Nairobi artist uses simple symbols to enhance African prints

Evans Mbugua

NAIROBI: What stands out in Evans Mbugua’s work is his ability to recreate extraordinary print creations through simple and popular symbols.

The artistic terms this graphic recycling, and he mainly draws his ideas from simple pictograms such as pedestrians crossing traffic sign and recreates patterns out of them and eventually mixes them with African patterns. Mbugua showcased the collection of print designs titled ‘Evoins’ last week at Kuona Art Gallery in Nairobi.

Prints are commonly used in khangas in Africa. But for this France-based artist, his prints are not limited to that purpose. He has worked with designers in fashion, industrial and accessories industry as well as interior decorators to produce patterned merchandises off his creations.

Merchandises showcased at the gallery included images of pillows, hand bags, phone covers, and clocks, as well as envelopes, fabrics, book covers in their physical form.

“The African khanga used everyday symbols and positioned someone in a society. The symbols were a story by itself, it was not just a pattern although not everyone could see that. When I create my works, I am using a message that is already in existence and the motif could create a message of itself or not. My motifs are not just for a narrative but it could be for just beauty,” he explains.

The prices for his collections vary and its costly for a textile company since they produce a great collection. He can also sell motif rights to the company and the buyer can reproduce any merchandise they want.

“Few years ago, nobody would use African prints. I am driving the African agenda that we are here and the international market can use our prints. I am open to any product, whatever I use to create these prints comes from my environment. I am only giving back to the society, and hopefully people will reuse my work,” he says.

However, he says this form of art is still a work in progress adding that the main challenge is employing fresh ideas while still being creative to communicate the same message as the old prints.

“We can have a new generation of prints which are playful and not only used in fabrics. I think it is for the new artists and new creative designers to be more creative and instead of creating something from nothing, to look for inspiration from what already exists. There are many African traditional things that we do not pay attention to but we can revive them in a more contemporary way to communicate the same message,” he notes.

His desire to promote contemporary, decorative and communicative motifs is what brought him back to Kenya for two weeks for an engagement with fellow artists and possibly collaborate with them to push this agenda.