Pen drawings of people and everyday life

Saturday December 30 2017

Kisumu Municipal Market, by Mercy Kagia. PHOTO | KARI MUTU | NMG

Kisumu Municipal Market, by Mercy Kagia. PHOTO | KARI MUTU | NMG 

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Mercy Kagia is one of the few artists who specialise in reportage drawing in pen, capturing realistic scenes of routine events.

“I am curious about people’s everyday behaviour and relations with each other and the environment,” says Kagia.

Beside pictorials and comic strips in local newspapers, one does not see much creative work in the style of reportage illustrations.

A series of Kagia’s black-and-white drawings is showing at the Polka Dot Art Gallery in Nairobi. They are scenes from Kisumu in western Kenya where she conducted practice-based research for her PhD in reportage drawing compared with film and photography.

Kisumu Municipal Market (in illustration above) is a scene that could be from anywhere in Kenya.

There is a mish-mash of stalls under a tall tin roof, a bicycle in the foreground and many people going about their business. It is an active snapshot, with a splash of colour where Kagia painted in a tree with flowers and you are drawn into the multiple things going on in the frame.

Orange Seller is a less busy illustration. It focuses on one orange vendor who stares at you from behind a wooden table piled high with the fruit, the rest of the market and wide umbrellas muffled out into a grey silhouette.

Kagia’s drawings are likeable because of their familiar circumstances. She studied art in the UK, working mostly with acrylics which she says she did not enjoy before a tutor encouraged her to pursue her passion for drawing.

“This was the start of my interest in the mundane and every day,” she says.

Lake Victoria Car Wash is one such common activity in the shallow waters on the shores of Africa’s largest lake. A boat carries people across the lake and further back is a line of trees and gentle hills, their natural beauty in contrast to the environmental pollution happening in the foreground.

Kagia also teaches life drawing and art classes to adults. More of her work can be seen at the One Off Gallery and she will have a solo exhibition early 2018.