Friday, April 27, 2012

Nairobi Theatre Scene in May 2012

Nairobi has smart and sassy theatre in May
April 26, 2012
For Concierge magazine
By margaretta wa gacheru

The Nairobi theatre scene in May will be a biting and bubbly affair with several smart, juicy productions. Expect quite a few comedic twists and turns from all four productions, even when plots thicken and weighty themes like corruption, tribalism and high crimes come into play.

Phoenix Players will produce two shows in May. One is being staged in collaboration with the Italian Institute of Culture. It’s a situation comedy by Italian playwright Luigi Pirandello, called Right you are (If you think you are), which opens May 4 and runs through the 19th.

Directed by Millicent Ogutu, the plot involves a government official who is posted to a small town where the rumor factory runs wild when word gets out that the official has two women with him living in separate spaces. It doesn’t matter that one’s a wife, the other’s a mother-in-law. In this town where everyone knows everyone, the new man and his women fuel the fire of juicy rumor-mongering. Tickets are going for Sh650 for adults and Sh400 for students.

The other script being staged at Phoenix in May is a premier production of a brand new Kenyan playwright, Louise Wambua, directed by George Mungai. ‘Smoke’ is a political satire about a classic Kenyan politician who’s juggling a wife, mistress, sibling, right-hand man and big money that goes ‘missing’right before his eyes. Bottom line ‘Smoke’s about corruption and government cash. But it’s also a ‘whodunit’ with a Kenyan flare. Smoke opens May 25th. 

Meanwhile, over at Alliance Francaise, the Festival of the Creative Arts (FCA) also takes on the theme of corruption earlier in the month when it stages Dirty Sexy Money by Larry Beghel. This ‘comedy-thriller’ also features a lusty politician who alternatively chases money and women. But he’s not alone. Everyone in this playful production is plotting and double dealing in a way that promises hilarious entertainment in true FCA style.

Finally, the last weekend in May, SitawaNamwalia also indulges in political satire, only with a poetic edge. ‘Cut off my tongue’ began as a powerful collection of poetry by this talented Kenyan writer-actress whose first career was in development work, which she gave up to pursue her twin passions of poetry and performance.

Cut off my tongue also tackles such topics as corruption and tribalism, but she does so with a deft and subtle hand of an artist who knows how to woe an audience with sweet words and rich insight. She will share the Braeburn Theatre stage with Alice Wanjiru Karunditu, Shan Bartley and Willy Rama on drums and wood winds. It’s better to book a seat early since Namwalia only stages Tongue once a month on the last weekend. Tickets are going for Sh1,000.

Kenya's Presidential Debates

Kenya’s Presidential Debates

By Margaretta wa Gacheru, December 6, 2011

Now that the billionaire real estate mogul and reality TV star Donald Trump has jumped on the presidential campaign bandwagon and offered to host the next GOP presidential debate, the debates are increasingly being seen as a “circus” rather than a serious venue where issues of political import are addressed and the candidates revealed to the voting public.

The Debates have already proved to be calamitous for Republican candidates like Texas Governor Rick Perry (who is almost as inarticulate as the previous Texan who ran for President, GW Bush) and Herman Cain who recently suspended his campaign due to the spate of allegations of sexual impropriety that Candidate Cain had engaged in over the past few years.

Nonetheless, the debates have allowed the American people to see for themselves what qualities they like or dislike about the candidates.

Ever since 1960 when the first presidential debate was held, between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon, most political pundits believe that debate actually won Kennedy the presidency. Kennedy was far more telegenic than Nixon: he was more handsome, youthful, articulate and calm before the television cameras than Nixon who looked pasty and pale, ill at ease and arrogant.

And while there was an element of superficiality that came into the presidential campaign once television was able to transform candidates into performing artists, the debates also allowed the public to see how issues of significance were tackled by each presidential aspirant.

It is the issue orientation of the Presidential Debates (PD) that interests the Kenyan Community Abroad (KCA) and has inspired the group to advocate for a series of presidential debates preceding the 2012 Kenyan National Elections.

“Up to now, so much political campaigning in Kenya is personality-driven,” said Mkawasi Mcharo Hall, former KCA chair and PD project director.

“We’d like to see the level of political discourse elevated above personality to where the candidates address real issues affecting Kenyans’ everyday lives,” she added.

KCA is the diasporan group that was instrumental in lobbying for the new Kenyan Constitution to include such issues as Dual Citizenship and Absentee Voting Rights for Kenyans living overseas.

