Dazzling display at the Affordable Art Show

That Kenya is teeming with artistic talent came out in the open on the night of Friday October 24 when the Affordable Art Show opened at the National Museums of Kenya. About 300 artists had their works on display at the three-day event organised by the Kenya Museum Society.

New entrants in the visual art world had their works displayed alongside those of established artists, all competing for the attention of buyers keen to acquire reasonably priced art. None of the pieces on display cost more than sh100,000; there were smaller pieces going for between sh6,000 and sh10,000.

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Lydia Galavu curator of the Creativity Gallery at the National Museums explained that artistes were required to submit two big pieces and two small ones. The Safaricom and Java sponsored event attracted a full house, with a carnival-like atmosphere. The turn-up was clear testimony that local art has quite some following.

The pieces on display covered a wide spectrum of themes, from the mundane to sophisticated stuff like geopolitics. There are also those who tackled topical issues. David Karibu Karanja had reproduced the iconic picture of Abdul Hajji rescuing a terrified girl at the Westgate Mall armed with only a pistol. Karanja’s piece was selling for sh25,000.

Keen users of Kenya’s social media will by now have come across a picture of a rugged old man, bent almost double by age. This image is routinely tossed into the comments section of pages with wide following, for nuisance value. Here it went by the title Do you have a phone charger please? I wonder if this one got a buyer.

Adrian Nduma

Adrian Nduma

Then there were pieces that were in huge demand. Adrian Nduma’s semi abstract pieces Contempt and Strong were bought even before the event came to a close. Each were going for sh55,000. I am sure if he had more pieces they all would have gone. Next to Nduma’s pieces was Martin Muhoro’s The Wild Vision, which an observant collector remarked looked like it had been done by veteran Yoni Waite, to which Wangechi, the curator at The Nairobi Gallery agreed.

Speaking of impressionable artists Leonard Ngure’s Dagoretti Market and Kinyua Kimani’s Heroes would easily be confused with something that Joseph Bertiers did. Seeing my dilemma, Lydia said they both are students of Bertiers. Clearly, here is an artist keen to mentor the next generation of artists. Bertiers himself had two pieces, namely Cat Painting and Caught in the Act.

Joseph Bertiers Caught in the Act

Joseph Bertiers Caught in the Act

Caught in the Act depicted the clergyman who, a month ago was in the news having been caught with another man’s wife in a lodging. Trust Bertiers, whose work is full of sexual imagery, to pounce on such a topic. In the painting, the nearly naked woman sits on a bed with a cat between her legs – hint! Hint! while the ‘pastor’ had an unpeeled banana and a rungu somewhere between his legs. Does the unpeeled banana represent the fact that the union had not yet been ‘consummated’ by the time the two were caught?

There was another master/teacher team; that one of Eric Wamagata and his teacher Lexander Mbugua. Both had done miniature impressions of Lamu/Zanzibar doors. Interestingly, by the end of the event it is the pupil’s more elaborate ‘door’ that had attracted the attention of a buyer.

Michael Soi, persisted with his theme of sex tourism, an issue tourism authorities are keen to keep under wraps. Weighing my Options featured a Kenyan woman torn between two white men, while I love Diani had a randy white old man tagging at the strings of a bikini-clad African woman.

Culture CS Hassan Wario, who was the chief guest at the event revealed that his ministry has prepared a cabinet memorandum that would see the establishment of a National Art Gallery to give ‘Kenyan art a permanent home’. Also in the pipeline, said the CS, was a ‘vibrant Art Department’.

The Kenya Museum Society (KMS) is a volunteer organization founded in 1970 by a group who included Richard Leakey and Hilary N’gweno, to support the Nairobi Museum. The Affordable Art Show was an event of the Society
from the mid-1990’s when it was held in conjunction with the annual visual and performing Art
Festival.  After a 7-year hiatus the Show was revived last year in response to artists’
requests and popular demand.  The 2013 show raised more than 500,000 shillings which the Society donated for storage structures and the restoration of certain pieces of the Permanent Art Collection.

