Friday, 30 March 2018

HAWKERS HAVE A PLACE IN WANJOHI’S ART WORLD

                                                              Anthony Wanjohi with his portrait of Chinua Achebe

By margaretta wa gacheru (posted 30 March 2018)

Anthony Wanjohi has never had an identity crisis. He knows he’s a born and bred ‘Nairobi boy’. More specifically, he’s an Eastlander from Bahati, which gives him on edge on the subject matter that he’s currently focused on illustrating in his art.
“A lot of the people that I paint are from my neighborhood,” says Wanjohi who’s been fixated on creating art works around the hawkers of Nairobi ever since he created paintings to submit to the GoDown’s annual art competition of 2017.

“For that show, I painted traffic jams, matatus and hawkers,” says the Kuona-based artist. “I didn’t win [Manjano 2017], but it got me interested in doing more [artistically] with the hawkers,” he adds.
Unfortunately, the ad hoc street sellers that charmed Wanjohi into transforming their lives into photos, prints and paintings can hardly been seen in Nairobi’s city centre anymore. They’ve been cast out of town as undesirables. (Ironically, the street venders have been replaced with scads of glue-sniffers who can be found on nearly every street corner at night in the CBD.)

Fortunately for Wanjohi, he had already built up a substantial archive of images of hawkers, working people who are trying to make a living selling whatever they can on the streets. He’s taken photographs of jua kali salesmen of sweets, sausages, hard-boiled eggs and screw drivers. He’s also snapped (with his humble Nokia smart phone) mamas selling everything from githeri, chapati and steamed maize to spinach, garlic and French beans to bottled water and chewing gum.
“The lady who sells sweets on the street [between cars that are standing still at red lights] always seems to be more successful than the guys,” observes Wanjohi, speculating that it’s probably got a bit to do with her sweet smile.

In any case, it’s those images that the artist translates into paintings or prints. Increasingly, he’s working with prints while using a variety of colors. “I’ll work with the same image but print with various colors,” says the artist who describes himself as ‘self-taught’ but admits he’s found inspiration online, in newspapers and glossy magazines.

“When I was at Pumwani Primary, I used to trace comics like Andy Capp and Tin Tin,” says Wanjohi who never took an art class in either primary or secondary school. “I also liked trying to draw like Gado and Madd in the local newspapers,” he adds.
In secondary school in Kitui, he got involved doing set designs for school theatre productions. “My last two years in secondary, I created backdrops for school plays, which I really enjoyed,” he says.
Soon after school, he heard about Kuona Trust when it was still based at The GoDown Art Centre. “From 2005, I used to hang out there and look at the artworks,” he recalls. But due to financial constraints, he wasn’t in a position to pay rent to join either Kuona or GoDown. Instead, he worked at jobs that put bread and butter on the table.
“I pumped gas for a few years. I also did some construction work,” he says. Nonetheless, Wanjohi felt the one thing he could do well was his art. When he wasn’t working 7-5, he was either drawing or keeping track of the local art scene through Facebook and his regular trips to the cyber cafĂ©.

By 2016, he finally figured he had better take his art more seriously and went to apply for a studio at Kuona Trust, which was recently re-named the Kuona Artists Alliance. “I finally got space there in January 2017, and I’ve been there ever since.”
Initially, he was painting, but then he was shown how to make prints by David Thuku, one of the founders of the Brush tu Art Studio who is currently based at Kuona. He now spends practically all his time creating vivid prints of Nairobi’s ‘jua kali’ sales folk. Unfortunately, the City Council still wants to treat them like vagrants; but to Wanjohi they are some of the hardest working people in town.

Wanjohi’s ‘Hawkers’ series of prints can be most easily seen by visiting his studio at Kuona in Kilimani.
  