“Both of those items are in the new constitution,” said Mcharo Hall, who meets regularly with KCA members who, like her, are keen to see the 2012 elections go well.

Highly organized and attuned to the current political climate in Kenya, the KCA team that is advocating for Kenyan Presidential Debates includes lawyers, engineers, researchers and teachers.

Based in the Washington, DC area, KCA initially introduced the Presidential Debates idea last February at a meeting held at the Kenyan Embassy for Alice Nderitu of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission to meet Kenyans living in the Diaspora.

Both the Kenyan Ambassador Elkanah Odemo and NCIC’s Ms. Nderitu liked the idea, but both left it to the KCA to coordinate the project.

Critics of the project have questioned the capacity of KCA to coordinate such a major event from outside of Kenya. But the group is undaunted.

“We feel there’s an advantage to organizing presidential debates from outside of Kenya since we’re not caught up in the day to day political dramas that can easily cloud one’s objectivity,” Mcharo Hall said.

Of course, KCA will need to coordinate with local media to get the Kenyan Presidential Debates on prime time TV, just as they are in the US. But the diasporans are confident that once local media see the extent of public interest in even one Presidential Debate, they will be clamoring to get the contract to air such a popular public service event.

KCA may also need to look for sponsorship, but the team doesn’t see a problem in that area either.

The biggest challenge could be to get all the candidates to come together to participate in one, two or more presidential debates. But Mcharo Hall doesn’t foresee a problem in that regard either.

Asked if she wanted to speculate who would take part in the first set of debates, she rattled off a slew of well-known names, omitting two of the more high profile politicians, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto. She said the ICC verdict will have a good deal to do with whether they run for the top office or not.

In the meantime, she counted no less than seventeen prospective candidates. “And the numbers seem to be increasing by the day.”

The numbers do not overwhelm the KCA members. Instead, they believe a series of Kenyan Presidential Debates is something that can contribute to defusing any volatility in the political climate.

“One big advantage Kenyans in the Diaspora have is that we have lived in ‘democratic spaces’. We have witnessed the State’s protection of minority rights. We have seen the rights of Opposition protesters protected by the rule of law,” Mcharo Hall added.

Not that presidential debates can provide the panacea to defuse all voters frustration; but the KCA definitely believe that dialogue and debate are means of elevate the political discourse and transforming the 2012 Election.

Let’s hope they can succeed since I believe all Kenyans want peace.

Tribute to a Great African Cartoonist, Frank Odoi

Africa lost a brilliant cartoonist last Saturday, April 21, 2012 when Frank Odoi died in a freak bus accident. I felt compelled to write a tribute to Frank who I didnt know well, but I admired immensely. I wrote it for Sunday Nation, Kenya to appear April 29, 2012. May he rest in peace and wherever he is, i trust he will continue creating wonderful comic books.
By Margaretta wa Gacheru
“…I want to be remembered for [my] comics. I’d like to sit back and create comics for both children and adults…with stories like Akokhan.” Frank Odoi.
The acclaimed Ghana-born cartoonist, author, children’s book illustrator and master storyteller Frank Odoi shared this hope with Kimani wa Wanjiru in an interview he gave on April 6, 2011. He also confessed the sagacious Konadi Chronicles were his creation, a work of fiction whose wisdom consoles his family, fans and dear friends who are still in shock over the news that Frank passed away last Saturday night, April 21st, due to a freak accident.
It was around 8pm and the driver of Frank’s Double M bus swerved to avoid hitting a drunkard on Jogoo Road, but in so doing, the bus flipped over and two people died, Frank and a woman, both of whom were seated near the front of the bus. Everyone else survived.
The tributes to one of Africa’s greatest cartoonists have been pouring in from all over the world. They have been received both by Frank’s immediate family, his wife Carol and two daughters, Francesca and Francene, as well as by his closest cartoonist friends, Gado, Maddo and Kham.
Also known as Godfrey Mwampembwa, Paul Kelemba and James Khamawira respectively, the three shared office space with Fran for the last 12 years and, on a daily basis, witnessed the creative genius of this Ghanaian who adopted Kenya almost 40 years ago.
Coming to Kenya in the mid-1970s, soon after he completed his course in Fine Art and Design at the Ghanatta School of Art in Accra, Frank began his illustrious career drawing satiric cartoons with Terry Hirst at Joe magazine.
It wasn’t long thereafter that he began drawing cartoons for the leading East African newspapers, including The Daily Nation, where he took over the task of chief editorial cartoonist from Hirst himself, East African Standard, Kenya Times, Daily Monitor and New Vision, both from Uganda.
He was so prolific that his cartooning career extended across Africa, from Ghana’s Daily Graphic to Noticias of Mozambique. His cartoon art was especially loved in Scandanavia where his work appeared both in Finland’s Helsingen Sanomat and Denmark’s Dejembe Dapanda. It was also featured in the BBC magazine Focus on Africa, and he was also featured in various BBC radio interviews.

