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Friday, July 28, 2017

Artists seek to transform nairobi art scene

Poonam Suryavanshi
Poonam Suryavanshi

 On February 2, a group of four artists came together for an art exhibition at the Four Cafe in Gigiri.

Gemini Vaghela, Poonam Suryavanshi, Natasha Joshi and Onyis Martin have been interested in art since they were kids, and they are grateful for the spaces they have to display their creativity.

 Natasha Joshi works at a printing firm in Nairobi, and dabbles in art in her free time. Her passion in art was seen as early as she can remember and she took studied art until form four. She had her first exhibition in 2013.

 “I am more of a mixed media artist, but I am comfortable with pencil and pastel work. I also started working with acrylic to branch out,” she says.

 Natasha feels that not many people appreciate art yet there are quite a number of artists who have a lot of art to showcase but do not have the platform. It was the quest to find space for her art that she met Gemini, who told them of the opportunity.

 “There is no specific theme in this exhibition, we brought in what we worked on recently,” she says.

 Natasha displayed three pieces: Two Souls, which, according to her is the representation of the deepest feelings that always show themselves in silence; Papillon, French for butterfly, which was inspired by the need to forget the confusion in life and looking into the bright side of everything; and Masked Maiden, which portrays how many people do not want everyone to see the things they have gone through, and that's why they put on a mask.

 “Most of my pieces are inspired by my personal experience and the different points of my life,” she says.

 Also displaying her three pieces is Gemini, who has always been painting since she was a kid.

 “I kept all my paintings but first exhibited in Australia, where I lived for 10 years, before moving back to Nairobi in 2010,” she says, adding that she has exhibited in a number of places including Riva Cafe on Limuru Road, Banana Hill, Tarifa Suite and the Museum, during the International Women's Day.

 According to Gemini, it is quite hard for people to give artists space to display their work, and it is this issue that made her decide not to wait for anyone but to take the chance on her own. She sought partnerships with a variety of restaurants for exhibition space.

 “I have received positive responses from four restaurants, and we have worked on a commission between them and us,” she says.

 Gemini adds that the other challenge they face as artists is getting people to look at the art.

 “The perception of African art limits the chances of the artists, as not everyone wants to buy African art,” she says.

 With a love for water, Gemini focuses on semi-abstract art, especially water-based ones. She also loves working on textures that give the paintings the desired feel, something that is evident on her paintings Midnight Moon, The Eclipse and Golden Reflections.

 Her aim as an artist and organiser is to open up people's minds especially in Kenya to look at art not only as a decorative thing but also an investment. She encourages artists to work together with other artists as it is a way to promote themselves and the art industry as a whole.

 Her sentiments are shared by Poonam, who encourages artists to attend exhibitions to get their name out there. A graduate of fashion and textile, Poonam has been interested in art since she was 13, and studied it till high school.

 After finishing her studies in Australia, she came back to Kenya in 2011 and toured a number of other countries in 2012. She had her first solo exhibition at Tarifa Suites, titled Memories, They Last Forever.

It is from this exhibition that she was able to link up with other artists, including Martin Onyis, to not only contribute to the art scene in Nairobi, but to also give them the space to exhibit. Such a meeting generated into the Journey exhibition, which featured 15 artists for two weeks.

 Her main aim is to ensure that art receives the same attention as other professions, and to add value to the existing art scene.

 “People have different takes on art, but it shows the versatility in the scene."

 About her work, Poonam considers them philosophical as it looks at what has shaped her life. She usually uses mixed media, but the pieces on the exhibition were something different.

 “This is a new series that I worked on using gel pen and pencil to look at how people will react to my art work. Gel pen makes my creativity flow,” she says.

 Her painting, The World, looks at the things that pull a person in all directions, but they focus on how to go ahead. I Saw Them and I stare into Empty Space, are both influenced by poetry, and are a reflection of her thoughts and interpretation of life.

 “There is no definition of life; you have to find it yourself,” she says.

 As one of the artists that has not considered himself as an artist, Martin Onyis started his art as a hobby. He started when he was six, and he became the winner of the Kiwi Art Competition, which arouse his desire to become an artist.

 In high school, he concentrated more on football because art was not offered as a course in their school. But after school, he joined Mukuru Art, a collection of artists, but left in the middle due to logistical issues. However, he came back to teach kids and work on beadwork and jewellery with the kids.

 He later joined Godown Art Centre for a year, but lack of inspiration made him leave again.

 “Many people wondered why I was paying for a studio and yet not paint anything,” he says, adding that his first exhibition was in class four, but it was for charity. Other exhibitions he has been featured include Kenyans for Kenya, Journey I and II, and Maanjano exhibition.

 On his paintings, he has ventured out of his usual style - painting on lessos - because he believes that an artist needs to be diverse.

 Family Photo 1 was inspired by the presence of family photos in almost all homes Onyis has been to. False Account is one of the Journal series, and displays the perceptions that comes with slums, as well as the realities on the ground.

 The last piece, Mother and Child, is reflection of the value of the mother, and the unconditional love that they give their children.

To all these artists, one thing is for sure: all artists need to keep painting, concentrate on their painting, and make sure that they look for opportunities to exhibit their work and to work with other artists.

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