Installation artist Wambui Kamiru Collymore reviews grief from a place of love in her latest show 'All My Venus Days'.
Showing at Tira Studio off Ngong Road in Nairobi, and developed over three years, the exhibition explores the processing of grief from Wambui’s perspective. Her husband, Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore, died in 2019 from acute myeloid leukaemia.
“This new work will explore immortality and impermanence from a philosophical approach,” writes Wambui.
The studio walls are painted black, yet the space feels inviting. A hushed pensiveness comes over you as you stroll through the exhibition. I could hear the din of traffic outside but also birds tweeting from nearby. Perhaps a consequence of becoming silent and still.
Wambui specialises in installation art shows, using three-dimensional mixed media and everyday objects to present her work.
“Art cannot be created in isolation, it is created within a community and community experience,” says Wambui.
In All My Venus Days, she takes us through the time of her husband’s illness, gives us snippets of their home life, and of the years since his death.
“I am an artist, and to get to the next stage or clarify for myself, this is the only form that I could think of.”
The first part of the installation is Home is Where His Clothes Are I-VI, photos of Collymore’s wardrobe taken a week after his death. Placed behind sheer curtains, it feels like you have entered into a space to experience, “how time can stop around material objects”.
One of my favourite concepts is Foreign Script, framed images of music notes traced onto paper using Indian ink, then onto medical prescriptions.
Collymore was passionate about music, played the saxophone and was instrumental in Safaricom’s support of Kenya’s musical industry. Some medicines in the prescriptions are recognisable. However, what really stimulated my curiosity is what songs the notes represent.
The "musical prescriptions" are framed with dots rendered in dark watercolours, giving the impression of fallen tears. “Over time the prescription will fade leaving the floating notes to his favourite songs,” writes Wambui.
Presence I-VI has a number of Collymore’s white shirts with short poems embroidered in green thread. All the verses are originals by Wambui who said, “I could not do art after he died so I wrote poems.
Poems from her collection are stitched onto the upper chest area, “the place where I last felt his heartbeat”, she says. “Poetry is one of the first art forms that Bob saw of me, before I showed him my paintings. I also discovered that sewing is very therapeutic.”
A silent video clip shows Wambui embroidering the shirts on a round sewing hoop.
Another video clip has city views from Collymore’s hospital room in the UK, the weather changing from summer to winter. Images from an old-style slide projector display clocks in the room where Collymore continued working while receiving treatment. One clock, I noticed, is stuck on the same day, April 2, 2018.
“I never noticed it before and I don’t know if Bob did either. But he must have since they were in his room," she says.
Beyond her personal experience, Wambui has created space for visitors to share their stories of grief. The Veil of Grief is described as a place for clarity and healing. Inside a round mosquito net is a box of writing notes and a pen set on a small table next to a chair. Here people can honour whomever or whatever they have lost.
Whether or not you are going through grief, 'All My Venus Days' touches on human emotion and universal experience. “The reason I am doing this work is not from a place of sadness but a place of love, something that you cherish and enjoy,” says Wambui. The exhibition continues until March 5.