ART CHECK

Of green parks and the aesthetics of Kenyan towns

Uhuru Park renovation comes just as revellers plan for Christmas

In Summary

• The Wote Green Public Park is one of the finest green spaces in the country

Uhuru Park renovations begin to take shape on November 22
Uhuru Park renovations begin to take shape on November 22
Image: MERCY MUMO

To talk of aesthetics in art is to discuss the qualities of beauty and taste in objects and phenomena around us. The word aesthetics may sound quite complex to casual readers but is familiar among art lovers. The idea of beauty in relation to art may focus on three domains of evaluation.

The first domain approaches art as an imitation of nature. In this way, the depiction of nature in art or artistic objects is considered quite beautiful if it approximates the closest to the actuality of nature itself.

A painting of a sunset over a distant mountain range may excite the viewers if it is as close as possible to the natural order of this event. Art in this case is considered a beauty on the basis of its mirror reflection of nature.

The second domain of artistic evaluation approaches art as the product of emotion. The beauty of a work of art is gauged using the emotions that it elicits in the viewer. These emotions may cause pleasure effects in the five senses of a human, depending on the type of art in question.

The third domain of artistic evaluation approaches art as a product of great skill or talent. The skill or talent is the source of the exquisite design that different art forms take.

An artistic object can be regarded as one of great beauty based on the balance and harmony depicted by its form or design. In such a state, the design is the result of great imagination and structuring based on key principles, such as harmony, balance and order.

Think of aesthetics of beautification being conducted on Kenyan towns by local leaders. The Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) and the Nairobi City County have lately worked on ventures to enhance the beauty of the capital city.

The major city streets and Central Business District of Nairobi have had a number of changes based on the aesthetic principles above. Known as the garden of stone (shamba la mawe in Kiswahili or mugunda wa mahiga in Gikuyu), Nairobi is a concrete jungle indeed. Yet the florification initiatives of the NMS are aimed at making the city resume its former sobriquet as the “Green city under the sun".

The popular Uhuru Park will be closed for several months. Kenyans of the congested, low-economy neighborhoods south and east of Nairobi, who use this space as a site of recreation, will need to exercise patience in this festive season due to the impending renovation.

Away from the city, recently I was out on field trips. My work took me to Makueni county, whose leadership under Prof Kivutha Kibwana has been the talk of the nation for a while. The good professor has extended extra basic health services to citizens of his county to a commendable degree.

He runs the county from its seat of Wote, which is a two-hour drive to the southeast of Nairobi. Wote perches on a semi-arid bowl surrounded by competing hillocks that hem it in. On two of these prominent hills, one finds the famous secondary schools called Makueni Boys and Makueni Girls.

The annual Devolution Conference this week is being hosted on a hill near these two centres of academic excellence and discipline. By the way, no high schools across Makueni county have closed due to the recent wave of school unrest.    

Apart from his impressive paving of Wote roads left, right and centre, the governor is credited for one of the finest green spaces in the country. The Wote Green Public Park is a sterling piece of art. Here in dry Wote, the garden is a free-to-the-public area of great beauty.

The paved walks, the amazing floral gardens, the serene ambience, the great lighting and paintings, the sounds of birds chirping happiness in liquid noises, the breeze of hills and the chatter of happy denizens all combine to form the orchestra of aesthetic pleasure that is this garden.

The park has two steel statues of great height. One belongs to the often forgotten Mau Mau hero from the Akamba people known as Ndutu wa Kilungu (1924–2007). He fought British colonial rule under the war name of General Munoa Mana.

His case illustrates how the Mau Mau war affected other communities such as the Akamba, the Aembu and the Ameru.

Another key statue in the park is that of the pioneer Kenyan intellectual Prof JS Mbiti. The great theologian and poet wrote more than 20 books in his lifetime.

Many forget that he was the first Kenyan to publish a novel in vernacular, a feat that has become popularised by the later work of his protégé Prof Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

This garden is a confirmation that art is the product of imitation, emotion and form. The park elicits wonder in the mind of the visitor by the manner in which sights and sounds have been assembled to produce this handiwork of an art-sensitive government.

It is a confirmation of how artistic purpose meets with urban form to articulate the stories of both nature and culture in harmonious measure.