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

2nd NAIROBI FILM FESTIVAL HAS AFRO-CENTRIC FOCUS


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted March 28, 2018)

The second edition of the Nairobi Film Festival took off last Tuesday night at Prestige Plaza with the Kenyan premiere of Likarion Wainaina’s Berlinale award-winning feature film Supa Moda.
Last year when Sheba Hirst took the brilliant initiative to organize the first Nairobi Film Festival, she also had the chance to premiere a Kenyan film, Mbithi Masya’s ‘Kati Kati’ which went on to win numerous awards.
But this year, the Festival is premiering no less than three Kenyan films. There’s Supa Moda, produced by One Fine Day Films and Ginger Ink; Philippa Ndisi-Hermann’s documentary film on Lamu entitled ‘New Moon’ and produced with assistance from DocuBox; and Tosh Gitonga’s ‘Disconnect’, a Nairobi-based romantic comedy that will be screened this coming Sunday night from 7pm.
Otherwise, this year’s Nairobi Film Festival has as its theme Contemporary African Cinema. That’s to say, the criteria used for selecting which films would be screened this time round were Afro-centric. As such, all the films being shown during the festival have an African director, a largely African cast and have been shot primarily on the African continent.
The Festival ends this Sunday so there is still time to see films made everywhere from Burkina Faso (‘Walley’, today from 12:30pm), South Africa (‘Vaya’, today from 5pm), Mali and Guinea Conakry (‘Wulu’, Saturday from 7:20pm), Liberia (‘Silas’, Sunday from 5pm), Swaziland (‘Lilana’, Sunday from 12:30pm) and Zambia (‘I am not a witch’, Saturday from 5pm) as well as Kenya (‘Watu Wote’).  
‘Watu Wote’ will be one of a number of film shorts and animations which will be shown tonight from 7pm in collaboration with DocuBox and the British Council.
One will also have a second chance to see ‘Supa Modo’ on [Ms1] Saturday afternoon from 1pm if you missed it opening night. It’s a charming yet bittersweet story about a little girl (played by newcomer Stycie Waweru) with a terminal illness but a gigantic imagination and large love for super-heroes.
Written by a team including Mugambi Nthiga, Silas Miami, Wanjeri Gakuru and Kamau Wandugu, ‘Supa Modo’ had generated a big buzz even before it had its World Premiere in February at the Berlinale Film Festival.
Back in November last year, the world sales rights were already acquired from Tom Tykwer, the German founder of One Fine Day Films by another German film firm, Rushlake Media which had previously acquired ‘Kati Kati’ as well.
But besides the festival offering Kenyans the chance to see some of Kenya’s finest new films, they will also get to watch cinema by award-winning African filmmakers like the Swiss-Burkinabe Bernie Goldblat, the British-Zambian Rungano Nyoni, the South African Akin Omotoso, the Kenyan-Canadian Anjali Nayar and the Kenyan-German Hawa Essuman.
So for those who feel that it’s time to get out of the rut of just watching movies made in Hollywood, Bollywood, Britain or Hong Kong, now’s the time to catch up on seeing some of the best new African films that are by and about Africans who live right here on the continent.  


SITATI’S ‘REPAIR MY HEART’ DEBUTS AT PAWA254


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 28 March 2018)

