Search form

Blog Icon Facebook Icon Twitter Icon Tumblr Icon Instagram Icon Flickr Icon YouTube Icon RSS Icon Email Icon

Modern African Art : A Basic Reading List


Eastern Africa : Kenya

print

close window

Agthe, Johanna. "Religion in contemporary East African art," Journal of religion in Africa (Leiden) 24 (4): 375-388, 1994. illus., bibliog. BL2400.J86 AFA.

Certain East African artists have developed personal philosophies toward their art and toward life in general, based on beliefs about God and Christianity. Among these are artists Elimo Njau (whose favorite maxim is "Do not copy. Copying puts God to sleep"), Jak Katarikawe, and John Nyenga (aka Wanyi Brush). Such personal philosophies do not necessarily translate themselves into Christian or biblical themes in their art, but rather serve as inspiration or motivation to create.

Many artists, however, depict Christian or biblical subjects in their painting or sculpture. Several examples of Christian-related art are discussed, including works of Kennedy Wesonga, Juma Baraka Sat, and Hezbon Owiti. A third trend in contemporary religious art in East Africa is the depiction of traditional religious practices and worship scenes of the so-called independent churches. Joel Oswaggo is prominent among the artists who choose these themes.

Artistic perception of home: Maison française de Nairobi—Kenya, 16th March-15th April 2002 / by Jean-Michel Kasbarian. Suilly-la-Tour, France: Findakly, 2002. 110pp. illus. (color). N7397.6.K4A78 2003 AFA. OCLC 646075785.

The French cultural establishment in Nairobi organized a large group exhibition in 2002 focusing on the idea of Home - - real, imagined, interiors, exteriors, idyllic rural domesticity or crowded urban byways. Curator Jean-Michel Kasbarian arranged the artworks thematically: Position, Facades, Volumes, Stepping Out, Movement, and Intimacy. Thirty-six Kenyan-born or Kenyan-based artists were selected, whose entries are reproduced in this catalog. Bio data is included.

Della Rosa, Annelise. The art of recycling in Kenya. Milano: Charta, 2008. 127pp. illus. (color), bibl. refs. Text in English and Italian. N6494.T73D45 2008 AFA. OCLC 262511051.

The global phenomenon of recycling trash into useful objects and appealing artworks is found all over Kenya. Metal, rubber, plastic, glass, and paper from car parts, bottle caps, flip-flops, bottles, and cardboard cartons are imaginatively re-fashioned into functional and aesthetically pleasing and playful objects. Make no mistake, this is a serious business for young entrepreneurs seeking a livelihood out of the garbage heaps. Della Rosa travels the length and breadth of Kenya documenting these artful industries.

Eisemon, Thomas Owen, Lynn M. Hart and Elkana Ong'esa. Stories in stone: soapstone sculptures from Northern Quebec and Kenya = La pierre raconte: sculptures de stéatite du Nouveau-Québec et du Kenya. [Hull]: Fédération des Coopératives du Nouveau-Québec, [1988]. 79pp. illus., maps. bibliog. Text in English and French. NB1210.S67E36 1988 AFA. OCLC 18993203.

Soapstone sculpture as a large commercial enterprise is unique to the Gusii (Kisii) of western Kenya and the Inuit of Québec province, Canada. The coming together of these widely separate carving traditions for a 1988 exhibition was itself a unique occasion.

Gusii soapstone sculpture is a modern art form, an art of acculturation; it did not grow out of an older tradition. Its origins, development and evolution are set within the rapid social and economic changes that have transformed Gusii society in recent decades. The transmission of skills, how children learn carving, the questions of innovation and imitation, how the market shapes the production, all are elements in defining this art form. In common with the Inuit experience, the Gusii sculpture draws on oral traditions and the natural environment for themes and subject matter. Wild animals are quite common as are depictions of daily life, especially women at work and mother-and-child figures. Unlike Inuit sculptors, a few of the Gusii sculptors, such as Elkana Ong'esa and his brother John Masese, have moved toward abstract forms of expression.

Hulst, Walter van, Leopold Manche and Mar Oomen. Kunst uit Kenya; [exhibition, Technische Universiteit Eindhoven, January 12-February 16, 1990]. Eindhoven, The Netherlands, [s.n.], 1990. [not available for review, but see below the article by Mar Oomen and Walter von Hulst.

