An enthusiastic crowd of exhibitors and art enthusiasts waits expectantly as Marjolein Blockland, a hoop dance artiste performs the opening act.
Rhythmically, she weaves her body in and out the round ring elevated on a single metallic pole. A round of applause follows. A welcome gaze wades through the faces as Ardhi Gallery Art Director Myrna Van der Veen makes an introductory welcome.
Here at the newly launched Ardhi Gallery, the notes of the violin register artistic allure. It is like an exorcism of a sweet kind as the sounds crystallise magically across the underground museum-like gallery, dim lights beaming on tens of wall-hanging artworks.
A Mesheck Oiro sculptured charging bull is positioned right in the middle of the gallery as if defending its space.
This is the new home to upcoming creators in Nairobi City, whose works exude the essence and emotions of art and heritage. Out of the 28 exhibitors showcasing this Saturday, most are first-timers who are barely 24, youths from Mukuru and Kibera.
They are among the 80 who answered the audition call to illustrate their views around the theme ‘Safety in my Word’.
It is a dream come true for Christine Oguna, owner and managing director of Ardhi Gallery.
“I have a passion for art. In December last year, I went through a very difficult time and decided that I must spend my life doing something I like while helping other people. It is about these young people who can hardly get opportunities because they are young or they are shunned. I decided to go for emerging artistes who other galleries do not want to showcase,” says Christine.
“It is about the artistes connecting with ordinary people, Kenyan fans who appreciate and buy their art. From there, we can introduce the artistes abroad. There is too much talent in Kenya but unfortunately, that talent is shipped out before Kenyans get to know these artistes. Tell our Kenyan story through our art to the rest of the world.”
Having showcased her paintings and photographs in galleries across the world, Myrna is committed to working with the gallery because of her passion to see other creatives grow.
“This is a beautiful gallery that has the feel of a museum. It is good to see the aesthetic artistes as well as the performance artistes bringing out this diversity with different styles of art. What I like about Ardhi is that it is a stage for artistes who pose so much potential. We would like to give them mentorship, not only on their creative artworks but also on financial strategy,” says Myrna, who is also a painter and photographer.
Martha Chepkoskei, aka Kosi, brings a unique perspective to the world of traditional art. The 24-year-old works primarily with watercolours, acrylics, charcoal, and pencil. Her work is a celebration of self, nature, and groundedness, incorporating elements of minimalism, realism, and abstractness. Today, she is among the young artistes showcasing their art.
“I do portraits, basically editorial art that is inspired by black women. My art is a celebration of the black skin, the energy, and the essence that we have as African women. I embrace our hair, skin, and our boldness,” says Kosi.
Her sentiments are echoed by Tony Bulimu, who creates colourful paintings on canvas inspired by Nairobi.
“I am guided by an impressionist impulse that helps me visualise and depict poetic interpretations of what a normal day is,” he says.
Here also, we meet Lydia Muthuma from UNESCO. Muthuma looks at the memory of the world, which deals with documentary heritage. She says the creative presentations help her organisation piece together Kenya’s cultural heritage.
“Kenya is a culture that is built on orality. We are an oral culture. If you are looking for an old written document, you won’t find it. The image that the world has from a UNESCO point of view is that before colonisation there was no culture, yet there was,” says Muthuma.
He adds, “So if you go to the visual arts it allows us to move back into that space. We would like to use some of the paintings as documentary evidence. We are trying to bring that voice into the world forum by giving the same culture and same attitude through assembled artwork.”
And Jules Delahaije, SGA Security Chairman and CEO says that art brings humanity together and inspires peace and harmony among communities.
“Art is a catalyst to bring people together. We provide safety to communities. We would be a more secure world if all communities embraced the presentations and inspirations of art as we are seeing today,” he says.