Monday, July 23, 2012

Le Rustique's more than an elegant eatery.

Le Rustique has become a regular venue featuring artworks by some of Kenya's finest contemporary artists, like Kota Otieno

Restaurant showcases local and global art

Piece of art on show at the Le Rustique. Photo/ Xavier Verhoest
Yarn on canvas art by Kota Otieno at Le Rustique in June. Photo/ Xavier Verhoest  


Posted  Thursday, July 5  2012 at  19:46

Le Rustique isn’t the only restaurant in Nairobi to display contemporary Kenyan art. Nor is the Westlands eatery the first to transform itself into a quasi-art gallery.

But for the past eight years out of the 10 that Maike Potgieter has been managing the café/creperie, her restaurant has consistently hosted mostly local Kenyan artists on a monthly basis.
The first art exhibition at Le Rustique was of works by Geraldine Robarts, the former Kenyatta University fine art lecturer, who saw the venue’s immense untapped potential for showing the best of contemporary Kenyan art. That was in 2004.
Since then, the leafy-green open-air space has consistently been curated by the Belgian artist and former refugee aid worker, Xavier Verhoest.
The former Medecins sans Frontiers volunteer worker who came to Kenya early in the new millennium has helped promote a wide range of resident artists by arranging group and solo exhibitions for them at the restaurant.
“Actually, the second exhibition here was of my work together with the art of [Sudanese artist] El Tayeb,” recalled Verhoest whose art is currently back up at Le Rustique together with works by 10 other mainly Kenyan artists.
He also has a solo show of his art addressing the theme of IDPs in Kenya, displayed in the home of another Belgian curator, Samantha Ripa di Meana.
Eleven in one day is an impressive showcase of some of Xavier’s favourite local artists, most of whom he’s exhibited before at the restaurant.
That includes Peterson Kamwathi and Shabu Mwangi, Kota Otieno and the Japanese artist Yoshirari Nishiro who’s been a resident of Nairobi for several years.
In addition, 11 in 1 day also features the art of Alan Githuka, Ato Malinda, Beatrice Njoroge, El Tayeb, Philippa Ndisi-Hermann, and Godfrey ‘Gado’ Mwampenbwa, the esteemed Daily Nation cartoonist.
It’s an eclectic mix of everything from photography, cartoons, and paintings that are mostly oil paints or acrylics on canvas, although El Tayeb’s latest iconic images are all painted on wood.
Meanwhile, paper is the preferred medium of both Peterson Kamwathi (who draws with charcoal) and Ato Malinda (who uses pen and ink as well as oil paint).
Apparently having no unifying theme other than Verhoest’s appreciation of the other 10 artists exhibiting in 11 in One Day, the show actually came into being as a kind of farewell gift to a European friend who owns artwork by nearly all the 11 artists.
The exhibition’s opening coincided with her farewell party, so the evening became a celebration of Kenyan art as well as a parting gift to a good friend.
But the show is also a confirmation of the cosmopolitan character of contemporary Kenyan art. For there must be few capital cities in the world where Japanese and Belgian, Sudanese and Tanzanian artists exhibit side by side with Kenyans coming from Nyanza, Ngong, Ngecha and Nakuru as well as from Karen and Kileleshwa.
The fact that practically all the East Africans in the show have traveled studied and exhibited both within and outside the region is as much a testimony to the quality of the artists’ creative capacity as it is about the possibilities that art generally can open up to imaginative individuals.

Samuel Githui's high prices exceed expectations

 The only place this story about the genius of Samuel Githui was published was online at Otherwise, Githui insisted it not be published in Business Daily as he didn't want issues of money and prices of his art being discussed in public. Yet BD is all about money and prices, so I wouldn't promise him not to publish. But somehow, his wish came true. This piece never appeared in print. Yet his art is awesome and the depth of his message (quite apart from the pricing issue) most meaningful, so i felt compelled to share his images and his story. (Images to be posted shortly)


By Margaretta wa Gacheru
May 7, 2012 Unpublished

Samuel Githui has attended art residencies in Italy and seen what international artists ask for and often obtain on the European art market. His art is even in permanent museum collections overseas.

Yet by bringing a comparable pricing scale back with him to Kenya, Githui’s art may be beautiful, even thought-provoking, but the price-tag may be more than a Nairobi art market will bear.

Currently, at OneOff Gallery (in Roslyn), several of his paintings are selling for nearly KSh900,000: Mitungi, Nyororo, and Kusimama na Kumi which ironically are all reflective of the more humble side of Nairobi life, a world Githui knows well.

For Githui is a guy who had to drop out of Creative Arts Centre in the early 1990s for want of school fees. He went to work as a sign writer, painting billboards and logos for Softa soda, BAT and even Trust condoms.

He tried his luck with Gallery Watatu when Ruth Schaffner was still around. Yet the only way she would look twice at his artwork was when he shifted his style to something that appeared more untutored and naïve. By so doing, his work got into the initial East African Industries for East African Art exhibition in 1995.

It also led to an invitation from Rob Burnet to join Kuona Trust at the outset. Unfortunately, the promise made to provide art materials to struggling local artists was kept for only two weeks, according to Githui.

“After that, we were told to bring our own art supplies, which I couldn’t afford.” Plus bus fare from Donholm where he still lives to the Museum and back on a daily basis was also prohibitive.

Githui’s big break came in 1998 when a fellow artist, Dishon Obok, introduced him to Family Planning Private Sector, the NGO founded by Dr. Erick Krystal which since the 1980s had been enlisting local artists annually to help create socially meaningful calendars.

The year he started painting for FPPS, the social message artists were asked to illustrate was on corruption. Githui’s painting, called Land Grabbing won him KSh20,000, which at the time was big money to him. It gave him incentive to paint for FPPS for several more years.