Kenya Art Panorama (1992 : Centre culturel francais). Kenya Art Panorama: Centre culturel français, Nairobi 17­30 novembre 1992. [Nairobi]: Le Centre, [1992]. 26pp. illus. (color). Text in French and English. ND1097.6.K4K45 1992X AFA. OCLC 30738305.

Thirty-nine Kenyan painters selected out of 94 applicants for "Kenya Art Panorama" in 1992 attest to the vibrancy of the art scene in Nairobi. A large number are self-taught; others are formally trained in art school; also included are a few expatriate artists resident in Kenya. A real cross section. Twenty-four paintings are illustrated; all the artists are identified with thumbnail biographical sketches.

Kleine-Gunk, Bernd. Kunst aus Kenya: sieben ostafrikanische Maler. Wuppertal: Graphium Press, 1994. 60pp. illus. (color), portraits, bibliog. (page 160). N7397.6.K4K58 1994 AFA. OCLC 36401770.

Seven painters feature in this selective survey of modern art in Kenya: Jak Katarikawe (1940- ) Ugandan, Kenya-based; Joel Oswaggo (1944- ); Sane Wadu (1954- ); Richard Onyango (1960- ); Zachariah Mbutha (1948- ); Kivuthi Mbuno (1947- ); Julius Njau (1961- ) Tanzanian, Kenya-based. For each artist there is a brief discussion of his life and work, portrait and color illustrations of several paintings.

Two introductory essays by the author address the "renaissance" in African art and the art scene in Kenya.

Ohloo, Sylivester. The historical and cultural background of Kisii soapstone carving. Dissertation, Post Graduate Diploma in Cultural Studies, Institute of African Studies, University of Nairobi. Nairobi: Institute of African Studies, University of Nairobi, 1987. iii, 42 leaves. illus., bibliog. [unpublished]. NB1098.O37 1987a AFA. OCLC 27354714.

Kisii (Gusii) soapstone carving as a commercial enterprise began in the 1920s and had accelerated into a full-blown tourist art by the 1950s. But the antecedents of this tradition are less clear and may date back to the early nineteenth century. Evidence from rock engravings and from Gusii oral traditions suggest that soapstone was carved locally long before it became a market commodity in the twentieth century. The Gusii made certain objects in stone, such as the small stone pots (egitono) for storing fat or medicinal herbs. Ohloo argues that trading contacts between the Gusii and the neighboring Luo and others led to the Gusii fashioning objects in stone for sale.

The tools and techniques for stone carving have been upgraded and modernized, and market standards as to size and quality have been imposed from outside. Stone carving has become a major economic activity for the Gusii and continues to attract young carvers.

Oomen, Mar and Walter van Hulst. "`Abstracte kunst is te persoonlijk': Traditionele verhalen zijn het thema voor moderne kunstenaars uit Kenya," Onze wereld (Amsterdam) 1: 37-42, Januari 1990. illus. VF -- Artists - East Africa.

Contemporary Kenyan art is a lot more than Makonde sculpture and tourist knickknacks, as the 1990 exhibition "Kunst uit Kenya" at Technische Universiteit in Eindhoven, Netherlands, demonstrated. Mar Oomen, who has been studying the work of Kenyan painters, brings her research to fruition in selecting and curating this exhibition. Among the featured artists are both academic and self-taught practitioners, including Theresa Musoke (Ugandan, but living in Kenya), Gikonyo Maina, Francis Kahuri, Ancent Soi, Sane Wadu, Steve Njenga, Jak Katarikawe (also Ugandan), Kang'ara wa Njaambi, Mwaura Ndekere.

Paa ya Paa Gallery (Nairobi, Kenya). Paa ya Paa review. Nairobi: Paa ya Paa Arts Centre, [1990]. 31pp. illus. [not in AFA Library]. OCLC 35723055.

Paa ya Paa Arts Centre has been one of the handful of Nairobi cultural establishments at the center of modern art in Kenya. Founded by artist Elimo Njau, Paa ya Paa celebrates its twentieth-fifth anniversary with a review of activities and accomplishments. This retrospective includes tributes, reminiscences, excerpts from press coverage, and many photographs of artists and artworks. Paa ya Paa serves as more than an art gallery; it also organizes children's art workshops, poetry readings, and other cultural events.

