Artists go hi-tech to virtually bring life to still images

Photograph by Rich Allela at a duo art exhibition, ‘African Heroes and Heroines’ at Alliance Francaise in Nairobi. [Courtesy]

Immersive art is finding its space on gallery walls in Kenya and two artists are leading the way. Art photographer Rich Allela and multidisciplinary artist Nelson Ijakaa employ this concept in a duo exhibition, ‘African Heroes and Heroines’.

Immersive art – comprising virtual, mixed and augmented reality – involves technology in bringing art to life to create an interactive experience to the audience. The two artists soak their imagination in augmented reality, and use special visual effects to engage the senses of the audience.

Although the concept has been in existence since the olden days of sitting around a fire as stories were enlivened through sounds, gestures and words, the idea has now found its way to motionless visual arts like photography. And for this particular exhibition being held at Alliance Francaise in Nairobi until November 30, the audience is able to experience visual performances with Artivive, a mobile phone application. The audience is captivated by videos and sounds when they view the artworks on their mobile phones.

Mr Allela takes us through the heroic acts of Kenyan freedom fighter Mekatilili, Queen Candace of Ethiopia and mythical hero King Pino in three photographic series. The videos show the heroes draped in royal African cloth, jewelry and body paint.

They are on rearing horses as they fiercely attack with long sharp spears and firmly hold shields, ultimately leaving dust and fire in their destruction.

The Mekatilili series was inspired by the photographer’s life. His mother raised five children after his father died when he was 12 years old. His mother’s resilient spirit reminds him of Mekatilili’s heroism. And to depict this, he worked with Nigerian photographer Kureng Dapel.

“I heard that she was a widow too. I have always wanted to tell the fighter’s story. Her story represents the strength of womanhood and inspires the African woman to rise above the inequality and discrimination faced every day. We hope that women will embrace their inner Mekatilili,” says Allela.

In his second series, Queen Candace is seen riding a metallic lion made by two sculptors, Air Gosh. Both Mekatilili and Queen Candace had a female dominated army and had good leadership skills.

Third series

The third series was King Pino, inspired by Luanda Magere. Allela always hoped to celebrate the legend and he took some aspects of him to create King Pino. For instance, similarly to Luanda, King Pino was born during heavy rains when lightning struck their village and elders said the child was special. King Pino can be invincible during war and his spear has supernatural powers. “I have always wanted to tell Luanda’s story through my work. King Pino’s legacy burns as hot as the fire of a thousand suns, a constant reminder to stand firm and be fearless in the face of adversity. In a way, it is also trying to show young people we do have our own African heroes and we can also create our own heroes in ways that we imagine ourselves,” says Allela.

Art pieces by Ijakaa are image-transferred photographs of people going about their businesses on the streets of Nairobi. His works ‘Kencom’, ‘12C’ and ‘Zebra’ are some of the pieces in Artivive that tell the stories of pedestrians and people going about their work.

“I decided to use real, every day people who have to physically use their bodies to make a living. I like to portray real people as much as I can and the experiences that we have individually at, say, Kencom, is not the same,” he says.

The multidisciplinary artist, with an emphasis on the idea or theme rather than the medium, looks forward to absorb his work in immersive art. After attending a workshop recently, he will explore virtual reality.

“It is exciting to be in this space. This kind of technology has been in existence for a few years now and we are the first in the country to do this. There has been a lot of growth already and I want to be in this space to be part of it,” says Ijakaa.