Walter Sitati and Hearts of Art have done it again. Tackling touchy social issues in ‘Repair my Heart’ (his newest script), he continues to sound alarms about a range of hot button issues that have yet to be fully resolved.
Staged at PAWA254 last weekend, ‘Repair my Heart’ contains a sobering set of social messages that are still raw in the minds of many. For instance, Sitati addresses the perennial problem of tribalism and its ugliest effects, including hard core hatred, rape, murder, land-grabbing and heartless greed.
Surprisingly, there’s also lot of joy, poetry, music and brotherly affection expressed between friends who come from rival communities. Logan (Boniface Ndonye) and Sky (Elvis Gatere) are a new generation of Kenyan who are less emotional and more inclined to live in the present and not dwell on past grievances.
The two young men share a mutual affinity for music and poetry which comes out in songs they sing. Fortunately, both lads have lovely voices and they harmonize well. Their shared affection is almost too effusive, but we won’t wonder why.
What we know is they’ve both crossed over into tabooed territory by sharing a friendship that both their moms detest.
Meanwhile, Sitati’s got several simmering sub-plots running through the play. He’s a master at interweaving storylines. So while there’s the story of Logan and Sky, there’s also Sky and his girlfriend Mercy (Azziad Nasenya) who gets involved with Governor Carl (Allan Sifuna) who’s Logan’s older brother. Carl’s running for reelection with his main contender being Sky’s sister, Sophie (Tracy Amadi).
Sophie’s the first one to display a bitter brand of tribal hatred. It’s towards her brother’s friend Logan whose brother, Carl, sexually abused her when they were first running for office, and she was about to win. That time she lost but she’s refused to give up and is running again.
In this case, rape was definitely used as a weapon of political warfare. Carl’s wicked mum (Grace Waihuini) had actually been the one recommending her son bring Sophie down ‘by any means necessary’ or else he’d be humiliated by defeat.
Making the mum the master-mind of everything from rape and murder to land-grabbing comparable to Kenya’s post-election violence of 2007-8 was an unfortunately choice by the writer. Nonetheless, Sitati resolves his play with such a surprising twist that the same mother is somehow forced to come clean.
In the end, forgiveness, humanity and friendship win the day. But not until Sky’s mum (Ellsey Adhiambo) concedes the day of reckoning must come. One must choose either to hate or forgive. It was tenuous time at play’s end, as one felt the tension and suspense as the mothers teetered on a tight rope till both agreed forgiveness had to win the day. There was no other way.
Sitati’s ending almost didn’t fly but thanks to Ellsey’s incredibly powerful last words, her conviction held sway.
Meanwhile, Brookhouse School achieved what would seem to have been an impossible feat last Tuesday night when they staged three plays by William Shakespeare in less than two hours.
Students ranging in age from 10 to 12 years performed adapted versions of ‘Romeo and Juliet’, ‘Macbeth’ and ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ on a spacious stage that was simply set. And because of that simplicity, the power of each play relied on students’ skillful acting as well as carefully focused lighting, sound and attractive costuming.
Michelle Forsyth is Head of the Primary (Prep) classes at Brookhouse, but she’s also an avid thespian who oversaw the Shakespeare showcase. She also directed ‘Macbeth’ which starred Daniel Gichuru in the title role and Solange Gathu as his conniving Lady Macbeth.
Ms Forsyth was assisted by Carmen McComic and Lynn Herderson in codirecting ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in which the sprightly Puck (Arielle Plumbe) was Oberon’s (Eric Coffie) efficient messenger. Christine Patterson also helped direct the heart-breaking love story, ‘Romeo and Juliet’.
All three plays were adapted for school performances, but still they didn’t lose the impact, drama or comedy of the Bard’s best intentions. Speaking to BD after the show, Ms Forsyth said she loved the idea of putting on three plays at once as it allowed more children to get involved. In all, over 80 kids got to be in the cast.



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CINDERELLA: BALLET AT ITS BEST AT KENYA NATIONAL THEATRE


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 28 March 2018)

Cinderella’s a charming fairy tale first staged as a three-act Ballet back in 1969 when Cooper Rust’s ballet teacher Ann Brodie choreographed Prokofiev’s magnificent music and young Cooper played a ‘Dragonfly’. Since then Ms. Brodie’s ballet has been performed often in America, but last weekend was the ballet’s debut in Kenya at the National Theatre.
Performed by Dance Centre of Kenya’s elite ‘Ballet Company’ who’ve been trained to perfection by Cooper, the ballet brought the audience to its feet on opening night.
With a cast filled with nearly all its dancers in their teens and some younger than that, Cinderella’s story was exquisitely told through dance. The drama of the little orphan girl oppressed by her wicked step-mother (Cooper Rust) and step-sisters (Stella Eising, Kayla Hotz) was heart-rending. It was made all the more poignant by Cooper’s dramatic choreography revealing emotions that ranged from the sisters’ envy and abusive insult to the madam’s mean-spirited cruelty to the agony of a child left without a loved one in her life.
It’s a beautiful story as the orphan’s set free to fulfill her dreams by a fairy god-mother and a charming prince who whisks her away to a ‘happily ever after’ life.
The beauty of all DCK’s ballets is that they retain an incredibly high standard of performance. Last weekend, that high bar of excellence was reached by both principle dancers Tara Brmbota, 15, as Cinderella and Lawrence Ogina, 22, as Prince Desire. But the Fairy God-mother (Lulu Heinel) as well as her angelic entourage were also amazingly adroit on their toes. 
One also must acknowledge Naomi Wambui who created beautifully painted backdrops that added immensely to the charm and elegance of the Cinderella story.
One reason DCK has grown so rapidly since its inception in 2015 is the teaching talent and performing power of the Centre’s artistic director Cooper Rust. To see her perform as she did last weekend is always a joy and a privilege. Her company and all her students benefit by her example since she’s an artist as well as a pedagogue who practices (and performs) what she preaches. What could be better than that!
Next weekend, there will be at least three live performances to go see: Heartstrings’ Hit and Run at Alliance Francaise from April 5th, Back to Basics staging Strangers by Blood at PAWA 254 and Viper in my Nest at Kenya National Theatre annex.