Pruitt, Sharon and Thomas Causey. "Art in Kenya," pp. 135-155. In: Kenya: the land, the people, and the nation / edited by Mario Azevedo. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 1933. illus., bibliog. DT433.522.K466 1993X AFA. OCLC 29875349.

This slight essay on Kenyan arts and crafts touches upon the tourist trade in Kamba and Makonde sculpture and the uphill struggle of the "serious" artists for recognition. Fine art is now taught at Kenyatta University, and a handful of galleries and exhibition spaces regularly organize shows for local artists. But sustained patronage remains a problem. Elimo Njau and his Paa Ya Paa Gallery and Ruth Schaffner and her Gallery Watatu are placed at the center of what's happening on the real (non-tourist) art scene. Other artists mentioned, aside from Njau, are Herbert Owiti (now inactive), Sane Wadu and Rosemary Karuga.

Sukuro, Etale. "Kunst für das Volk = Art to the people," pp. 125-148. In: Wegzeichen: Kunst aus Ostafrika 1974-89 = Signs: art from East Africa 1974-89 / by Johanna Agthe. Frankfurt am Main: Museum für Völkerkunde, 1990. illus. (pt color). (Sammlung, 5: Afrika). N7397.M98 1990 AFA. OCLC 23173107.

The Kenyan artist Etale Sukuro offers his own assessment of the state of contemporary art in Kenya ("Art to the people"). Sign-painting is a thriving business in Kenya, and Sukuro cites several successful sign-painters, such as Ringo or G. T. D. Kiarie. While some sign-painters are formulistic and do copy work, others, more imaginative, are even given to social commentary.

Among the gallery-based artists, one finds mainly the academic artists. While the older generation, such as Maloba and Mwaniki, favor abstraction, the newer generation leans toward surrealism and social commentary. Government support for the arts has been patchy. Exhibition venues -- apart from the handful of active galleries and cultural centers in Nairobi -- are few. Open-air exhibitions have been tried with modest success, bringing art to the people, but these outings are restricted to inexpensive drawings and prints. Contemporary art in Kenya is still striving to define itself and to achieve greater recognition in society at large.

Thelathini: 30 faces, 30 facets of contemporary art in Kenya. Nairobi, Kenya: Kuona Trust, 2003. 144 pp. illus. (some color). N7397.6.K4T53 2003 AFA. OCLC 60414103.

Choosing 30 artists to represent Kenya's artistic vitality at the beginning of the 21st century was no easy task. But that was the goal of this Kuona Trust project "to introduce some of Kenya's finest artist to new audoiences." The 30 artists featured here were "democratically" selected by a committee over three years. The majority are painters and sculptors. For each artist, several works are illustrated and there is a short biographical sketch.

The chosen thirty are: Sane Wadu, Patrick Kayako, Mary Collis, Samwel Wanjau, Sebastian Kiarie, Richard Kimathi, Zacharia Mbutha, Irene Wanjiru, Meek Gichugu, Kamal Shah, Theresa Musoke, Gakunju (Billy) Kaigwa, Joel Oswaggo, Justus Kyalo, Nani Croze, Francis Kahuri, Rosemary Karuga, Jimmy Ogonga, John Ngenga, Kioko Mwitiki, Jony Waite, Ancent Soi, Kivuthi Mbuno, Mazola wa Mwashigadi, Chelenge Van Rampelberg, Timothy Brooke, Jackson Wanjau, Chain Muhandi, Jak Katarikawe, and Morris Foit.

Reviewed by Kimani Njogu in Msanii (Nairobi) no. 11, June 2005, pages 22-23.

Wright, Kristina Dziedzic. Art, culture, and tourism on an Indian Ocean island: an ethnographic study of jua kali artists in Lamu, Kenya. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2009. x, 116pp, [40]pp. of plates. illus. (some color), bibl. refs. N7397.6.K42 L33 2009 AFA. OCLC 429026722.

Kenya’s informal sector includes the jua kali artists, who are self-taught and self-employed – basically, making it on their own selling tourist art. Wright looks closely at these jua kali artists in Lamu, most of whom are Kikuyu, not Swahili. How do they market their goods? How do they cater to perceived customer preferences? How do they negotiate the economic and social networks as outsiders in Lamu? Specifically, she focuses on a group calling themselves the Culture Boyz.