Onduko bw’Atebe: Writing is a labour of love

Despite the challenges facing the local writing industry, writer Onduko bw’Atebe prefers to see it as a half full glass rather than half empty. “The Kenyan writing scene is changing for the better,” he says. “More people are getting into the scene which is a good thing.”

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Atebe’s book Verdict of Death, published EAEP, won the inaugural Wahome Mutahi Literary Prize in 2006. The prize is awarded by the Kenya Publishers Association (KPA) every two years in honour of the late humourist Wahome Mutahi of the Whispers fame. It alternates with the more established Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature, also ran by KPA.

Towards the end of September 2014 KPA announced Yusuf Dawood as the fifth winner of the Wahome Mutahi Literary Award with his book The Last Word, which is a collection of past episodes of his Surgeon’s Diary column. He beat off competition from Nation editor Ng’ang’a Mbugua, who had submitted This Land is our Land (Big Books), a collection of poetry, and A Gift from A stranger (KLB), a play written by University of Nairobi lecturer Waigwa Wachira.

It is worth noting that Yusuf Dawood pocketed sh50,000, the same amount Atebe won eight years ago. In the intervening period the cost of living has shot up, inflation has given Kenyans a hiding and still writers get the same amount of money for an effort that took them the better part of four years. It is any wonder Kenyan writers do not have enough motivation to write?

Atebe took time off his busy schedule to talk about the award and Kenyan writing in general. While acknowledging that things could be better he nevertheless feels that positive strides have been made in the writing scene. “Some of our Kenyan authors have made their presence known on the international scene,” he offers. “Billy Kahora of Kwani? has been nominated twice for the Caine Prize for African Writing. Vyonne Owuor’s blockbuster Dust is currently scorching the literary world. Compared to eight years ago Binyavanga has firmly established himself in the international literary scene.”

“Let us also not forget Okwiri Oduor who won the Caine Prize this year with her short story My Father’s Head. You see, good things are happening on the local writing scene. With such shining examples our children have something worthwhile to aspire to,” says Atebe.

verdict-of-death-by-onduko-bw-atebe

In spite of the progress he has enumerated Atebe is however convinced that a lot needs to be done to improve the welfare of local writers; those who do not have international connections like the ones he has mentioned above. “The uncomfortable truth is that it can be difficult for someone to make ends meet through writing alone in Kenya,” he explains. “You see after my book won the prize I thought I would live off writing. I even took an initiative to market it in schools across the country but at the end I realised that my expenses far outstripped what I was making.”

Faced with the stark reality of a shrivelled bank account Atebe decided to cast his net wider and veered off into business. “Here in Kenya you need a firm financial background only then can you embark on writing,” says Atebe who today is a contractor in the rural electrification sector.

His business endeavours however have left him with little time to put pen on paper. “My work eats up most of my time,” he says. “I am forever on the road; come evening I am exhausted and sleepy.” Verdict of Death remains his only book. “I had a completed manuscript but it was destroyed when a virus wreaked havoc on my computer. I spent a lot of time grieving over the lost manuscript.”

He assures his readers that if all goes well they will be reading another of his books in the ‘near future’. “I have two incomplete manuscripts I am working on. The good thing is that I am not new in the field of writing,” he explains. “A number of publishers have approached me asking me to write for them, so I am not short of options.”

Atebe asks Kenyan publishers to pull up their socks as far as marketing creative works is concerned. “They don’t do much marketing which explains why readers are not aware of what is available by local authors,” he says. He disputes the notion that Kenyans do not read. “Visit any local bookshop today and you will see stacks and stacks of novels, only that they are by Western authors. You can’t buy something you are not aware of” he adds.

He faults his publisher EAEP for not doing enough to market his book after it won the Wahome Mutahi Prize. “The least they would have done it to ensure that subsequent editions have a stamp indicating that it won a prize. That would have helped boost the sales,” he explains.

He is happy that Yusuf Dawood won the Wahome Mutahi Prize. “I really enjoy reading what the good surgeon writes,” says Atebe.

