The art world is mourning one of Kenya’s lynchpin painters, Ngene Mwaura, who has died in mysterious circumstances, aged only 38.
Mwaura’s body was found at the Nairobi City Mortuary on December 10, after a thorough search by his friends at police stations, hospitals and the Industrial Area remand prison, following his disappearance three days earlier.
It appeared he had been run over by a heavy vehicle at around midnight in what was said to have been a tragic road accident that the police, some five weeks later, were this week still investigating.
Mwaura, also known as Sheepgoat, was born in Kikuyu, to the west of Nairobi, in 1981 and from an early age developed a love of drawing that remained evident in his work throughout his life.
He studied art at the Kuona Trust and then in the US, first in Pasadena and then in Los Angeles where he became immersed in painting and printmaking.
On his return to Kenya in 2016, he quickly took a key role in helping the artists’ collective that arose from the ill-fated Kuona Trust, organising the group’s monthly First Saturday open days when regional art, music and other attractions were combined to offer an entertaining day out.
The sculptor Gakunju Kaigwa, one of the prime movers behind the rebirth of the Kuona site, off Likoni Road near State House, Nairobi, commented: “From when he came on board at Kuona he became the heartbeat of the place and personified the life of the community. He was marvellous at mobilising people and in encouraging us all to make the place better. And he always led by example.”
Mwaura, who is survived by a sister and two brothers, was buried last month next to his parents on the family farm at Kikuyu.
An enthusiastic and committed painter whose rowdy, neo-expressionist canvases featured in many exhibitions, he was a courteous and helpful man as well as an efficient organiser. His self effacing demeanor won him many friends both within the artistic fellowship and beyond.
Many of the tributes referred to Ngene Mwaura’s “beautiful soul”—and he is sadly missed.