The Star (Nairobi)

Kenya: Shelter for a Sage

There are certain paintings when you look at them, you find yourself suddenly hit by a wave of nostalgia so strong that you can't help but reminisce about better days.

Such is the feeling I experienced when looking at some of Zihan Kassam's paintings currently being exhibited at the Talisman Restaurant in Karen.

'Naked', a 102 by 76cm acrylic on canvas piece, by Kassam was in particular like a walk down memory lane. A landscape painting done in warm yellows and browns, it reminded me of a road trip to Mombasa where the baobab trees along the way always seem strikingly familiar and yet simultaneously mysterious.

Kassam, also an art writer with the Star, is exhibiting her work in conjunction with Tabitha wa Thuku whose works are similarly if not more striking in their bold reds and blacks with hints of turquoise in the background.

'The Whisperer' by Thuku is most definitely something I would buy as it is done in a fiery red colour that is appealing without being over the top. Her works have a rather thick texture with the focal points being faces with human albeit otherworldly features and other natural elements portrayed in mixed media.

The faces in 'The Whisperer' have rather round faces, tiny lips and slanting eyes which imply secrets of which the beholder of the said art work is unfortunately not privy. At Sh89,000, this piece appears quite the worthy investment and so too is 'Naked' at Sh84,000.

'The Baby' by Thuku is an acrylic on canvas piece measuring 41 by 49cm and quite lovely in black and red. Curiously, the subject in this piece looks nothing like a baby but rather an adult female with what looks like a silver hoop earing in one earlobe and mohawk-like hairstyle.

Her features are what some people would call 'ethnic' with hints of brown, red and silver colour enhancing her look. This piece, an acrylic on blanket creation, costs Sh55,000 while the '

The Passage', a 106 by 76cm mixed media work by Kassam costs Sh73,200 and looks a lot like an enchanted forest as the landscape is done in silver, black and a slight suggestion of yellow - it looks rather Gothic and therefore very intriguing and mysterious.

Also by Kassam is 'Cinders' which looks just as the name implies with a burnt-looking tree as its focal point, burnt presumably by a roaring fire which left it in its current razed state.

This 122 by 66cm piece has a strong and rather appealing burgundy colour in its background with flecks of white colour which has the effect of ash from the smoldering tree.

At Sh118,000, it was the most popular piece during the opening night on October 23. Another piece by Kassam featuring a tree image is 'Golden Haze' done in black and gold and looks like rain as seen through a huge but grimy window. The thick black lines running vertically in this piece look a lot like the rivulets created by raindrops on a window pane.

The exhibition dubbed 'Shelter for a Sage' with its emphasis on soothing nature has a total of 25 pieces - 13 by Kassam and 12 by Thuku.

Of Cinders, Kassam says it is 'half-finished' and was therefore quite surprised it was so popular with the guests at the opening night. A painter that ironically rarely uses a paint brush, Kassam instead opts for recycled plastic, old cardboard pieces, rusty nails and fingertips in finger painting some of the amazing creations currently on exhibition.

She says, "[The pieces in this] particular series have moved away from a lot of the bright colours of the nature-abstracts I'm known for. It's more intense, more layers, a darker reverie but still peaceful, poignant."

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