We are becoming used to virtual viewing — but nothing beats the scale, texture and above all the personal interaction with a work of art when standing before it, challenging its space and validity as an entity in itself.
Confidently awaiting your challenge are 18 mixed media drawings on paper by the Kenyan Lemek Sompoika.
Made with charcoal, graphite and pastels they start as explorations of the human figure then explode into abstraction with clouds of vibrant colour.
Sompoika’s eight larger drawings — around 180cm by 150cm — confront the viewer with a confidence of execution that proclaims their right to the wall.
What is interesting and wholly commendable is the way Sompoika maintains this vitality in his smaller drawings. They proclaim the authority of an artist with a relentless eye and also could be seen as an investigation into his own cultural history and as an act of worship, both into the human figure and of Parmuain, an archaic Maa term for God. It means, “the one of many colours.”
The only weak thing about the show, unfortunately, is its title, Abstract Patterns. Surely these drawings, spun from the human form, are far more than merely patterns.
Sompoika is one of a group of increasingly important younger artists, secure both in formal abilities and relevance, that includes Moira Bushkimani, Onyis Martin, Michael Musyoka, Coster Ojwang’ and Sebawali Sio.
His is very much a talent to watch.
The exhibition is at Red Hill Art Gallery off the Nairobi-Limuru road, until July 11 and, thereafter, online at www.redhillartgallery.com.
Elsewhere, flying the flag abroad for the richness and variety of this region’s art scene is Maliza Kiasuwa with simultaneous exhibitions of her multimedia collages in London, UK and Washington DC.
Dense and allegorical, both explore her own origins woven into an investigation of the wider African experience within the context of post-colonial societies.
Thus in the London show, at the prestigious Sulger-Buel Gallery, are some 16 collages under the general title of Ancestry, while in Washington at Morton Fine Arts the theme is developed with 19 collages and wall hangings, also from her Pride of Origins series.
They give a broader view of the continuing inequalities of exchange between Africa and the West while the artist examines herself and her position as a woman of European and African descent.
With works created in her studio on the shores of Lake Naivasha, both exhibitions include images from the corpus of tribal artefacts from an arc reaching from West Africa (a Senufo mask), through Cameroon and the Western DRC (the white spirit masks of the Shiri-Punu group) taking in the reliquary figures of the Bakota, to the Eastern DRC with the use of a striped Songye mask.
These help to give Kiasuwa’s collages context and being familiar from museums, books and thousands of cheap copies, act too as entry points; touchstones for further consideration of the artworks.
They also echo, perhaps sub-consciously, the artist’s own journey from West to East... born in Bucharest to a Romanian mother and a Congolese father, then moving to Kinshasa and on to Nairobi before settling in Naivasha.
Thus matters of place and identity are close to Kiasuwa’s heart, as is the impact of industrial development forced onto a traditional rural society, considered in her 2019 Yesterday is Today series of soft sculptures shown at the Circle Art Gallery in Nairobi.
By the time you read this, the exhibitions might have been taken down but happily, given their distance, they remain intact for a virtual visit; in London at https://www.sulger-buel-gallery.com/artists/132-maliza-kiasuwa/overview/ and in Washington at https://www.mortonfineart.com/artist/maliza-kiasuwa
Meanwhile, encouraging prices were realised at a sale in Lavington, Nairobi, home of Zambian art lover Kareen Shawa-Durand.
Weekend sales totalled $14,500 from 12 works sold out of 250 offered by William Ndwiga of the Little Art Gallery
Snapped up were pieces by the Ugandan Jjuuko Hoods and the Kenyans Samuel Njoroge, Coster Ojwang’ plus wall sculptures by Wilson Mwangi.