Meanwhile, Transparency International also took note of his powerful political art which revealed the consequences of corruption, especially its impact on children and the growing social inequality.

In his current OneOff show, called Zebra Crossing, Githui returns to the theme of social inequality. Yet he does so with subtlety and understatement.

For instance, one might want one of his works out of appreciation for his cross-hatch technique of painting with contrasting hues of light and dark. You need not know the contrast is symbolic of Zebra Crossing intersection, which is just about the only place in Kenya, he notes, where the rich and the poor meet!

Think about it: the man on foot, on a bike, a boda boda, loading a wheel barrow, or waiting to board a bus. All are pictured in Githui’s paintings, yet none of them regularly encounter a rich man except on the road, where supposedly the pedestrian has the right of way.

Ironically, the rich man is barely visible in Githui’s art. Instead, it’s filled with humble folk: many men on bicycles, one with hessian sacks (Gunia) at the back, another riding in the pouring rain (Mvua Kali), another stuck with a broken chain (Nyororo).

He’s painted casual laborers (Vibarua) wondering where to go next, a family on foot loaded with all their belongings (Bwana na Bibi) and a young lad waiting in line to buy 20 bob of airtime (Bamba), symbolic, Githui says Bamba is symbolic since youth generally have much to say about solving Kenya’s social problems, but no one’s listening.

Zebra Crossing is filled with images of busy Nairobi life, like Ya Leo which is a portrait of a mitumbia (second hand clothes) seller scrubbing his wares so they look like ‘new’ once he takes them to the street for sale.

The only evidence of the Big Man in the show is Kanjo, which is Sheng for the scary City Council guys who drive around in large Land Rovers and demand bribes from the locals.

Currently preparing for the next East African Biennale in Bujumbura, he just took part in this year’s EAB in Kigale, the only Kenyan attending. Locally, he’s exhibited at Nairobi National Museum, at Gallery Watatu, the late RaMoMa Museum and Le Rustique restaurant.

Having exhibited both locally and abroad, Githui has come a long way since he dropped out of CAC. But he still lives in Donholm and stays in close range of glaring inequalities of Kenyan everyday life. His portraits are powerful reflecting people’s struggles to cope with the harsh realities of their lives.

Bertiers: one of Kenya's most brilliant sculptor-painters

Joseph Bertiers Mbatia is both a brilliant painter and sculptor. He's also an authentic Kenyan with a kind heart and uproareous sense of humor.
(I havent blogged for almost a month, mostly because I felt so bad about putting my story on Adil, the Kenyan connoisseur, on my blog before I had had the piece published in the Sunday Nation. The SN editor saw the blogged story and chose not to publish the same piece in SN because it had already been published in public space. I never meant to preempt myself, but I felt horrible about disappointing Adil. But i have to get back to blogging as i want a public record of a chunk of my newspaper work.)

A jovial artistic genius

 Joseph ‘Bertiers’ Mbatia
Joseph ‘Bertiers’ Mbatia 
By Margaretta wa Gacheru 
Posted  Tuesday, June 26  2012 at  19:38

Ever since he won the first juried art competition jointly organised by the Alliance Francaise and the Goethe Institute in 2006, the jovial genius of the Kenyan sculptor-painter from Dagoretti, Joseph ‘Bertiers’ Mbatia has become a global celebrity.
Share This Story

The juried prize was the first of many trips he’s taken to Europe and beyond. That first one took him to Germany and France, visiting museums and art galleries in Berlin, Frankfurt and Paris.
He even had a major exhibition of his art in Heidelberg. But even then, his preference was for Kenya and that kept him grounded and guileless.
Since then, Mbatia’s to Scandinavia several times as well as to the UK, US and West Africa.
But he is definitely a ‘homeyan’ at heart, the kind of who admits he gets the most inspiration for his art from ordinary Kenyans living their everyday lives.
It’s a reality that one can easily see in his exhibition of picturesque paintings and scrap metal sculptures currently at OneOff Gallery.
Mbatia has a gift for translating the energies, issues and absurdities of everyday Kenyan life into colourful and complex visual feasts that one can study for hours just to get all the jokes, juxtapositions and garrulous genius of Kenyans making do in their daily lives.
For instance, a painting like ‘Domestic Violence’ graphically depicts the issue that’s the current talk of town, that of women beating up their men.
It’s no laughing matter, but Mbatia’s gift for making satire into a visual art allows his painting to convey the broader picture of the whole problem women have with the men of Kenya today.
He does the same thing in his scrap metal sculptures. For instance, his ‘Vision 2030” makes a powerful statement about how he doesn’t see the vision materialising into anything new.
His monumental metallic matatu looks no different from those on the roads today except for far the fact that it’s more encumbered and crowded.
The artist admits he has a few paintings at OneOff which he has shown in earlier shows, such as ‘Stupidity never goes out of style’ which reveals the raucous style of humour that runs through most of Mbatia’s art.
The show seems slightly Spartan, which could be because Mbatia’s work currently features in not one but three exhibitions: one in Nairobi, another in London and a third, in Denmark, where his art is part of a group exhibition entitled “Power and Light” which is travelling all around the country through July. He was also recently featured in another group show at the Michael Joseph Centre entitled ‘Zebra in Red Heels’.
Another reason Mbatia doesn’t have more artworks at OneOff is because he handed over a dozen art works to a British art dealer who successfully sold four of them to the renowned African art collector Jean Pigozzi.
The other eight are currently on exhibition in the Fred Mann Gallery in London. Mann sold four paintings during the big Art Basel showcase in Switzerland back in June 201