Three African artists

When I saw the painting in the featured photo in Nairobi Gallery, I thought to myself “So like a Chagall.” Apparently Jak Katarikawe (born 1940 in Kigezi, Uganda, died October 19 2018) was sometimes called Africa’s Chagall for his whimsical paintings of elephants and cattle. In interviews he said that his sense of colour came from stained glass windows in the churches of Uganda. He was mentored by Sam Ntiru of the Makarere University’s art department, when he was a driver in the university. He moved to Kenya in the 1970s, and became professionally successful. This painting is probably from the 1970s.

Bruce Onobrakpeya (born 30 August 1932) experimented with techniques to make low-relief works through printing. The example in Nairobi Galery seems to be from his early experimental period when he started depositing bronze patinas on lino cuts. It would be interesting to see how he extended these methods over a large part of his lifetime, first using resin and plaster of Paris (which he called Plastographs), then metal foil, and finally artificial polymers which look like ivory.

Salih Abdou Mashamoun was born (in 1946?) in the village of Debeira in Wadi Halfa, Northern Sudan, which was inundated by the building of the Aswan High Dam. He was a poet and artist, and a Sudanese diplomat until the country became an Islamic state. In an interview, Mashamoun says that he was mentored by Seif Wanley in Alexandria, where he entered the university in 1964. He was the featured artist in the African Heritage exhibition in Nairobi in 1976 when it burnt down, so that much of his early work is now lost. This work, a gouache on stretched goatskin, is one of the two which were saved. It is from the period just before the fire.

These three artists whose works I saw in Nariobi Gallery stand at the beginning of the contemporary art of post-colonial Africa. It will be interesting to go back to Nairobi and explore the directions that their successors are taking.

Paintings from Nairobi

There’s wonderful contemporary art in Kenya, and, like much of the world’s contemporary art, it is driven by the human condition. But apart from this, there is also a stream of contemporary art which takes its inspiration from Kenya’s abundant wildlife. When I walked into Nairobi Gallery, a temporary exhibition was based on this theme. Some of the works can be seen in the gallery of photos below.

Istanbul Modern

We walked into the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art to look at some of the contemporary art in Turkey. One of the interesting exhibitions here was called “The event of a thread: Global narratives in textiles”. The use of textiles in art is not something I’ve seen done systematically. Seeing the pieces collected here all at the same time was very interesting. I took photos of some of the pieces I liked.

Ulla von Brandenburg exhibited three quilted fabrics called Flying Geese, Log Cabin, and Drunkard’s Path (featured photo). The artist points out that quilting is not just women’s work; they were also used by various revolutionary movements.

Sakir Gökçebag’s piece called Kosmos was a stunning installation using a partially woven carpet. The artist says that the partial work reminds us about the work that goes into the making of a carpet through the parts which remain to be completed.

This painting on a head scarf by Güneş Terkol was called Against the current. The concept was developed during a workshop in Vienna, where several women discussed the slogans to be displayed, and worked together to sew them into the banners held by the painted figures.

Belkis Balpinar’s work entitled Singularities uses weaving as a medium. She says that two planes with singularities of different forms are joined by the vertical threads which are called warps. The horizontal threads are left unwoven. I liked the medium and the strikingly bold visual pattern that was tied together with the threads.

Another floor held a retrospective of photos by Yildiz Moran, a woman photographer born in 1935. She worked for only twelve years, starting from 1950. In 1962 she gave up photography to look after her children. Her photos seemed to capture Anatolia of her times as sensitively as Ara Güler caught the Istanbul that he knew.