In Summary
  • Six artists --Patrick Mukabi, Beatrice Wanjiku, Bertiers, Shabu Mwangi, Richard Kimathi and Anthony Okello-- show at Cork Street in glittering Galleryland, London.
  • The exhibition, arranged by Carol Lees of Nairobi’s One-Off gallery, opened on Thursday and will run for a further two weeks.
  • For certain they will show visitors that dark, dynamic and disturbing work is being produced in this region.

East African art is again making its mark on the international scene.

This time Kenya takes a bow with an exhibition in the heart of London’s Galleryland — that expensive area just off New Bond Street in the capital’s West End.

Six artists are showing 23 works at the Gallery of African Art in Cork Street, the first time Kenyans have shown at this prestigious address.

The exhibition, arranged by Carol Lees of Nairobi’s One-Off gallery, opened on Thursday and will run for a further two weeks.

It includes works by Patrick Mukabi, Beatrice Wanjiku, Bertiers, Shabu Mwangi, Richard Kimathi and Anthony Okello.

Mukabi is showing his tin sheet cut-outs; the rest are paintings and mixed media pictures.

Among them is a particularly powerful group by Beatrice Wanjiku.

Wanjiku’s paintings include a reference to the lasting power and popularity of Albrecht Durer’s drawing Praying Hands… like Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, or the Mona Lisa, once seen, forever embedded in the psyche and liable to pop up unannounced from time to time.

'AS THOUGH TO CONCEAL A BLUSH'

Hers is a delicate x-ray hand (a remembrance perhaps of her Transition series) photocopied and collaged onto the paper, the slender finger bones held across the face — the softest suggestion of a pink skull — as though to conceal a blush.

With it are a few of her more recent offerings, dealing with mortality and grief. Not easy viewing you might think, any more than the visceral explosions of Francis Bacon, yet these are strangely lyrical works.

A tender remembrance of someone’s pain, probably her own, rather than angst.

However, her study Beauty and Ugliness, mixed media on paper, is more the stuff of nightmares, genuinely horrific… a hooded head, the mask ripped to reveal the jawbones, bared teeth and staring eyes. Another in the series shows a head, again hooded, but this time with full lips, blood red and pouting, the raw jawbone all too visible.

These are collages that literally strip us to the bone; reveal those parts of us we would rather remained concealed.

For certain they will show visitors that dark, dynamic and disturbing work is being produced in this region — exactly the qualities that attracted European artists to African tribal pieces in the first place, around the advent of Cubism in the 1900s.

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