SHAKESPEARE COMES TO BROOKHOUSE


SHAKESPEARE CLASSICS STAGED AT BROOKHOUSE

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 28 March 2018)

How ambitious can any director be to stage three adapted Shakespeare plays in a single evening! For even if they are adapted to suit a half-hour format, and even if all three plays are drastically summarized  and the English simplified, still, Shakespeare’s storylines are not all that easy to follow.
But however formidable the challenge of staging Shakespeare with actors whose ages range from 10 to 12 years old (class 6 and 7), it didn’t daunt Michelle Forsyth, the head of primary classes (also known as ’prep’) at Brookhouse School in Karen.
During the school ‘Arts Week’, Ms Forsyth staged Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream last Tuesday night in the school’s beautiful auditorium. She was assisted by Carmen McComic and Lynn Herderson for Midsummer Night and Christine Patterson for Romeo and Juliet. But still, all three plays had to get the nod of approval from Ms Forsyth.
Refreshingly, the first play, Romeo and Juliet started exactly on time, and each play ran precisely for 30 minutes with a brief ten minute intermission after Macbeth. This in itself was a remarkable achievement since Nairobi plays still have that tendency not to start on time.
All three plays had massive casts; nonetheless, the leads who had the most substantial parts were the best rehearsed and clearest in the articulation of their lines. It was true of Romeo (Stephanie Kamau) and Juliet (Nolwazi Ndlovu), Macbeth (Daniel Gichuru) and his naughty Lady (Solange Gathu) as well as King Duncan (Ibrahim Mughal) and his son Malcolm (Elliot Plumbe), and in Midsummer Night’s Dream, the clearest and most gracefully expressive was Puck (Arielle Plumbe).
Ms Forsyth was wise not to bother with complicated sets, especially given the Bard’s tales were allowed to move quickly from one scene and setting to the next without the encumbrance of time-consuming set changes.
Nonetheless, costuming was something that had been given some serious thought, as when King Duncan (Ibrahim Mughal) came out in Macbeth draped in an elegant vesture that was indeed fit for a king.

In all there were over 80 children in Brookhouse’s Shakespearean plays this week, which in itself was a feat in superlative school discipline. The one shortcoming in the shows was an occasional problem of inaudibility, but that’s an issue easily rectified as the youth have more opportunities on stage, which looks like a real possibility from the looks of the school’s serious commitment to the performing arts.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

PATRICK MUKABI, A MAN IN DEMAND

by Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 27 March 2018)

Patrick Mukabi is a man in demand.
The artist who’s also known as ‘Uncle Supuu’ to TV viewers of the ‘Know Zone’ on Saturday mornings, was busy this week teaching art at both Brookhouse Schools, one in Karen, the other in Runda. Patrick was working with art teachers Sobia Mughal and Alice Coupe who occasionally call him to add his special artistic flare to their classes.
Patrick was sought after specially this week since the school is having an Arts Week. “This week we’re focused on the arts, although it’s only drama and visual arts being highlighted this term,” says Sobia Mughal. “Otherwise, we also have a whole other week devoted to Music every semester,” she adds, clearly delighted she is working in a setting that places such a high premium on the arts.
“You must come this evening to watch three adaptations of Shakespeare plays at [Brookhouse] Karen,” Sobia adds.
Meanwhile, Patrick had been showing eight and 10 year olds the painterly technique called pointillism, after which he had put them to work to produce a mural-sized painting using a pointillist style of brush stroke.
The pointillist project had actually started the day before when art teacher Laura Coupe brought to her class a copy of the George Seurat painting of ‘Sunday Afternoon in the Park’.
“I picked that painting because there’s a lot of grass in it, and since we’ve been waiting for months for grass to finally grow on our grounds, we took the students outside yesterday [while Patrick was teaching at the Karen branch of the school] since we finally have green grass of our own,” says Alice.
Outside is where they attempted to recreate the image of Seurat’s renowned painting so students could see how an artist can produce paintings based on real life experience. “Then we got the children sketching the setting in a ‘plain air’ [outdoor] style,” Alice adds.
Sobia’s brought older ‘BTEC’ art and design students [ages 16-19] from the Karen campus to see what’s happening at Runda. “The school has ‘cross campus activities’,” says Sobia whose students fan out that day, some to assist with the mural, others to attend the early learning class (for 2 and 3 year olds), others to complete another mural they started last weekend with Sobia.
“The BTEC program is basically a vocational program. It’s a two year course, equivalent to A levels,” adds Sobia who was first to enlist Patrick to come teach with her in Karen. “I actually saw him teaching children’s art at one of the malls in town. Then I googled him and brought my students to see his work when he was still at the GoDown,” she adds.
In fact, Patrick is known to many art teachers around Nairobi since he brings a wide range of artistic experience with him. Plus he has a special non-pedantic way of teaching that’s more like mentoring. It’s also why he has scores of aspiring artists coming to be mentored by him, many hopeful they will one day become as acclaimed an artist as Patrick is.
Wannabe artists started following him when he had the studio at the GoDown Art Centre. Scores came to be mentors, among them artists like Alex Mbevo, Nadia Wamunyu, Anthony Otieno and many others who are now established in their own rights.
His studio got so crowded, Patrick eventually had to move over to the spacious studio next door to the Nairobi Railways Museum which he named the Dust Depo Art Studio.
Dust Depo is a place that hums with artistic activities. It will be offering children’s art classes over the Easter holiday. But Patrick won’t be working alone. Several artists who have been with him to teach children’s art all over town, will also be on hand to assist. They’ll include Eric ‘Stickky’ Muriuki, Leevans Leeyere and Mike Nyerere.
The beauty of Patrick’s approach to teaching art is its simplicity. Using ordinary sticks of charcoal, he is able to teach children and adults about everything from perspective and tone to light, shading and shadow (or chiaroscuro).
“That simple technique has taken me to teach in over 20 countries,” says Patrick who doesn’t need to mention that his self-effacing warmth, generosity and free spirit also have something to do with why he’s invited all over the world.