Book piracy and the Chinese connection

A few months ago visual artist Michael Soi, based at the Godown Arts Centre in Nairobi, found himself on the receiving end Chinese visit who felt that he was giving their country a bad name in spite of the ‘good things’ China was doing for Africa. The visitors had been in the delegation of the Chinese Prime Minister, who had been a guest of President Uhuru Kenyatta.

The bone of contention had to do with China Loves Africa, a series of satirical paintings poking fun at the duplicitous nature of China’s relations with Africa. Far from silencing Soi, the visit must have served as an incentive to spur him on. In his latest piece, China Loves Africa 27, done on September 30, Soi depicts a group of well-suited Chinese ‘gentlemen’ ogling the bikini-clad body of an African pole dancer.

Michael Soi's China Loves Africa #27

Michael Soi’s China Loves Africa #27

The message of Soi’s art is that China is only interested in the ‘fundamentals’ of the African continent depicted as the body of a well-endowed African woman, and that the trade is merely the excuse for raping the continent’s resources. Africa is depicted in the unflattering light of a woman of easy virtue, hawking her ‘products’ to the highest bidder.

Conservationists have for some time now been complaining that China’s gigantic appetite for animal trophies is responsible for the dwindling population of wildlife in the country, especially elephants and rhinos. Publishers have now entered the fray and without mincing words are accusing the Asian giant of abetting Intellectual Property (IP) crimes by allowing pirates to print their books in China without carrying out due diligence.

Publishers under their umbrella body the Kenya Publishers Association (KPA) say that if the government does not check the activities of book pirates, the publishing industry, as we know it will be brought to its knees. Piracy is slowly but surely proving to be a publisher’s worst nightmare. Pirates target the fast moving books, print them illegally and flood them in the market at throw away prices, thus undercutting the original publishers.

Today, pirates are not only targeting the fast selling books but are also picking on any book that is guaranteed even modest sales and having them printed offshore, with China and India being the most preferred locations.

Publishers have for the longest time been howling in the wind with no one to listen to them. However things were different on Saturday September 27, when none other than the Attorney General graced the Wahome Mutahi Prize gala night, which is organised by KPA.

Seizing the occasion, Lawrence Njagi, the chair of KPA told Prof Githu Muigai how book pirates are threatening to wipe out the gains Kenyan publishers have made over the years. “If pirates are not stopped in their tracks in future we might not be able to congregate here to celebrate the efforts of writers,” he said.

Njagi urged the AG to oversee the crafting of stiffer penalties aimed at deterring Pirates once and for all. He called for the empowerment of the Kenya Copyright Board (KECOBO) such that it is mandated to clear all educational materials, including book, being imported into the country. “That way it will be easier to know who is bringing in what into the country,” he explained. “Pirates will think twice before shipping their containers of pirated books.”

Kakai Karani, who heads the anti-piracy committee at KPA, urged the AG to ensure that IP Crimes are elevated to the more serious economic crimes. “The current sh800,000 slapped on pirates is small potatoes to the big pirates who might have shipped in books worthy more than sh5 million,” noted Karani.

And the AG, flanked KPA chair Lawrence Njagi (Left) and Musyoki Muli of Longhorn did a small jig...

And the AG, flanked KPA chair Lawrence Njagi (Left) and Musyoki Muli of Longhorn did a little jig…

They must have been preaching to the converted for the AG promised to “fight the pirates living off your sweat.” He touched of the small matter of rebasing the economy – which had by then not been formally implemented – and explained that the intellectual property sector which previously not been factored in economic projections was now one of the pillars of the economy that catapulted Kenya to middle income status.

“I know, only too well, the heartbreak of having to stare at a blank screen for hours,” said the AG as he revealed that he has been attempting to write a fictional short story for the last ten or so years without success.

The import of his statement was that matters that affect the IP sector, like piracy, will be dealt with with the seriousness they deserve. No one wants Kenya slipping back to the low income strata.

 

 

 

 

 

Uhuru Kenyatta’s art gift for George Bush

While President Uhuru Kenyatta was visiting the US, greater focus was, understandably, on the details of the trade talks as well as the fact that Kenya was trying to mend fences with Barrack Obama’s (Cousin Barry to some Kenyans) country, seeing as America’s ‘Choices have Consequences’ edict, in reference to Uhuru’s ICC case,  had pulled the two countries apart.

