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The East African : Aug 11th 2014
VIII a≥t The EastAfrican MAGAZINE AUGUST 9-15,2014 EXHIBITION Diminishing Af≥ican cultu≥e influence By CAROLINE ULIWA Special Correspondent A n art work by Mawande Ka Zenzile bears the words: “You’re an African, you must speak Swahili.” These words are also contained in an invite circulating in social media at an exhibition at Nafasi Artspace in Dar es Salaam where he has been a resident for a month. These are such bold words, laden with meaning for Tanzania, where Swahili is the oŒcial language. At first I though the exhibition Then we come to Kaspa’s third and most distinctive style, that of the graphic artist. He paints heavily stylised baobab trees with massive red fruits that look like patterns rather than paintings Cent≥e whe≥e a≥tists flit f≥om style to style Di≠e≥ent a≥tists, a va≥iety of styles; sometimes explo≥ing a common theme, often simply showing what they can do, w≥ites FRANK WHALLEY Top: Sacred Place. Above: Reunion. Below: Boabab. Picture: Frank Whalley exploring a common theme, often simply showing what they can do. But what when one artist is his own T mixed show? he joy of a mixed exhibition is that there is usually something to please all tastes. Different artists, a variety of styles; sometimes Should we celebrate his diversity, or bemoan the butterfly approach that sees him flit from style to style, settling on no leaf, making no statement other than, “I am here, come and admire the beauty of my wings?” A chance to decide comes with the solo exhibition of Paul Kasambeko at the Banana Hill Arts Centre to the west of Nairobi until the end of this week. There some 25 paintings betray — “celebrate,” if you prefer — a multiplicity of styles of which at least three are sufficiently distinct to categorise. Let us call them Academic, Impressionistic and Graphic. Kasembeko, who signs his work Kaspa, was trained at the Margaret Trowell School of Industrial and Fine Art at Makerere, the breeding ground for many of the region’s best known first generation artists. A Ugandan brought up in the Kam- pala suburb of Kanyanya, Kaspa is aged 33 and has been painting full time since 2005. As a graduate of the formal disci- plines of Makerere, we can expect the skills necessary to nail Academic art to the wall — and we are not disappointed. There is a solidity to the painting Sacred Place that shows the tree at its centre massively rooted to both the ground and in the consciousness of the small figures that mill around its base. Exaggerated or not, it explains precisely why this grove has become sacred; a mythological place outside normal knowledge. Bold rectangles of rooftops create the well-defined structure of My Neighbourhood, while market scenes and a view of a ferry show an artist willing, through energetic use of colour, to push against the boundaries of his comfort zone. Then there is a shift to Impression- ism with pictures such as Glamorous Island and The Search. In these, sound drawing remains the strong framework on which Kaspa hangs a much looser technique with free, flickering brushwork, yet he seems content to sketch rather than detail his subjects. The paint is stickier, less resolved and the palette more muted where you would expect bright bursts of colour to project light. Then we come to Kaspa’s third and most distinctive style, that of the graphic artist. He paints heavily stylised baobab trees with massive red fruits that look like patterns rather than paintings. And he presents us with series of cartoon birds to represent people, set in gossiping groups on the banks of a river behind which rise a series of hills inspired no doubt by his home city Kampala. Kaspa is likely to be best known, at least in Kenya, for these birds, which I have seen in various galleries around Nairobi. It would be understandable if people thought he was a graphic designer who has hit upon a character to make his own… yet he is really a much better painter than that. The birds, he told me, are Red-billed Expeckers. He even wrote it down for me but it remains a private joke that I failed to understand. No matter, these pictures room was bare. There were art works on the walls but they were on plain brown sack cloth and Mawande was nowhere in sight. I had already judged the exhibition. Then I met the organiser, Rehema Chachage, who had invited Mawande to the Nafasi project dubbed “Kuta na Sanaa” (Wall & Art). After taking a close look at the artworks, their titles and on reading Mawande’s bio, I thought finally and understood the artist’s bold statement. First trip from Cape Town “This was Mawande’s first trip outside his country — he worked from Cape Town South Africa. Having studied pre-colonial and post-colonial African history, he is well versed with the pan-African movement and the significance of Kiswahili as a proposed panAfrican language. However, when he arrived here, in his own words he was shocked to find how much English is used over Kiswahili even on billboards and local bongo movie titles…” said Chachage. Interests “My work draws attention to history, politics, colonialism, slavery and migration/immigration. I explore how culture, commerce and institutionalised power determine our lived experience. I am interested in the rise and fall of ideological, political and cultural systems — those that dictate or those that succumb. In my time, I have witnessed the falling of the Twin Towers, the hanging of Saddam Hussein, the killing of Osama bin Laden, conflict in the Arab nations (Egypt, Libya, Lebanon, Sudan, Pakistan etc) and the current tension between Russia and Ukraine, the US and other European nations/super powers,” says Ka Zenzile in his bio. The exhibition was not only the most exciting in terms of the material used by the artist, but its strong message of art works was perfect. The art works are meant to stir up the audience to look at the underlying issues of our times, the roots of what influences our current daily habits and thus the direction our lives are taking.
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