Local artists are done being shoved to the back. Despite the minimal support they get, they are trusting their ability to create breathtaking art and using it to demand the other end of the bargain, writes Cynthia Mukanzi
With every single canvassed fine stroke and craftsmanship that emanates from their creative minds and flows to their hands, Kenyan artists are positioning themselves in a way that they can no longer be dismissed.
The likes of Michael Soi, Katanu Kay, Joyce Kuria, Patrick Mukabi, Philip Ondik, Sarah Wanjiru, Njogu Kuria and Moha Grafixx are impeccably fighting rigidity and pushing the local art, crafts and design boundaries to bring out the cultural richness of the continent to the fore.
They are protesting the bad with thought-provoking pieces and ultimately becoming visible and heard. It is a no wonder spaces such as dusitD2 Pop Up Art, One Off, GoDown, Circle Art Gallery, Alliance Française, Goethe-Institut, matatu culture, simple places like Maasai Market and even malls are providing exhibition rooms.
Michael Soi’s prominence in the art scene has always been met with a tinge of cringe. His dauntless knack and passion for exploring the usually whispered and rogue that taints the society has bolstered him up. “I have done a lot of what people would call political work, which has never been in favour of anyone.
It’s always about truth and honesty, whether people like it or not,” he says. For a name that has been reverberating with praise and ended up on the international art market, Soi says his motivation was never about money or fame. “My art and practice is not about fame, success or being on top of everybody else.
It’s not generated for the market, but that doesn’t mean I don’t sell. It’s just that I have a job that I love and always look forward to getting up in the morning to do it by addressing issues that a lot of people dodge; such as corruption and commercial sex work,” he tells Spice.
He says he doesn’t work for money, but it happens the market has been favourable to him. He is aware the market hasn’t been kind to everybody.
“The biggest impediment to the growth of art in Kenya is the market.
If an artist comes into the scene to solely make money, trust me, you end up being disappointed.
It is not as rewarding as a career should be in that sense. We’re not there yet. The money will come later on, but probably when you are dead and benefit those you leave behind,” he says.
Soi partly blames this on the government’s misadvised move that scraped art and design from the school curriculum in junior schools. Katanu Kay, who recently graduated from high school, is a perfect example that proves investing in a child’s talent pays.
She has showcased severally at Pop Up Art Gallery at dusitD2 and sold a lot of her masterpieces. “What has helped me a lot is the fact that my parents believed in me and gave me the tools I needed to make my passion worthwhile from an early age,” she told Spice. Kay explores art with different media and isn’t afraid to push her genius strokes.
Being given a head-start with support from her family is a privilege that many artists are unfamiliar with. Her story, however, is a reminder that with proper channels, there is a lot artists can offer.
That there is talent and artists are ready to share their colourful creations if everybody chips in. Speaking of Pop Art Gallery, Google country manager, Charles Murito, began the art initiative that goes down at dusitD2 on Riverside Drive. Here, artists freely showcase their work every last Saturday of the month.
With each edition, different artists share the space and interact with art enthusiasts who may sometimes buy a piece or two. There is also a section that hosts children from less privileged backgrounds; and they are incredible in the skill. On coming of age, Osborne Macharia thinks the local art scene still has a long way to go.
“However, I agree that people are trying hard to find their artistic side. We lack support and everyone has to depend on themselves. Corporates have taken a back step when it comes to the art scene yet their presence could do so much,” he says.
The international award-winning digital artist’s eccentric photography has won global attention. He has landed features on international publications such as Vogue Italia and last year December he was on the Dutch issue of Marie Claire. Macharia says he has received more international championship than local.
“The international backing has made me who I am today. It has been a huge struggle to make a name locally, but foreign love kept me going,” he says.
It is this hurdle that propelled him to take a different approach to get to where he wants to be. Macharia also notes that some creatives don’t always pull their weight and only want to do things when it’s all glossy.
“Some of us are not waiting for the perfectly merry moment when the industry streamlines. If it does reform, we will be a step ahead and keep on pushing the grind,” he says. There is no question the growth and success of the art scene is collectively buttressed by the people.