SHAKESPEARE AT BROOKHOUSE

 SHAKESPEARE CLASSICS STAGED AT BROOKHOUSE
By Margaretta wa Gacheru
How ambitious can any director be to stage three adapted Shakespeare plays in a single evening! For even if they are adapted to suit a half-hour format, and even if all three plays are drastically summarized  and the English simplified, still, Shakespeare’s storylines are not all that easy to follow.
But however formidable the challenge of staging Shakespeare with actors whose ages range from 10 to 12 years old (class 6 and 7), it didn’t daunt Michelle Forsyth, the head of primary classes (also known as ’prep’) at Brookhouse School in Karen.
During the school ‘Arts Week’, Ms Forsyth staged Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream last Tuesday night in the school’s beautiful auditorium. She was assisted by Camen McComic and Lynn Herderson for Midsummer Night and Christine Patterson for Romeo and Juliet. But still, all three plays had to get the nod of approval from Ms Forsyth.
Refreshingly, the first play, Romeo and Juliet started exactly on time, and each play ran precisely for 30 minutes with a brief ten minute intermission after Macbeth. This in itself was a remarkable achievement since Nairobi plays still have that tendency not to start on time.
All three plays had massive casts; nonetheless, the leads who had the most substantial parts were the best rehearsed and clearest in the articulation of their lines. It was true of Romeo (Stephanie Kamau) and Juliet (Nolwazi Ndlovu), Macbeth (Daniel Gichuru) and his naughty Lady (Solange Gathu) as well as King Duncan (Ibrahim Mughal) and his son Malcolm (Elliot Plumbe), and in Midsummer Night’s Dream, the clearest and most gracefully expressive was Puck (Arielle Plumbe).
Ms Forsyth was wise not to bother with complicated sets, especially given the Bard’s tales were allowed to move quickly from one scene and setting to the next without the encumbrance of time-consuming set changes.
Nonetheless, costuming was something that had been given some serious thought, as when King Duncan (Ibrahim Mughal) came out in Macbeth draped in an elegant vesture that was indeed fit for a king.

In all there were over 80 children in Brookhouse’s Shakespearean plays this week, which in itself was a feat in superlative school discipline. The one shortcoming in the shows was an occasional problem of inaudibility, but that’s an issue easily rectified as the youth have more opportunities on stage, which looks like a real possibility from the looks of the school’s serious commitment to the performing arts.

