In Summary
  • The exhibition, called Labyrinth, is set mainly on a series of angled screens, under canvas on the large rear patio of the residence.
  • You wander through the lanes between the screens allowing many of the works to take you by surprise as they come into view.

One man can make a difference. And so can one woman. Such a woman was the former Dutch ambassador to Kenya, Laetitia van den Assum.

She believed passionately in the power of art to encourage good governance through a more aware and open society.

Her method was sponsorship. The local arts scene benefited hugely, and the lady is fondly remembered. And the man? Step forward Bart Ouvry, the ambassador of Belgium to Kenya.

M. Ouvry came here in May 2011 and immediately set about encouraging the arts. A keen collector, he ensured the walls of his embassy and official residence were hung with exemplary works from the Belgian national collection.

And he was the driving force behind a series of exhibitions held to celebrate King’s Day, the Belgian national holiday that takes places on November 15, and honours the country’s ruling dynasty.

Last year it was King Albert. He stepped down and now it is King Phillipe. That’s dynasties for you.

M. Ouvry’s exhibitions were curated by expat Belgian art experts, of whom there are a surprising number. Gallery owner Samantha Ripa de Meana handled the first, consultant curator Gonda Geets the second, last year, and now it is the turn of collector and furniture maker Marc van Rampelberg.

M. Ouvry’s exhibitions were staged in his official residence, the delightful pastiche of Versailles that sits on the edge of Muthaiga. He leaves us next August, so this will be his last show. It is interesting — and this ambassador will be badly missed.

Van Rampelberg has assembled 162 works by 12 artists — seven painters and five sculptors — to give us what he subtitles 50 years of art in Kenya. Elsewhere it is described, “a look at Kenya’s artistic past and present.”

LABYRINTH

The exhibition, called Labyrinth, is set mainly on a series of angled screens, under canvas on the large rear patio of the residence. You wander through the lanes between the screens allowing many of the works to take you by surprise as they come into view.

Big names are there, on pictures that have lain in private collections and remained unseen for years.

The show will remain in place for at least a couple of weeks and invitations have been sent out to schools so children can wander through the lanes of their own heritage.

Hopefully, they will be educated and inspired by some of the work on show. It is by the painters Jak Katarikawe, Sane Wadu, Kivuthi Mbuno (early ones, before he began putting little fantasy blackbirds on top of all his creatures), Peterson Kamwathi, Richard Kimathi, Fitsum Berhe and Patrick Mukabi.

The sculptors are Gakunju Kaigwa, the late Samwel Wanjau, Jackson Wanjau, Morris Foit and Chelenge van Rampelberg, who also contributes a painting and several large woodblocks.

The exhibition is accompanied by an excellent catalogue produced by the photographer James Muriuki. The need for catalogues is rapidly becoming a hobby horse of mine. Done properly, they are souvenirs that radiate knowledge and add to the region’s artistic development.

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