18 May 2019

Kenya: Painters Show a Birds-Eye View of Everyday Life

Kenyan artists Adam Massava and Mike Kyalo have pooled their talent in an art exhibition called Thinking Line.

They seem to be thinking alike because there are similarities in their choice of aerial perspectives, urban scenes and people engaged in everyday activities.

Massava usually paints from his balcony, hence his illustrations have overhead views. He also specialises in painting on mabati (corrugated iron) sheets, an inexpensive building material common in the slums areas such as the one he grew up in. His works are also notable for the bold colours that brighten the dark brown panels.

He depicts people on the move, usually from the working class and lower echelons of society. The illustrations get you involved in the lives of random people, making you wonder where they are going and why. You get a mood of industriousness and purpose as people go about trading, cooking, pedalling, ferrying goods, and focusing ahead.

I ponder over a man in a billowing green jacket and purple baseball hat pushing a bicycle piled high with crates of bread in Higher Level II, which is painted on a rusty brown panel.

Another wall has what I call the "Rooftop Series." They show densely packed mabati-roofed buildings, and Massava has moulded ribbed material onto the canvas to create the corrugated look of iron sheets.

More of Massava's work can be seen at his Mukuru Arts Club studio.

Kyalo works with multiple media, often creating from his fourth floor studio. His oil paintings at the Polka Dot, many painted in thick brushstrokes, capture a wide spectrum of urban life and socio-economic activities. There are groups of people engaging in roadside discussions, sugar cane sellers, water vendors, women selling wares, motorcycle riders and more. These people may be the underprivileged class, but they are productive.

Kyalo also has a flair for defining his people through light and shadows, bathing them in bright radiance or soft illuminations. You can almost feel the warmth and sunshine emanating from his paintings.

Thinking Line, showing until the end of the month, is the last exhibition by Polka Dot Gallery in Karen, before it moves to a new place.

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