Monday, 26 March 2018

RAIN OR SHINE, PLANTS GALORE’S CELIA HARDY THRIVES IN THE OUT-OF-DOORS

                                                           Celia Hardy in one of her nurseries at Plants Galore

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 26 March 2018)

Plants Galore has only been up and running in Runda since 2009. But Celia Hardy has been propagating plants practically all her life. And while she doesn’t consider herself a ‘green thumb’, she is definitely an ‘outdoor woman’.
“I studied interior design in college [in UK], but I wasn’t happy with that line of work. So the moment I came home to Kenya, I got a job working outdoors as a landscape gardener [at the Roselyn River Garden Centre]. And I’ve been working outdoors ever since,” says Celia.

Coming from a long line of farmers and fine artists, Celia is actually a third generation Kenyan. “My great, great-grandfather was the president of the Royal Academy of Arts [in London]. It was his son, my great grandfather who first came to Kenya in 1908,” she recalls.
But he didn’t come to farm; he came to paint the landscape and the animals. “It was his son, my grandfather who decided to remain behind and buy land in Nanyuki, which is where I was born,” she adds.
It was Celia’s mother who taught her to love watching plants grow. “She grew everything in her garden. And from the time I could walk I was there watching the way she grew vegetables, herbs and lots of fruits,” she recalls. “She grew peaches, apples and raspberries which I’d come help her harvest over school holidays.”
Her mother was also a small scale business woman, selling her fresh fruits and vegetables which she’d personally deliver to Nanyuki town. So early on, Celia was also seeing how a woman could be both a farmer and successful business woman. (Incidentally, her 87 year old mum is still tending her garden and taking her fresh foods to town.)

But the logistics of landscape gardening is something Celia says she learned on-the-job with Paul Mackenzie who owned the Roselyn River Garden Centre.
“I worked for Paul for 10 years,” says Celia who then spent time with her family in Tanzania.
But once she returned to Kenya, she opened Roses Galore, which became the precursor to Plants Galore.
“Roses Galore still exists, but originally I operated it out of the flat where I lived in Muthaiga,” says Celia whose gardening service was employing over 100 gardeners at its peak. Currently, she’s down to around 45 who work on a day by day basis. Mostly their activities involve maintaining people’s gardens, doing everything from weeding and watering to tending private nurseries and cleaning people’s pools and ponds.
Celia says that even now, a portion of her own time is involved with maintaining people’s gardens. But there’s a whole lot more that she does since she set up Plants Galore with her partner Barry Cameron.

“Barry and I met through the Kenya Horticultural Society, and since we shared so many common interests, we decided to start our own plant centre,” says Celia.
Recalling how they used to drive up and down Limuru Road hoping to find land in the vicinity, they eventually did. And now, their Garden Centre is just behind the Roselyn Riviera Mall.
Describing herself as Garden Galore’s ‘Chief Shamba Girl’ and Barry as a retired Engineer and Gardener-hobbyist, Celia is actually the Centre’s Managing Director.
                          Celia beside her succulent garden next to the terraced wall she built for her daughter's cottage

“But I don’t like describing myself in those [fancy] terms,” says a woman who prefers gum boots and muddy rainy days to stiletto heels and glamorous evening gowns.
It’s just that sort of humility and down-to-earth style of horticultural expertise that makes Celia and Barry’s business so successful. For Plants Galore is not only a magical marketplace for a vast variety of plants. It’s also a place where people from all walks of life – all classes, colors and creeds – come for counseling about what’s best to plant in their garden.
Nonetheless, Celia has gotten slightly cautious about sharing her knowledge freely with visitors who come to the Centre simply to chat. “We’ve even had to put up a sign that says ‘no photographs’ since some people take our ideas,  but then go out and get their plants from roadside gardeners whose prices are often higher than our own,” Celia says.

Nonetheless, both Celia and Barry’s knowledge of plants can’t be compared to just about anyone else in Kenya. For not only has she been in the business of gardening practically all her life. Her partner Barry Cameron is the one who actually compiled the encyclopedic ‘Gardening in East Africa’ for Kenya Horticultural Society.



