Ikigai expo ‘pops up’ closer to the people

An art enthusiast admires a painting in one of the pop-up exhibitions. [Courtesy]

When Polka Dot Art Gallery was shut four months ago, its founder Lara Kay had to look to hosting pop-up shows. The gallery that was once located inside The Souk on Dagoretti road was forced to close down due to the ongoing road construction projects. It has turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Lara who has able to attract new art audiences through these monthly pop-up exhibitions.

Pop-up shows, which are held at temporary venues, have gained popularity in the arts world. Some of the pop-up art gallery ideas include malls, hotels and streets, goes to where people are. Lara held her past exhibitions in hotels. She is taking her latest to Ikigai- a shared workspace in Westlands.

‘Ikigai’, a body of work, opened last Friday. The title not only corresponded with the exhibiting space but also to the theme Lara, also the curator of the show, was hoping to capture. ‘Ikigai’ is a Japanese word that means ‘a reason for being’. It delves into finding happiness by leading a purposeful life and following one’s destiny.

Three artists explored this theme with more than 20 paintings hanged around the Ikigai. Elvis Mungora takes us into the beauty in the chaos of Nairobi traffic, in untitled paintings.

“The recurring theme in my work is daily life in Nairobi. My environment serves as an inspiration for my work. Working with photographs and paint mediums, I observe and try to translate to the best of my ability the little bits that contribute to the contemporary culture and general life in Nairobi,” said Elvis.

Anne Mwiti’s works questions the existence of personal independence through her series of work titled ‘Illusions of Freedom.’ A piece shows a man staring at a small upper window. Another piece is of a woman who is stretching out her body to embrace freedom but a big balloon tied around her is suspended.

Sungi Mlengeye celebrates the African women through painted portraits. Her works traces a part of women’s Ikigai in their communities

“My portfolio mostly consists of dark faces in minimal shades of black and browns against ‘perfectly white’ backgrounds or very colourful ones with touches of abstraction. I chose to represent and celebrate black ethnicities, to express beauty in blackness, to bring forth pride and cement un-movable spirit. I focus on women as representatives of their societies as life bearers, nurturers, caretakers and educators,” she says.

Lara’s curating process for this show was organic. She accredits that to the fact that she approached artists who were already familiar with the theme and who were already creating works around it. This prevented her from controlling their art.

“These artists are all in a phase of creating new works. There is a whole lot of new interests in their names from a lot of art collectors,” she says.

This is evident from some of the paintings that were sold before the exhibition due to an existing community the workspace provides. Lara says that making art more accessible in this way has also improved their revenues.

“We have received a much bigger audience with pop-ups compared to when we had to rely on people to visit us in the gallery space. Some of them were unaware about the gallery,” says Lara.

She hopes this exhibition would inspire the audience to take the time to reflect on their Ikigai so that they can live out their purpose as boldly as the artists who have poured their soul into the paintings for the public to consume.