Seven women presented “Art in the Time of Covid” for four days earlier this month at Nairobi’s Village Market.
Mounted on the top floor of the original Village, just next to the open-air car park, seven sets of paintings hung in a cozy corner perfectly designed.
“I was quite keen to exhibit together with other women. But as I have only been in Kenya a year, the show took shape gradually as we made contact with like-minded ladies,” says Gillian Douglas, the chief instigator of the show.
Gillian initially suggested an exhibition to her fellow South African artist Celeste de Vries, who in turn linked up with Milena Weichelt, a trained silversmith who had studied painting with Kenyan artist Adrian Nduma and has been in several pre-Covid exhibitions since then.
“Everything snowballed from there,” recalls Milena who got in touch with Mary Ogembo who in turn called Nadia Wamunyu who just opened her own N.W. Art Gallery in Nairobi’s South C.
Gillian then connected with two more artists: Lisa Davis, an art teacher at her daughter’s school, and Kushweet Bharji whose art she had seen on Facebook courtesy of a family friend who also happened to be Kush’s brother.
She was also keen on broadening the significance of the exhibition, so she linked up with a group based in Londiani that works with women who have been hard times by the pandemic. Brighter Communities Invest in Women and Assist Covid-19-Affected Families will also be a beneficiary of this show.
“Each of us donated an artwork that was auctioned by Brighter Communities,” says Celeste whose art sold well both at the auction and at Village Market.
“The online auction ran from April 9 through 14,” says Gillian of the auction that made over Sh300,000.
“All the funds raised will go to the organisation to assist the women of Londiani,” she adds.
The exhibition reflected a diversity of styles. There are three Kenyans, two South Africans, and one American. Each one had her distinctive approach to painting. For instance, both Gillian and Mary pay most attention to the portraiture of beautiful women. But while Mary highlights the feminist features of African women, including faces and masks, Gillian paints expressive images of young mainly European women in the prime of their lives.
“The larger portraits were layered in oils as well as textiles, making them quite tactile,” says Gillian.
“I also wanted to pay tribute to both my mother and grandmother in these works. I sketched on top of the oils with embroidery. You practically had to get up close to the work to see the sketching. But I wanted those works to reflect the essence of the beauty of their youth,” she adds.
Kushweet also includes one portrait in her collection, but most of it is abstract, colourful, and infused with electrifying energy. Milena shares Kushweet’s love of colour, but her focus is semi-abstract wildlife style.
She will take a portion of a zebra, octopus or bird, and concentrate, using vibrant colours, on the details of that part, be it an eye, arm, wing, snout, or beak.
Nadia is the youngest of the seven, but her passion for painting is manifest, especially in her Lamu pieces which reflect on the simple things about the island that gives it its appeal, be it the baobabs, the donkeys, or the sandy beaches and turquoise blue skies.
Celeste also highlights the everyday features of life in Kenya; Nairobi’s skyline and indigenous trees to the lounging cheetah.
And finally, Lisa Davis’s paper-cut ‘paintings’ are extraordinary for their filigreed refinement of design. She combines unusual shapes and precise techniques to create works that are masterful as well as magical.