YONY WAITE'S POLKA DOT GALLERY DEBUT 2017

THE ART OF THE ‘CONTROLLED ACCIDENT’

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 18 January 2017)

She’s the grand dame of contemporary Kenyan art, the co-founder (with the late Robin Anderson and David Hart) of the acclaimed (now defunct) Gallery Watatu, and without doubt, she’s the most long-standing Kenyan-American painter around, having arrived in Kenya shortly before the country gained Independence in 1963.
Yony Waite’s ‘Controlled Accidents’ exhibition that opened recently (January 18th) at Polka Dot Gallery in Karen confirmed that this illustrious artist is still going strong. So much so that not all her artworks (most of which were created in the last year) can actually fit into the Polka Dot, one of Nairobi’s sweetest new art galleries.
But gallerist Lara Ray says that’s no problem since she’ll simply rotate some of Yony’s art so the show will expose most of her newest works before the exhibition ends 15th February.
Fortunately, what does fit in (and outside) the gallery are Yony’s panoramic paintings, views of Nairobi National Park as seen from the front porch of her makuti-roofed cottage out at her family’s Athi River ranch.
One artwork that definitely doesn’t fit inside the gallery is a comfy sofa given to her by a friend after a fluke fire in 2013 destroyed her first Athi cottage and studio gallery which had been filled with an exquisite array of paintings practically all of which were consumed in the fire.
Yony’s treated the sofa (including the cushions) as if it were a canvas on which she’s painted a beautiful reclining nude!
It’s not the first time that she’s painted furniture. In her last two exhibitions, (one at Nairobi National Museum in 2015, the other the following year at One Off Gallery) it was the furniture that most emphatically revealed Yony as the inspired artist who can paint, print or draw on any medium, be it paper, canvas, upholstery or wood.
At the Polka Dot, one will also see the woman’s versatility since her subjects range from wildebeests, rhino, zebra and a bull branded with a ‘campaign for nuclear disarmament’ logo to Lamu street scenes and intricate Swahili designs to North American trees and Nairobi street children. What’s more, her work comes in all sizes and shapes so that one can’t help being in awe of this woman who doesn’t simply paint, draw and print beautiful images.
She’s also got a deep-seated political sensibility, especially as it pertains to environmental concerns. One can see it in her branded bull. It’s also apparent in the landscape paintings that she symbolically shredded, but then reassembled by bonding the pieces back together with gold-leaf paint.
Shredding her art suggests that she meant to mimic what’s currently being done to destroy Mother Earth for short-sighted material gain. But then, I imagine the reassembling of her work is also meant to imply there still might be a shred of hope that the planet can be saved, but only if conscientious steps are taken sooner than later.
Her show is a definite chiaroscuro mix of light and shadow, black and white like her Athi River landscapes. Even the title of her show ‘Controlled Accidents’ suggests an antithetical contrast since by definition, accidents cannot be controlled, except perhaps by an artist like Yony who believes “there are no mistakes [accidents] in life and art, only results you didn’t expect.”
One series in her show illustrates that attitude beautifully. She calls it ‘pyro-graphic art’ since inadvertently, three charcoal sketches of nudes that she’d drawn during a Life Drawing class at Polka Dot, got tossed into a post-Christmas fire.
Explaining her story to BD Life, Yony said she didn’t have festive paper to wrap her Christmas gifts, so she used the paper on which she’d sketched the nudes to wrap her presents.
It was while tidying up that the drawings landed in the fire; but Yony managed to retrieve them before they were burned to a crisp.
The papers were partially damaged, but the artist had an eye to see the surprising beauty of the scorched nudes. So she had them framed and included in her show as an illustration of what ‘Controlled Accidents’ actually look like!
Someone other than Yony Waite (who occasionally spells her name as Wa Ite) might have let the ladies burn to a crisp. Others might have despaired since they felt their artwork had been ruined by the incident. But not Yony. Her marvelous imagination allowed her to see and appreciate ‘the results [she] didn’t expect’.
Meanwhile, Paul Onditi will have a solo exhibition opening Saturday, January 28th at One Off Gallery.





CHARLES MURITO GIVES AUTHENTIC CORPORATE SUPPORT FOR KENYAN ART


                         Heritage Music Quintet premiered last Saturday at Dusit D2 Hotel with the Pop-UP exhibition

By Margaretta wa Gacheru(posted March 26, 2018)
                                                                   Stanley Cheche with his mixed media collage

Kenyan corporate leaders need to take a page out of Charles Murito’s play book. The Google Kenya CEO is a major supporter of contemporary Kenyan art and artists.
Murito’s method of support is unprecedented. It began more than three years ago when he invited a few local artists to come to his brand new unfurnished flat and bring their best works to show to some of his influential Kenyan friends.
Artists like Patrick Mukabi, Adrian Nduma, Patrick Kinuthia and several others showed up that first Saturday as did a number of Murito’s art-loving friends.
                              Patrick Mukabi was one of the first artists to exhibit at Charles Murito's flat in Kilileshwa