But as he told Kimani wa Wanjiru, he preferred comics to cartoons. Having grown up reading super-hero comics like Superman and Batman, he was inspired to create his own African super-hero. Akokhan is a mythical figure who Frank hoped would one day become a blockbuster movie just as Hollywood has made popular film versions of comic book characters like Spider Man and Wolverine as well as Superman and Batman.

Frank called Akokhan a “fictitious fantasy” influenced by various world-class cartoonists, by Heavy Metal magazine which featured international cartoonists including Frank, and by the stories his mum and dad used to tell him while he was growing up in Ghana, scribbling and incessantly drawing “on the blackboard of Awaso Anglican Primary School.”

Born in Tarkwa, a mining town in western Ghana, Frank was the third-born child and only son among his parents’ eight children. His sisters clearly adored him and freed him from doing most family chores so he could pursue his two passions, drawing and football. He told Kimani his two favorite teams were Manchester United and Chelsea.

Frank was inspired by a number of global cartoonists, but his number one artistic inspiration was the Renaissance artist, Michelangelo.  “He is my god,” he said in his 2011 interview. Remarkable in so many different ways, what Frank most quickly recalled about Michelangelo was the way he worked on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

“He painted heaven and hell while hanging upside down,” Frank said, always able to see the humor in art just as he did in everyday life.

One of Africa’s most prolific artists, Frank illustrated everything from children’s books (for East African Educational Publishers) and magazines like Fleur Ng’weno’s Rainbow to comic books like Kul Bhakoo’s Pichadithi series and his award-winning Golgoti series. He also contributed to World Bank-funded calendars (2011, 2012) for the World and Sanitation Program (WSP).

He also created comic books for a number of development agencies, including Laban, the Samburu warrior who grappled with the issue of HIV/AIDS and Faith, a young girl who comes from rural areas to town and tackled teenage trials that most African women and girls face.

The two comic books that earned him international acclaim were Golgoti which was first published in Finland and Akokhan which came out as a book in 2007, thanks to the joint efforts of World Comics Finland, the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and East African Educational Publishers Ltd., Kenya.

Locally, Frank teamed up with his fellow cartoonists to produce several ambitious satiric magazines. They included Penknife (2002-2003) which for three years he co-authored with Gado, Madd and Kham as well as with Victor Ndula and Steenie Njoroge. Kenyan audiences came to know Golgoti as a series in Penknife, and after it folded, in the Standard as a weekly pull-out for a year. Golgoti was also a popular cartoon series in Ghana and Tanzania.

Other projects he co-authored with Kham, Gado and Madd included The Heroes, Us, published by Doctors without Borders (Medecins San Frontieres) and the satiric magazine, The African Illustrated, which was launched in 1997 in time to feature the flight of Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko in his ‘Factfile Africa’ column on ‘Democrazy’.

Frank had solo exhibitions of his cartoon art in Denmark, Finland and Sweden as well as in Algeria, Brazil, Nigeria and Kenya. He also participated in numerous group shows with fellow cartoon artists in Kenya.

Voted Kenyan Cartoonist of the Year in 1985, 1986 and 2004, he earned a similar title in Ghana in 2005 and won Best Kenyan Strip Cartoonist of the 2008.

Commenting on the meaning of one line that often appears in Akokhan, Frank said “Where grass has grown, grass will grow” refers to the invincibility of Akokhan. Sadly, the artist didn’t personally possess the same attribute, but his comic art surely does. Frank Odoi will be long remembered and esteemed for his immense contribution to contemporary African art.