Focus was to later dramatically shift to President Kagame’s daughter (you know how that one went). Much later Uhuru was pictured in a Stetson – here in Kenya we call the godfather or godpapa – holding somewhat oversized American cowboy boots – gifts he was given by Texas cowboys, who also made him an honorary citizen. Although he eventually did visit George Bush Jnr – he of ‘you are either with us or the enemy’ – not much was said about a piece of ‘cloth’ the two were pictured holding.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and George Bush holding the painting.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and George Bush holding the painting.

 

Well, that piece of cloth was a painting Uhuru donated the former US president – don’t ask how they came to know each other, I don’t know either. Turns out the Uhuru appreciates art – Kenyan art to be specific – that he considered it important enough to give it to a former US president as a gift.

Patrick Kinuthia's painting  Si Hoja.

Patrick Kinuthia’s painting Si Hoja.

I did a little digging and realised that the painting is titled Ni hoja, lakini sio hoja (It is an issue but not an issue) – confusing huh? Well that is what artists do sometimes; confuse people – done by Patrick Kinuthia.

 

The painting, an acrylic on canvas, measuring 100 by 150 cm, features a couple standing before a group of women in an open air market. From the picture, it would appear like the man is trying to tell the woman, with baby strapped on her back something. The woman is either ignoring the man or is pretending not to hear.

From the picture is not clear whether the man and woman are a couple or not. Curiously though the man is clutching a package with the letters VCT clearly written on it. Could it be that the couple have just from a VCT centre? Who between, the man and the woman is saying the words ni hoja, lakini sio hoja? More importantly, why would they chose to have such a conversation in a public place.

Banana Hill-based artist Patrick Kinuthia.

Banana Hill-based artist Patrick Kinuthia.

Still, could the man be a health worker trying to convince the women in a market place to go and have their HIV statuses checked? Questions, questions and more questions. Incidentally, that is what a good artist is supposed to do; provoke your mind into thinking. And as they say, you take what you see in a piece of art. Hopefully, George Bush will have his own interpretation if he hangs the painting in his office.

William Ndwiga, the director of The Little Art Gallery says he received a call from the Kenyan ambassador to the US, asking for a ‘high value painting that can be displayed in a museum in the USA, for posterity’. He disclosed that the piece of art was bought for sh350,000 (approx 4,000 usd). “I see The Little Art Gallery running Art exhibitions by Kenyans in Kenyan embassies, around the world, to showcase what Kenya has to offer to the world. I have already started this process,” explains Ndwiga.

William Ndwiga, projects coordinator, The Little Art Gallery.

William Ndwiga, projects coordinator, The Little Art Gallery.

Kinuthia’s bio says his paintings ‘reflect both a freestyle approach as well as a disciplined observer of human and animal form behaviour’. Born in 1967, Kinuthia worked for Citizens Cinema Cooperation as a poster artist for its cinema halls, making scenery and portraits under the tutelage of Pakistani artist Mohammed Rafiq. Kinuthia is based in Banana Hill.

 

Mbugua, Dawood to battle it out for Wahome Mutahi Literary Prize

This year’s Wahome Mutahi Literary prize is shaping up to be another epic battle between surgeon Yusuf Dawood and journalist Ng’ang’a Mbugua. They both have been nominated in the Adult English category of the award set to be delivered at the end of September.

My Land

Dawood’s book The Last Word, published by Longhorn a collection of essays that have been published in the Surgeon’s Diary column in Sunday Nation, has been nominated alongside Mbugua’s book This land is our Land, (Big Books) a collection of poetry. The other nominee is a book titled A Gift from a Stranger (KLB) authored by Waigwa Wachira.

The first contest between the two took place in 2011 when Dawood’s novel Eye of the Storm was nominated alongside Mbugua’s Terrorists of the Aberdare. Eye of the Storm took the ultimate prize with Terrorists of the Aberdare coming in at second. Literary observers agree that it was a close contest.