The chemistry clicked from the start and very soon, artists were clamoring to come meet local art enthusiasts, many of whom were just discovering the wonders of contemporary Kenyan art.
But what made Murito’s model of support so unique was that while he was essentially setting up a ‘Pop-Up’ exhibition space for young artists, he wasn’t asking a penny or a percentage as a commission from any of them.
Soon enough Murito needed to move into his new flat. But rather than bring his artistic experiment to a halt, he enlisted the management of Dusit D2 Hotel and asked if they’d provide a rent-free venue once a month for the artists. Dusit loved the idea. And so, on the last Saturday of every month, artists flock to the D2.
Prospective exhibitors were initially vetted by Murito, but he quickly handed over his de facto curatorial powers to Adrian Nduma, (a former banker turned fulltime artist).
“It isn’t I who looks for the exhibitors,” Adrian told BD. “It is they who contact me and I do the vetting although Charles has the final say.”
Initially, Dusit opened up its ground floor conference hall to the artists, but they have since moved up one floor.
“Our new exhibition area is actually better since we have a more spacious arrangement,” Adrian says, noting that normally between four and eight artists exhibit each mouth. That was the case this past Saturday when works by Wallace Juma, the Manjano 2018 award-winning artist, were displayed alongside paintings by Samuel Githui, Kathy Katuti, Waweru Gichuhi, Mark Kassi, Stanley Cheche and Sawe.
Every month there are new faces; there are a few returning faces as well. In any case, Adrian says he likes to have a good mix such as we saw last weekend.
There was collage and acrylic by Juma, multimedia (include a shoe or two glued onto his canvas) by Cheche, nudes by Waweru, portraiture by Sawe and semi-abstract wildlife by Kassi.
In an adjacent space, junk art Jewelry was on display by Evans Ngure and Faith Waithaka. Photographer Eric Gitonga also comes to D2 both to take photos and display his incredible insect art.
And just beyond the jewelry, there’s an area for children’s art classes. Initially started by Patrick Mukabi, they’re now run by several artists who Mukabi’s mentored at Dust Depo Art Studio.
Finally, Adrian’s latest innovation for the monthly Pop-Ups is live music. “I was introduced to ‘Heritage Music’ by a friend, and after hearing them perform, I introduced the idea of their playing at our Pop-Ups to Charles. He was open to the plan,” says Adrian who invited BD Life to listen to these five young musicians from Korogocho.
“We were all trained at ‘Ghetto Classics’ [music school],” says Erick Ochieng who plays Alto Saxophone next to his Tenor Sax player Joseph Omondi.
The others in the group are Celine Akumu on clarinet, Peter Maina on guitar and Kevin Obara on drums.
As the group planned to play several sets that afternoon, visitors could simultaneously listen to them play and also view the art on display. In both genres, the artists were on hand to talk about their work and meet visitors. So just as another musical set began, Ugandan artist Mark Kassi was explaining how his art had evolved since the last time he exhibited in Nairobi at Village Market.
Heritage Music’s sound is mellow soft jazz. Or at least last Saturday’s sound was like that. But the group’s musical versatility and virtuosity was also clear so one hopes they will come back to perform in months to come.
“Artists contact us before every pop-up show. But as we aim to maintain high standards, it isn’t everyone who asks that gets to exhibit at Dusit,” says Adrian.
At the same time, many young, up and coming artists like Katana Sanna and others have made their debuts in the Nairobi art world at the Dusit as part of the Pop-Up show.
 

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

V-MONOLOGUES CONVEY A FIERCE SENSE OF SISTERHOOD

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

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

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

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

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

                                           June Gachui performed the National Anthem as well as one Monologue

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

                                                                          Lorna Dias' moans nearly stole the show 

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

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

                                                           Patricia Kihoro was beautiful on Wednesday night

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

                                                                           Nini Wacera was exquisitely angry

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

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









KENYAN-SCOTTISH STORYTELLER COMES HOME TO KWALE




By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 21 March 2018)

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








THEATRE REVIEW OF MINISTER KARIBU


FABULOUS WEEKEND FOR THEATRE

BY Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 21 March 2018)

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





Tuesday, 20 March 2018

NOT AFRICAN ENOUGH IS INFINITELY AFRICAN

MORE THAN AFRICAN ‘ENOUGH’

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

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 20 March 2017)

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