Cluttered observations of the urban Nairobi life

Friday January 08 2021
Esperanza Protecting the Music.

'Esperanza Protecting the Music' by Allan Simba. PHOTO | KARI MUTU


Music and books are Allan Simba's passions and they influence his art.

“I'm currently studying Carl Jung's Man and His Symbols and feel like its impact will be visible in my art for a while," he says.

A number of his paintings created this year are on display at the Karen Country Club, Nairobi. They are part of a single collection called Urbane, a depiction of urban life as lived by the urban African.

Simba is known for filling his canvas with an untidy collection of images and symbols in bright colours. They replicate the barrage of sights and sounds you see while walking in the city streets and cluttered neighbourhoods of Nairobi. Several of the illustrations of Urbane feature smartly dressed musicians strumming guitars, playing the piano or blowing trumpets and saxophones. Upon closer inspection of the bold, mixed media paintings you can see bits of newspaper print embedded within.

Further observation of the jumbled images and you can pick out several objects within. A crescent moon and small black gecko lizard are painted in the maze of objects in Around Midnightat the Geco. For Simba, the heavy symbolism is an expression of the psychological condition of the modern world.

A deeply thoughtful person, Simba often uses his art to reflect on the universe, literature research, the human condition, politics, religious matters and social issues. You find yourself stepping into his world and what he is thinking about, and I like that he is not afraid to explore his own unusual style of painting.


A long, mask-like face in profile with jagged outlines and facial patterns features in several of Simbas’ paintings, giving a thread of continuity to his varied works. Occasionally he paints in monochrome but still keeps to the familiar stylised technique. In all, there is a sense of vitality and vibrancy where you can almost hear the music playing in the scenes depicted.

Also characteristic of Simba’s works is the frequent use of inscriptions.