Analysis of race, insecurity and the black woman

Sunday August 09 2020

Bandana Face Mask, by Nadia Wamunyu. PHOTO | POOL


Social distancing over recent months has given painter Nadia Wamunyu the opportunity to review contemporary black women, their experiences and her own shortcomings.

Her recent figurative paintings in watercolours are on display at the One Off Gallery in Nairobi, in an exhibition titled "Covid 19 – Social Distancing".

One of the series is Bandana Face Mask. The paintings show an African woman in different poses wearing a white strappy top and a black-and-white bandana as a face mask, her cobalt blue hair tied up in a bun.

The mixed media paintings on paper are drawn with ink, charcoal, watercolours and coffee, creating a palette of brown and blue colours. There is a blend of deep tones with areas of colour transparency and light reflecting on the woman’s skin.

“The current direction of my work was born out of a desire to expose my anxiety around shyness and insecurity,” she says. Wamunyu's subject is muscular, posturing in a half squat that emphases her strong physique. Together with the unusual hair colour, the Bandana Face Mask series speaks of boldness and self-confidence, the opposite of Wamunyu’s sentiments.

The wearing of masks relates to the current Covid-19 safety measures. Without a full face to look at, the women could be anybody, leaving the viewer to superimpose their own person.


Wamunyu’s latest works have a hint of the recent "Black Lives Matter" movement against racial injustice. In another collection of semi-nude figures, she aims to expose the stereotypes around black women’s bodies.

The Mask series has a woman with a teal face mask and blue hair that partly covers her topless upper body. A white bikini bottom is her only item of clothing and she stands with a seductive air.

At 24, Wamunyu demonstrates an understanding of social and gender issues. Her oil painting of the populous Kenyatta Market won 3rd place at this year’s Manjano Art Competition. The exhibition is on until August 23.