even semi-abstract art. Instead, each piece is like a puzzle that one either bypasses as baffling. Or he appreciates for the mystery message that’s apparently hidden within each artwork. So each painting poses a challenge to the viewer: To figure out the message, one must decipher the meaning of each symbol and then connect the dots!
What I found most intriguing about Nuru’s show is the sight of so many young people standing in front of his artworks trying to figure out what each one meant. For instance, what did a safety pin, a planet Earth and a butterfly mean in sum? What did a silhouette of Donald Trump with one man stabbed but seated inside Trump’s outline and atop an upside down Africa imply? And why was the silhouette embedded inside a pussy cat? Might we call Nuru’s style ‘surreal’? I think so.

And what did a smartly dressed man having a light bulb for a head, a brain shaped like a globe focused squarely on Africa and a computer in his hand mean? For me this last image reflected the title of Nuru’s show, which was ‘Rise’. That’s to say it symbolized the rising of the region through technology being rapidly mastered by Africans who are on the move.

Some of his drawings were darker and more disturbing, but all demanded you give them a second or third look. What was most refreshing about Nuru’s show was how many students had attended. Also, how many actually bought samples of his art. Granted the biggest sales were of his ‘stickers’ which were miniatures of his larger paintings. At 50 shillings a piece, Nuru offered a youthful public an opportunity to own an image or two of Nuru’s memorable showcase. His most expensive painting was the one of Fela Kuti But even then, his art’s actually affordable and attractive to young art-lovers as his posters and prints are still priced as less than Sh50,000.  


BY margaretta wa gacheru

Villa Rosa Kempinski hotel can be applauded for partnering with Kenyan artists invited via Kuona Trust to spend a working week at their place, painting everywhere from the front lobby and Lucca restaurant to the K-Lounge Gardens and the Balcony Bar.

Transforming the notion of ‘public art’ from being static statues and monuments into performance art, it was the artists themselves who were ‘performing’ as the public (including hotel guests and staff) witnessed the process of Kenyans creating fresh new artworks in the course of five days.

Wasanii Jukwali Edition 2 (WJ2) had a whole new crop of artists compared to the commendable crew who took part in last year’s WJ1. The big difference between the two events is that 2017 is when Kempinski Hotels are celebrating 120 years since the global group was founded by Berthold Kempinski in Berlin back in 1897. Thus, anniversary celebrations became the central theme suggested to the 14 artists invited to be part in WJ2.  

Last Saturday night’s exhibition, held in the Hotel’s Grand Ballroom, was a beautiful illustration of the wealth of Kenyan artists’ originality and imagination. For in a sense, they were constrained by the Kempinski concept unlike last year which was open ended. But the artists made the most of the theme, each treating the topic in their own individual way.

For instance, Hunnington Gwanzu’s “Transition” highlighted the historical notion of time-travel, from 1897 up to 2017. Waweru Gichuhi’s ‘Beginning of a Dream’ depicted the physical process of the Hotel’s construction; while Anthony Maina offered a bird’s eye view of the luxurious trappings of Kenpinski’s elegant tented camp in Maasai Mara.

Then there was David Thuku whose fascination with hotel uniforms were graphically depicted in paper cuts, Anne Mwariri who painted a 19th century gaslight and Brian Nyabuti who drew regal hotel furnishings from the Victorian era..

There were three of the 14 who focused on Berthold Kempinski, Ian Njenga, Tabitha wa Thuku and Elijah Mutua. Of the three it was Ian Njenga’s charcoal drawing of Mr Kempinski riding in his fashionable Model T Ford that grabbed public attention on Saturday night. Tabitha’s portrait was also super-realistic and Elijah’s was set against a colorful backdrop that also showed how the man’s influence has transcended time and space.

But the 17 year old artist who’d been expelled from school for drawing what his headmaster believed was ‘demonic art’ was the star of the night! Ian’s drawing didn’t suggest he was a teen as his talent was apparent in his skillful rendering of Kempinski’s facial features as well as his girth.

There were several artists who didn’t feel compelled to stick with the anniversary theme. Nadia Wamuyu, Mike Kyalo, Nayianoi Sitonik and Michael Musyoka all had their minds set on following their own artistic design which frankly added interest and contrast to the overall exhibition.

The one disappointment of the night was the omission of the Art Auction which had been advertised in advance and which could have taken place if someone hadn’t insisted that nobody ‘local’ could conduct an art auction. Apparently, they believed only an imported expat professional auctioneer could do the job, which was not true. To make up for the disappointment, Kempinski’s Marketing Manager Mwingirwa Kithure has promised the hotel will exhibit all the artworks in the hotel for the entire month of May.