Dawood

In 2012 the two writers were at it again. Dawood’s book Eye of the Storm was again in contention, this time for the Wahome Mutahi Prize against Mbugua’s Different Colours. This time Mbugua took home the prize. Mbugua is a veteran of the Wahome Mutahi Prize as Terrorists of the Aberdare had won the prize in 2010.

Ng'ang'a Mbugua (Left), is all smiles as he receives his winner's certificate from Prof Egara Kabaji, who was the chief guest at the ceremony

Ng’ang’a Mbugua (Left), receiving his winner’s certificate at a previous awards ceremony

The Wahome Mutahi Literary Prize is held every two years in honour of the late humourist and novelist Wahome Mutahi of the Whispers column fame. It is organised by the Kenya Publishers Association and held at the end of the annual Nairobi International Book Fair.

There are four different categories to be awarded in the Wahome Mutahi Prize, namely English Adult, Kiswahili Adult, English Children and Kiswahili Children categories. The two children’s categories were introduced for this year’s Award.

Nominees in the Kiswahili Adult category are Juma Namlola’s Kula kwa Mheshimiwa (JKF), Tom Olali’s Watu wa Gehenna (JKF) and Jeff Mandila’s Upepo wa Mvua (JKF). In the Children English category, the nominees are Charles Gecaga’s Kuti makes a Difference (KLB), Naomi the Detective by Joseph Muleka (KLB) and A Note for Alice by Mureithi Maina (Moran).

In the Kiswahili Children category the nominees are John Kobia’s Maskini Punda (KLB), Kiswahili Gani by Lilian Wairimu (KLB) and Bitugi Matundura’s Adhabu ya Joka (Longhorn). Winners in each category will take home a cash prize of sh50,000.

A win for Ng’ang’a will be a major boost for Kenyan poets at it will be the first time a collection of poetry will be winning a major literary prize in the country. Literary prizes in Kenya are seen to only recognise prose writers. The Wahome Mutahi Literary Prize however has demonstrated its flexibility when the prize was awarded to activist Okoiti Omtata’s play Voice of the People in 2008.

Check out our review of Mbugua’s poetry book.

The judging panel consists of Dr Tom Odhiambo, as chair, of University of Nairobi, Prof Wangari Mwai of Kenyatta University and Rose Mavisi of Catholic University.

Sheng has a bright future; haters will hate

Many bad things have been written and said about Sheng particularly on the ‘harmful’ effects it has on examinable subjects like English and Kiswahili. It has severally been claimed, especially by educationists, that poor performances in these two languages can be traced to the malign effect of Sheng.

Prof Kang'ethe

Prof Kang’ethe

However, Prof Frederick Kang’ethe, who teaches French at USIU and who has done extensive research in Sheng, holds a different view. “That is an intellectually lazy way of looking at things,” he says. “How is it that a language that has never been taught in school is now threating established languages that are taught up to university level? No language is responsible for the problems of another language.”

“Maybe we need to interrogate our teaching methods and establish how effective they are as well as the motivation for teaching these languages,” explains Prof Kang’ethe adding that those currently criticising Sheng are engaging in a futile exercise as Sheng is here to stay; besides, it has a very bright future. He wonders why an overwhelming majority of advertisements on Kenyan TV are done in Sheng if the language is as useless as we are made to believe.

He gives the evolvement of the French language as an example of why the blanket dismissal of Sheng is misinformed. “Before French came to be accepted as the international language of diplomacy Latin was the recogised as the formal mode of communication,” he explains. “French, at the time, was derisively referred to as vulgar Latin, since it was the simplified version of Latin.”

However, with time, French became more popular among the people and the result is that it became a fully-fledged language while the mother language (Latin) died. Similarly, according to Prof Kang’ethe, Kiswahili runs the risk of being consigned to the dustbin by Sheng. “Sheng should be viewed as colloquial Kiswahili and just like we have colloquial English co-existing alongside formal English, Kiswahili should learn to co-exist with Sheng,” he explains.

Prof Kang’ethe, who has also published on Sheng, dismisses the notion that Sheng keeps changing and therefore cannot be described as a standard language. “Contrary to popular belief, Sheng has quite an enduring vocabulary,” he explains. “Look at the words Chapaa or Fathee for example; these words are as old as sheng itself but are now back in use. Just like in other languages, words that do not hold are discarded.”

