ART: Of gentle African women assertive in their power

Saturday September 7 2019

'New Set of Eyes' by Katanu Kay.

'New Set of Eyes' by Katanu Kay. PHOTO | KARI MUTU | NMG 

More by this Author

Katanu Kay is proving how well art is thriving among the youth with a solo exhibition at the Karen Country Club in Nairobi called Artful Bliss.

The 21-year old Kenyan art student presents a series of realism portraits in oils and mixed media produced in recent months.

She has mainly focused on painting modern, confident African women with rich skin tones, natural hair-dos and who are often framed in pieces of real African fabrics.

There is something familiar about the woman with round spectacle frames and slightly open lips gazing thoughtfully in the distance in the illustration New Set of Eyes.

It is also striking for the way Katanu has captured the light illuminating the chocolate-coloured face that is crowned in a showy head wrap made from patches of kitenge cloth. I also noticed Katanu’s ability to portray facial expressions and pull our eyes around the canvas.

“I mostly use references because what I produce from them is realistic-looking art,” says Katanu who is studying at the Savanna College of Art and Design in Georgia, USA. But one of her goals is to master portraiture to the point where she does not require reference images.


After Life features a woman with copper hair floating in blue water surrounded by flowers. Eyes shut, she has an introspective look as though envisioning life beyond this world.

“My paintings are inspired by women and the power they possess,” said Katanu who signs her work as Kai Sanna.

She is the daughter of artist Joseph Sanna who, when she was younger, taught her art techniques like shading and colour mixing.

Other influences in her work include her personal feelings or issues like gentle assertiveness of female leaders.

There is nothing bashful about the honey brown woman with long golden dreadlocks and pink lingerie in the painting Virginity. She is sitting upright, bare legs crossed, an alluring look on her face, surrounded by giant flower blossoms in pastel colours.

More recently Katanu has delved into landscape oil paintings and she is relishing the challenge.

A commissioned painting features a lake surrounded by tall mountains, and what caught my eye was the silvery glow of the scene like the shimmer of moonlight. She has promising potential and it will be interesting to see her work progress over the years.