Who said there wasn’t enough space in Nairobi to exhibit all the up-and-coming local artists’ works? We have lovely galleries like One Off, Circle Art and Banana Hill. But to get space in those venues isn’t easy.
They are often booked months in advance. They also have specific standards of aesthetic excellence that are taken into account before artists are able to exhibit in those spaces.
But if you are Adam Masava, you can exhibit your art and that of other young artists almost anywhere. Even on a rooftop in the open air in a building branded ‘Juicy Fruit’ in an Eastlands suburb like Nairobi South B.
To Masava, what’s important is getting the artwork out in public and calling fellow art-lovers to come in time to see the works of the young students that he has been mentoring, some for months, others for many years.
Several of the exhibiting artists, like Mike Kyalo, Charles Ngatia, Abdulmajid Najmadin and Masava himself, cannot be considered ‘up-and-coming’ since they are locally-established painters.
“They were invited to help promote our younger artists,” says Masava whose show, entitled ‘The Mukuru Art Club. Volume 3’ featured more than 120 paintings and linocut prints. Some of the works dangled from laundry lines while the rest hung from nails hammered into the surrounding brick walls.
“The idea was to utilize every available space on the upper deck, transforming it into an arts arena,” added Masava.
Both Kyalo and Ngatia had been based at The GoDown Art Centre for years.
But as they were rendered ‘homeless’ several months back, when that centre closed its doors, preparing to ‘break ground’ for a massive, multipurpose, even visionary new art space, they found a refuge with Masava.
For despite his having a relatively small studio on the second floor of the ‘Juicy Fruit’-branded building, Masava has freely shared his space with artists like those two plus Abdulmajid who is also his friend.
Masava has tremendous empathy for artists like Kyalo and Ngatia since he too has been displaced in the past. The slum school where he had been teaching dozens of youngsters shut its door on his art program a few years ago.
That’s how he ended up in South B, bringing his best students from the school with him.
Nearly all his exhibiting mentees are still students between the ages of 15 and 20. They include Isaiah Malunga, Dancan Githuka, Benard Musyoki, Anthony Bulima, Vincent Kimeu, Brian Kimani and Cynthia Bukahza.
Only Lloyd Weche and Benson Musyoki, a former prize-winning boxer, are among Masava’s older mentees.
The mentor himself doesn’t discriminate against anyone who comes to him wanting to learn how to paint. And while he never went to an art school himself, Masava has a gift for inspiring his students to be fearless in painting what they know best and what they connect with most comfortably.
That is how several of his students paint children. For instance, Tony Bulima’s works are filled with glowing faces of innocent youth. Isaiah Malunga favors painting purposeful kids who are dressed up and already walking to school.
Meanwhile, Dancan Githuka favors painting bustling street scenes that are filled with colorful mabati shops and busy people trekking up and down unpaved dirt roads.
He follows in his mentor’s footsteps, painting slum scenes that show what’s energizing and engaging about street life.
Benard Musyoki does something similar although he is more focused on specific venders like the man carrying a load of empty containers in his wheelbarrow.
All of these young painters displayed an array of works in Volume 3. However, Vincent Kimeu’s multicolored portrait of a man is the most striking of his varied contributions to the show.
The only abstract artist among all of Masava’s mentees is Lloyd Weche whose abstract expressionism reveals the older artist’s love of color which he seems to splash onto his canvas in a style reminiscent to that of American painter Jackson Pollack.
But possibly the most unusual aspiring artist of all Masava’s students is Benson Gicharu. He is 32 and busy reinventing himself after having had an award-winning career as a feather-weight boxer.
He now runs his own boxing school for kids, but he also loves to paint. His most prominent pieces were his ‘celebrity’ portraits of Sly (aka Rocky) Stallone and Michael Jackson.
Finally, Masava himself claimed a corner in the make-shift gallery where he not only featured his portraits of Kibera, including corrugated cardboard roofs, but also several sweet paintings of his son, three-year-old Fabian.
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