He even insists that there are some aspects where Sheng is more advanced than Kiswahili. He gives the example of classification of humans and animals. “It is generally accepted that humans should not be classified with animals and that it why English use ‘it’ to describe animals, unlike Kiswahili which gives animals human qualities,” explains Prof. Kang’ethe. “Kiswahili will say Mbwa amelala just like it will say Kamau amelala. Sheng on the other hand will say Dogie imelala, thereby giving it a distinction from humans.” This, he adds, is more in line with human logic.

And that is precisely why he will stick out his neck and say that Sheng has grammar. “Dogie imelala is correct grammar while Dogie amelala is bad grammar. I know sheng detractors will hate me for this but it just has to be said.”

 

Fare thee well George Tyson

The Tanzanian movie industry is mourning the death George Tyson the man credited with revolutionisng that industry. He made his name with the 2002 movie Girlfriend which featured heavyweight Bongo Flava artists like TID, Crazy GK and AY. Coincidentally that is the movie that catapulted the Tanzanian movie scene from a hobby into a money minting venture.

Tysoo

It is ironical that Tyson, a Kenyan, is credited with opening up and developing the Tanzanian movie industry, yet his mother country, still in the movie wilderness, did not have time for him. Now he is dead.

Tyson, whose real names are George Okumu Otieno met his death on the evening of Friday May 30. He was in a group of eight people – The Mboni Show crew – who were travelling from Dodoma back to dare salaam. He was the producer/director of The Mboni Show, a talk show that airs on Tanzanian’s East Africa TV. They had gone to donate desks to a school in Dodoma as part of marking the show’s third year anniversary.

Reports indicate that upon reaching Gairo near Morogoro, at around 6.45pm their car, a Toyota Grania, experienced a tire burst which made it lose control and roll several times. It is said that Tyson was thrown out of the rolling car, where he later succumbed to his injuries. Susan Lewis, also an actress, and who is the mother of Tyson’s former wife Monalisa, told Tanzania’s Global TV that just before he died Tyson wondered aloud who would take care of his children now ‘that he was dying’.

George Tyson

Tyson is survived by Sonia Akinyi, 14, and another adopted child. He is the only who died among those who were traveling in the same car with him; the rest sustained injuries.

After the release of Girlfriend Tyson got married to Monalisa (Yvonne Cherry) who starred in the movie, and together they got Sonia. The couple later separated but were still close to each other. At the time of his death Tyson was living in Mbezi area of Dare salaam. His body was airlifted was to JKIA, from Dar, and woud be buried in his ancestral home of Siaya.

Tyson studied TV production at the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication. In 1991, he landed a scholarship to study Film-making and Drama and the Durban Institute of Film-making. He briefly worked with the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation before returning to Kenya to join state broadcaster KBC, where he directed short dramas for radio and TV and the short-lived Play of the Week.

He also tried his hand on stage directing where he directed a number of productions at the Kenya National Theatre including The Concubine, Romeo and Juliet and Kisima cha Giningi. After some time a colleague told him of a job opening in Dar with ITV which was looking for drama producers. He worked with ITV up to 2001 before leaving to start freelance work.

He got the nickname Tyson as a result of his exploits in the boxing ring. “I took up boxing by chance after my sister came home crying following a beating from a boy in our neighbourhood,” he told this writer in 2004. When he went to defend the honour of his sister the boy turned the tables on him and gave him a thorough beating instead. “I henceforth vowed to train as a boxer as well as doing some weightlifting,” he added.

He joined Posta Club where he trained with the likes of the late Robert Wangila Napunyi – the 1988 Olympic gold medalist – but never got to participate in major tournament. “During training sessions I used to knock out opponents in quick succession, hence the name Tyson,” he added.

Apart from Girlfriend Tyson’s other major movie was Dilemma, which also featured big name stars. “The whole idea is to work with people who influence public opinion as a way of attracting viewership.”

At its peak Girlfriend sold over 100,000 copies.