About the exhibitionKENYA artCurators: Carol Lees and Judy Ogana, Nairobi
Organized by Hanne Tierney, five mylesA collaborative project of five simultaneous exhibitions of contemporary art from Kenya at Brooklyn Public Library - Kentler International Drawing Space - Salena Gallery at LIU/Brooklyn Campus - Welancora Gallery - five myles
This project is supported by a generous grant from the Ford Foundation.
Shown in conjunction with five Brooklyn venues: Brooklyn Public Library, Five Myles, Selena Gallery at LIU Brooklyn Campus, Welancora Gallery; Without trend-setting or art historical intentions the 120 paintings and works on paper in these exhibitions mean to show New Yorkers the range and the concerns of the current Kenyan art world; an art scene not yet dominated by the pressure of sales or financial commitments, but rather by the exhilaration that accompanies the beginning of a journey.
The variety of styles among the works reflects differences in the tone and emphasis of each artist, but throughout, there is a tactile, material sense that gives the paintings an extraordinary freshness and intimacy. Much of the work still connects to Kenya's strong oral story-telling tradition.
The artists represented in the exhibitions range widely in their visibility within the profession. Some are internationally known - including Sane Wadu, Ancent Soi, Joel Oswaggo, Richard Kamati, Meek Gichugu and Elijah Ooko. Others are just at the beginning of their careers, and their works on paper provide an in-depth look at the social, political and artistic concerns of younger artists. All artists in the exhibitions live and work in Kenya, with the exception of Meek Gichugu, who now lives in France.
These exhibitions provide a rare over-view of the work by Kenyan artists who are infrequently included in international exhibitions and festivals. Art critics and writers have speculated on various theories for this omission. It may be linked to the fact that, historically, the art of West and Central Africa has made its way into many European collections and therefore into the European imagination. Masks, for instance, were more generally used in West and Central Africa, but are not a prominent part of East African culture - where art has traditionally focused on the aesthetics of objects for daily use, such as baskets, textiles, stools and musical instruments. Possibly, the Western art world still tends to gravitate to the work of African countries whose imagery is more familiar.
Another theory points to the relatively recent development of modern art in Kenya. The first art venues appeared only after Kenya's independence in 1963: Paa-ya-Paa Art Center opened in 1965, followed in 1969 by Gallery Watatu and in 1972 by the African Heritage Pan African Gallery. These three institutions, by supporting and encouraging artists, laid the foundation for what is now a flourishing art life in Kenya, including a number of commercial galleries, several art schools, on-going workshops and a lively alternative art scene.
- Hanne Tierney
- The Brooklyn Public Library will exhibit 44 works on paper in its vast rotunda; two large paintings by internationally known Elijah Ooko and a triptych by Mbuthia Maina in its Lobby Gallery. A comic strip about tribal life by the political cartoonist Frank Odoi will be shown in the cases on the balcony. Wood carvings by young sculptors will be exhibited in display cases at the entrance.
- Kentler International Drawing Space will exhibit the drawings, colored pencil on paper, of Joel Oswaggo. These drawings are a compelling visual history of the disappearing way of life of Oswaggo’s tribe, the Luo. One of the old masters, Oswaggo was born in 1944.
- Welancora Gallery will show paintings from two artist communities: Banana Hill and the Ngecha Group. These artists manage their own studio/gallery set-up. They represent the emerging, new voices in Kenya. Their work is well represented by the galleries in Nairobi.
- five myles will exhibit the works of many of the older artists, now considered ‘first generation’ artists such as Sane Wadu, Ancent Soi and Annabelle Wanjiku. Largely self-taught, these artists are little influenced by the Western parameters of academic training. They are the originators of modern art in Kenya. Two Kenyan artists-in-residence will spend ten days at five myles, working with several Brooklyn artists on an installation project. To be announced.
- Salena Gallery at Long Island University/Brooklyn Campus will exhibit works by the ‘second generation’ artists, some of whom are beginning to show internationally, Richard Kimathi and Irene Wanjiru among others. These emerging and mid-career artists provide much of the energy that signifies the contemporary art scene in Kenya.
Carol Lees ran her own gallery in Nairobi for ten years and is now the program-coordinator at Rahimtulla Museum of Modern Art in Nairobo. She was born in Kenya and educated in England.
Judy Ogana studied fine arts at Kenyatta University. She directs the Kuona Trust Museum Art Studio in Nairobi, an important center for Kenyan artists. Kuona Trust organizes residencies and workshops across East Africa and offers studio space, materials and workshops to local artists.