Vibrant Visual Art scene in Nairobi

I havent been a consistent blogger, which may explain why i have no followers of my blog. but i mean to change, so here is a story i wrote for Nairobi' Sunday Nation. i have so many images to share. let's see if i can get any here.....This Butterfly is by David Mwaura and it's on display at Sanaa Mbele at Wakanyote's place in Muchatha, Kenya.
in Sunday Nation , April 29, 2011
by margaretta wa gacheru
Nairobi is veritably throbbing with vibrant visual art on display all over the city. Much of it will come down at April’s end.
That means now is the time to go to old and new venues to check out exhibitions by “Veteran Artists” at Alliance Francaise, young artists at the new Sanaa Mbele Gallery in Muchatha, and solo shows by Adrian Nduma at the Nairobi National Museum, David Maiden at the Talisman, Chilonga Haji at Banana Hill Art Gallery and Peter Oendo Kenyanyi at Village Market.
The Veteran artists’ exhibition is part of the African Heritage 40th anniversary celebration and features elder state-men and -woman of East African art. They include Francis Nnaggenda, Elkana Ong’esa, John Odoch Ameny, Expedito Mwebe and Magdalene Odundo, all of whose art work was greatly admired by the late co-founder of the Pan African Gallery, Kenya’s first Foreign Minister, the late Joseph Murumbi.
In contrast, the new Sanaa Mbele weekend show features the art of new-comers to the Kenyan art scene such as Wangari Mwagiru, , David Mwaura, Jim Peter Kiarie and Owino Wakanyote. It also showcases more seasoned artists from the Muchata neighborhood (including Ngecha and Banana Hill), such as Shade Kamau, Martin Kamuyu, Martin Muhoro, Willie Wamuti, Samuel Njuguna, Jeff Wambugu, George Ngaruiya, Ken Artifact, Peter Kibunja, Julius Kimemia, Anne Turugah and Wakanyote Njuguna who also hatched the idea of setting up Sanaa Mbele a year ago.
                                              Red and Black by Tanzanian artist Chilonga Haji
                                                           at Banana Hill Art Gallery
The diversity of the solo shows about to shut down is also impressive. The British painter David Maiden focuses on portraiture at Talisman. Meanwhile, paintings by the abstract colorist Adrian Ndume practically explode with shimmering rainbow hues at the Nairobi Museum’s Creativity Gallery.
Likewise, the Tanzanian impressionist painter Chilonga Haji also revels in brilliant and bright colors, only his artwork explores more indigenous social scenes. And  Kisii stone sculptor Peter Kenyanya assembled a variety of stones from all eight provinces in order to shape an exhibition including stone sculptures made from basalt, granite, quartz and soap stone among other worthy rocks.
Meanwhile, there are brand new exhibitions as well as new gallery spaces that have recently opened up.
At OneOff Gallery, an exhibition of paintings by the award-winning Samuel Githui opens today (April 29) in Rosyln. And at Village Market, just as Kenyanyi’s show closes, an exhibition by artists from the Bobea Art Centre in Donholm, including Pascal Chuma, is opening.
The newest gallery space to open in Nairobi is at Kenya Railways which was opened last Tuesday night by veteran sculptor Elkana Ong’esa.
                                            Wangari Mwagiru's 'Cityscape' at Sanaa Mbele
The other new gallery space is out at Kitengela Glass where the former director of UNEP, Klaus Toepfer opened the Mechthild Gallery a month ago. It’s been built right above Nani Croze’s glass workshop and looks out on the beautiful Siloe Sanctuary which is part of the Kiserian Gorge.
Currently featuring mostly sculptures and paintings by Nani herself, in the next month the Mechthild will host artworks previously seen in Lonrho House at Gallery Watatu.
Watatu has been in limbo since the demise of its owner Adama Diawara, spouse to the late Ruth Schaffner. It’s an unfortunate affair complicated by family squabbles, but Diawara’s partner, Osei Kofi has decided to shift from Lonrho to Kitengela for a time. After that, Gallery Watatu is moving out to the edge of Karura Forest to a beautiful new site.
Finally, at the Michael Joseph Centre, a brand new group exhibition entitled Zebra in Red Heels opened late last week, the brain child of environmental artist Dominique Thoemes. Also featured in the show is Kathy Katuti, Joseph Bertiers Mbatia, Andrew McNaughton, Dennis Muraguri and Thoemes as well.

I'm Back with Kenyan Art & Culture Reviews

I'm back to blogging so my friends can see what i am up to in Kenya and get a wiff of why i love to be here. please join me in seeing stories about Kenyan art and culture, stories i write for the Business Daily, the Sunday Nation, Saturday Nation, and Concierge.

