ACHOLA ROSARIO FINDS ARTISTIC INSPIRATION AT THE ALLIANCE FRANCAISE
(Posted 18th September 2020)
Singer/songwriter and bass player Meshell Ndegeocello sang in the 90s “If that’s your boyfriend, he wasn’t last night”, entreating her rival to “get your story right, he knocked on my door, so what should I say no for?”. That was the subject of Nairobi’s current favorite artists, Michael Soi and Thom Ogonga, who have an exhibition running at the Alliance Française Nairobi titled: SEX AND THE CITY IV.
Legs intertwined and arms akimbo, fondling breasts or grabbing bums, the twerking characters that are the subject of Michael Soi’s painting have no shame, cavorting in bright pastel and copper colors to the pulsating rhythm of their own desires. There is no hiding motivations here, laid bare for all to resonate with, in those primal moments when we are hunting in the club for the one who will take us where we want to go. There is no pretending to be something that we not, hypocrites in society’s polite language of love do not exist here. Pure lust is the only currency. And beer. Lots of it.
Thom Ogonga’s monochrome engraved prints carry a little more gravitas in their sluttiness, empowering his m-pesa demanding females with a cockiness that feminists crave to emulate, unapologetic in their masturbation as they offer a coquette foot to the lusty male to caress. She flaunts her beauty at the wife passing by, bent over by a load of firewood with a dog as a companion, while the beauty messages the wife’s husband over wifi. Seeing the woodcut next to the resultant print, reinforces the idea of a million little cuts that go into forming the final character of a person and how they respond to life’s encounters. This is not an invitation to judge, instead look plainly and deeply and realize that we are all selfish in our pursuit of happiness and that this is not an inherent negative African trait, but rather something that everyone from all over the world grapples with in themselves.
Why this exhibition is important in the African context is the combined subjects of immigration and sexual tourism. Africa has long been the focus of both, with dialogue on the subjects usually being shallow and pompous, if it ever takes place. Therefore, it is refreshing to see two 40something male African artists tackle the subject without fear or favor, and with a slant that gives autonomy to the female expression of her desires. They document the current situation, especially in the face of what is now becoming the “new normal” after the COVID lockdown. Have things changed, or have we just hidden it behind a mask?
This kind of daring exhibition is nothing new for the Alliance Française Nairobi, this being the 4th edition in the Sex and the City series. For 70 years, since 1948, the Alliance Française has been promoting modern native creative expression along with French language and culture in Nairobi, using a mixture of volunteer and paid staff from Kenya and abroad. This resultant mix has enabled a heady environment for exhibition of creative work, something that is woefully needed in order to prevent our local art from stagnating in a narrow definition often dictated by tourists and NGO blurb.
Over 200 exhibitions are held here annually with 80,000 visitors coming to view the fruits of our artists’ labor. The pandemic only forced innovation, with most shows and events going online such as the Showcase Wednesday concerts at 7.30pm with Winyo and the Dodo Express and the monthly Nairobi Poetry Café. Check on their YouTube page for their Shade of Benga project as well as numerous other videos on diverse subjects by Kenyan artists, produced inhouse by the great communications team at the cultural center. Everything is in place to support and promote an artist through their journey of cultural exchange, which in my books is wonderful, considering the few avenues available to local artists for self-promotion and sale of their work. A typical Michael Soi piece goes for $3000, with all of the proceeds going directly to the artist; the Alliance charges nothing for exhibition. Instead, they will set up business linkages for the artists abroad, so they can market their work in francophone and other interested countries, providing them with the opportunities to broaden their horizons, and the rest of the world with a broader definition of African art.
This month’s Showcase Wednesday brings together some of Kenya’s finest musicians, to curate a set together following a short musical residency at the Alliance Française de Nairobi.
Anchored around the music of Winyo (Shiphton Onyango), RFI Music Discoveries top ten African musicians in 2010 and 2011, the Dodo Express comprises of versatile household names: Eddie Grey (jazz guitarist and composer), Kasiva Mutua (percussionist ), Mutindi Muasa (bassist) and Abaju Norris Baya (drummer).
Winyo’s contemporary benga style is influenced by Dodo, the traditional Luo musical/dance genre that originated from Luo beer party songs during the World War II period and which is becoming extinct. Winyo is a Luo word for bird as Winyo’s voice is likened to the melody of a singing bird.
Follow the fruits of this musical collaboration full of fresh vibe and energy.
Another interesting online programme running at the moment in partnership with Ketebul Music is Shades of Benga – the 1st episode premiered last week – the story of Kenyan popular music:
To watch The F.O.M.O. TRAVEL SHOW episode 42 Alliance Française Expression: