Home Arts Kenyan artists issue eco-warning in Manhattan

Kenyan artists issue eco-warning in Manhattan

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When the work of the late New York and Kenya-based sub-Saharan African wildlife photographer Peter Beard and Francis Bacon, Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Manhattan cool of the 1970s goes up for auction, the most prized lots are these large-format prints whose wide, highly detailed borders have been painted, over more than four decades, by local artists from the Hog Ranch Art Department, part of a complex Beard owned outside of Nairobi.

These painted borders, in watercolor and tempera, and the collage, writing and painting applied to the prints by the photographer and artists of Hog Ranch – some of them far from marginal and covering almost half the area of ​​the original photographs – make Beard’s work instantly recognizable. Major auction houses today recognize the work of individual Hog Ranch artists, such as E. Mwangi Kuria, Nathaniel Kiboi (or Kivoi), and Solomon Misigo, in catalog entries for fetching works by Beard. up to $500,000 each.

Nicholas Njenga, from the Pamoja collective, hungry vulturesacrylic on paper Courtesy of the artist; photographed by Jed Kamuyu

E. Mwangi Kuria, otherwise Elizaphanson Mwangi Gibson and now in his 78th year, his near-contemporary Kiboi, and Misigo (b. 1976), are three of eight former Hog Ranch artists who now make up the Pamoja art collective, and whose recent solo works take center stage and promise to give New Yorkers a fresh look at the contemporary art scene in Kenya in the show Kenyan Collectives at Affirmation Arts.

Nicholas Njenga (top), from the Pamoja collective, working on majestic love (above), oil on paper Courtesy of the artist; photographs by Jed Kamuyu

The exhibition brings together around 25 paintings by Pamoja members, largely dealing with the interaction between Kenya’s wildlife and its rural and urban people, and around 15 photographs from fashion and ecology-based narrative series by members of Turkana Artists Xchange, a group of 14 creatives based in Nairobi and the Turkana region in the far north of Kenya who work in visual arts, music, fashion and design. The two collectives also present collaborative works in which photographs of Turkana are framed with distinctive borders painted by Pamoja artists.

The exhibition, the penultimate exhibition at Affirmation Arts before the artists’ gallery owned by artist and philanthropist William T. Hillman moved this summer from its purpose-built base (which the city acquired under an estate eminent) at Hudson Yards in a new location in the Meatpacking District – came together when the gallery was introduced to two Kenyan female documentary filmmakers, Lucy Chodota and Jackie Lebo. Chodota makes a film about Pamoja and their post-Hog Ranch work. Lebo, a Nairobi-based documentarian and founder of Content House, a collective of filmmakers, photographers, artists and writers, was shooting a film in Turkana spurred by the threat to the region’s ecology posed by the discovery of oil in 2012, when she met the group of artists who inspired the collective photography project.

Picha Marangi and Elizabeth Korikel in The fastest marriagea fictional art project for the Turkana Xchange collective Project Director: Jackie Lebo; project manager: Chelagat Tum; photographer: Migwa Nthigah

The other members of Pamoja appearing in Kenyan Collectives are the sons of Mwangi, Gibson Kuria Mwangi and Macharia Mwangi; Gabriel Macharia, a contemporary of Kiboi and the elder Mwangi; and two other artists of the younger generation, Marimbe Parsimei and Nicholas Njenga. For Chotoda, the exhibition will go a long way in restoring the dignity of Pamoja artists “and addressing the social injustice suffered by African contributors to internationally acclaimed works of art.” It gives this group of Kenyan artists, “a chance to promote their work on a global platform, [and to] get the recognition and at least some compensation they deserve,” she says.

The Pamoja collective, in the portraits of Jed Kamuyu, from top row to bottom: Elizaphanson Mwangi Gibson (left) and Gabriel Macharia; Nathaniel Kiboi (left) and Nicholas Njenga; Gibson Kuria Mwangi (left) and Marimbe Parsimei; Macharia Mwangi (left) and Solomon Misigo Jed Kamuyu

Dennis Santella and Michael Allen of Affirmation Arts, who are curating the exhibition, are excited to bring the work of both collectives to the United States for the first time, and are providing the gallery’s service in kind to maximize revenue. going to the selling artists. Allen is eager to see his aesthetic biases challenged by the show. Some of Pamoja’s works “are really amazing. Very abstract but bringing very detailed animal figures that emerge from the abstraction”, explains Santella. Chodota hopes the exhibition will familiarize an international audience “with modern Africa and its vibrant art scene.”

Mourine Apuu in a snapshot of Oil + Milka project by Turkana Artist Xchange that addresses the discovery of oil in Turkana by personifying the properties, in black and white, of two liquids that are of great importance in the region Artist & model: Mourine Apuu; photographer: Migwa Nthigah

The two collectives are concerned about the threat to Kenya’s ecology, faced with global warming, pollution and the race for the country’s natural resources. Commenting on his acrylic on paper hungry vultures, Njenga refers to the effect of drought where “even the vultures” have nothing to feed on. For his oil on canvas world fires, Misigo writes of “birds/creatures dying desperately”. For one of the Turkana collective projects, artists Elizabeth Korikel, Margy Modo and Chebet Mutai and photographer Migwa Nthigah created a fictional photo essay, Floating flightfilmed in Eliye Springs, Lake Turkana, the largest desert lake in the world, which they say ‘risks drying up if the Omo River dam continues unchecked’.

Kenyan Collectives, until May 26, assertive arts

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