New book seals a prolific partnership

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Photo/Elvis Ogina  Heritage photographer Carol Bedwith (left), ceramist Magdalene Odundo and Angela Fisher during the 40th Anniversary of African Heritage at the Alliance Francaise in Nairobi last week.
Photo/Elvis Ogina Heritage photographer Carol Bedwith (left), ceramist Magdalene Odundo and Angela Fisher during the 40th Anniversary of African Heritage at the Alliance Francaise in Nairobi last week.  
By MARGARETTA WA GACHERU  (email the author)

Posted  Thursday, April 26  2012 at  19:06

The launch of their 15th jointly-authored book on the Dinka, at Alliance Francaise, Nairobi, sealed more than 30 years of collaboration between two of the gutsiest globe-trotting women in the world.
Angela Fisher, an Australian jewellery maker, and Carol Beckwith, an American painter, were introduced to each other by African Heritage co-director Alan Donovan in the late 1970s.
They felt an instant affinity, but it took several years before they started working together.
They were each working on their own books when they met: Angela on Africa Adorned (1984) and Carol on Maasai (1980).
It took an invitation from the Ethiopian government, to document cultural ceremonies across that country, for them to join forces.
Kindred Spirit
“We knew we were kindred spirits and we both loved working in Africa, but it was that invitation that persuaded Angela to come work with me,” said Carol.
Her friend, the renowned palaeontologist Dr. Donald Johanson, served as the go-between for the women and the Ethiopian government.
From the project The African Arc (1990), was published and it grew into a broader pictorial study of the Horn of Africa.
They realised they were such a good team together and have proceeded to do more books and sign all their photographs jointly.
They even live in the same flat block in London with Carole on the ground floor and Angela staying two floors above. Their studio and archive, which they share, sits between them.
Film maker
“It’s our home base, although we don’t spend much time there,” Angela says.
The two are too busy crisscrossing Africa documenting indigenous cultures in some of the most remote corners of the region.
“We record everything we can that’s traditional, from ceremonies that mark stages of life, to seasonal beliefs and ceremonies appealing to the ancestral spirits.”
“But the work we do doesn’t get easier over time, since it’s increasingly difficult to find cultures unscathed by globalisation,” Carol said.

They recently returned from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where they spent time working, with independent filmmaker Kire Godal, inside the Kingdom of Kuba, where the indigenous culture is still intact.
They were accompanied by the Kuba Royal Prince Kwete Kwete, who was regaled in every village they visited with ceremonial dances performed especially for members of the royal family.
The photos taken during their Kuba trip will be included in the volume of African Ceremonies entitled African Twilight to be published in 2014. It is part of a four volume compilation.
They are currently also working on archiving the nearly half a million negatives they have shot across Africa since they started working together.
“We probably have the most comprehensive collection of images on indigenous African cultures in the world,” Angela says. “And we want to ensure it finds the best home so it will be accessible to all African researchers.”
Their other book project is Body Painting Across Africa which is scheduled to come out next year.
The book is essentially the culmination of their travelling across African countries to document all that is beautiful in indigenous cultures. Body Painting records one of the world’s most ancient art forms.
Sitting with them at Donovan’s African Heritage House on the edge of the Nairobi National Park, just hours before their flight back to the UK, the women’s mutual appreciation is obvious.
“Angela’s special talent is her ability to melt icebergs,” said Carol, speaking of her best friend and business partner.
“She has an [ineffable] talent for turning ‘no’s into eager affirmations from otherwise difficult characters.”
“Carol’s gift is her ability to transform disappointments [like having to wait for a special ceremony for weeks rather than days] into adventures and opportunities for further research into the culture and community we are recording at the time,” said Angela who shares Carol’s limitless enthusiasm for learning about traditional African cultures.
“We both see Africa as a continent rich in artistry, beauty and decoration,” Angela said. The ladies were in Kenya to launch their latest photographic tome, Dinka, as well as join their friend Alan celebrate the 40th anniversary of African Heritage.
They also received a Life Achievement Award for their exceptional documentation of disappearing indigenous cultures and for being one of the most prolific photographic partnerships ever seen.
The other way they say they complement one another is:
Carol’s ability to do life cycles, life passages and ceremonies from birth to death, to dig into one culture and learn about its ins and outs, said Angela.
Angela’s talent has taken the broader, more pan African approach.