Art is an expression that speaks louder than words. It’s through artworks that artists make moving statements that stir the mind and thoughts of many people, writes Spice Correspondent
In the mind of an anxious young artist, woodcut or woodblock printing may seem old and obscure. Visions arise of tiresome archaic hard work, but in real sense, woodblock printmaking is one of the oldest and one of the most interesting forms of the fine art technique.
Japanese woodblock printing flourished during the ancient Edo period in Japan. This is a period in Japan that was characterised by popular enjoyment of arts and culture. Inspired by the world renown Ukiyo-e Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai’s woodblock printmaking, the Japanese Embassy in Kenya in its last annual Japanese cultural festival recently held an art talk and exhibition in Nairobi that provided the audience an opportunity to hear directly from invited Kenyan and Japanese artists, and get to learn more about the connections of their work with Japan, through their use of Japanese concepts, tools, supplies and techniques, among others.
Joy Mboya, the executive director of GoDown Arts Centre, who opened and moderated the artists talk session, expressed the need for collaborations between Kenyan artists and their Japanese counterparts. The expressions from the forum were to forge on how artists can engage further in their work with a broadened world view.
“Kenyan artists, both emerging and established, are begging to express their creativity, thus forums and art spaces in institutes of art and universities should be enhanced to develop the craft,” says Joy, a comment that was also reiterated by sculptural artist and Kuona Artists Collective vice chairman Kevin Oduor.
Kenyan contemporary artist Michael Soi who often explores issues of his own Kenyan identity and culture in his work, thinks it is important for artists to travel as a form of visual education. He says: “Seeing and talking to artists in Japan is important in raising awareness and knowledge of East African art,” he says.
Successfully so in raising awareness, part of Soi’s work has shown extensively locally and internationally, most recently in Japan in his solo exhibition titled ‘Faces of the City’. JAPAN’S INFLUENCE Michael’s art presence in Japan was made possible by Mari Endo, a Japan born art curator and promoter who has made efforts to introduce East African arts in Japan.
Mari concurs that East African art is still new in Japan, she also advocates for and supports the exchange of ideas among Kenyan and Japanese artists.
Her art is mainly centred on her surroundings and experiences.
“When I was in Japan, I had not specialised in printmaking, but I got amazed with Katsushika Hokusai’s work.
After retirement, when I became an artist based in Kenya, John Silver, a renowned woodblock artist, taught me the reduction approach to printmaking, a technique that I now use and I am fascinated with,” says Mari. CULTURE FUSION Silver partly sees continuity of Kenyan art if more Kenyans embrace woodblock printmaking.
He agrees that just like how the Japanese view and appreciate it, there is wit and depth in any art work produced using the woodblock printmaking style. He has equally benefited from Mari’s efforts to promote East African art in Japan. Silver’s surreal images from woodblock print have been shown in Japan and in 2015, he was awarded the Best Printmaker of the Year award by the Fei Art Museum in Yokohama, Japan.
Mimicking Hokusai’s work to cut and print from a woodblock, Silver and Mari’s designs or drawings are made on a piece of wood, the untouched areas are then cut away, leaving the raised image that is then inked. Just like Soi, Artist Mary Ogembo — who celebrates women in her work — is also of the view that artists require more exposure.
“Women are disadvantaged in the African society, thus my art celebrates the success of the African woman. Japan is well known for printmaking and so, it is good for artists from Kenya to learn from intricate Japanese art,” she says.
Besides the art talk, there was an exhibition of arts from the artists who were part of the talk and other renowned artists who use Japanese concepts or materials in their work. They included John Silver Kimani, Becky Kapten, Mari Endo, Gor Soudan, Dennis Muraguri, Patti Endo, Meshak Oiro and Erick Gitonga.