by Jonathan Gathaara Sölanke Fraser
an illustration of time.
My late aunt and uncle’s house is a bungalow with a wide base. A low and wide house in whose living room I listened to Coldplay’s Speed of Sound for the first time as a young boy. It is a very vivid memory that has made itself at home in a portion of my personal history. The rising first two seconds of the song are like the sound of a gong played in reverse, a gradual focusing of sound that becomes a repeated melody carried throughout the song. Then follows a ray of light splayed across the ceiling from the windscreen of a car outside. The light is adamant about maintaining a non-shape but I can see the edges of a spider’s messy web in there and as it moves from one end to another, it becomes the migratory routes of some animal, a mass of scar tissue, a tangle of cells beneath a microscope’s lens, water. And then it is gone.
Memory is subjective and so exists outside of time. The concept of time within the confines of memory is much more pliable and so the two seconds of condensing sound is stretched to absurd limits and the momentary glance of light on the ceiling lasts a lifetime.
a far away house in the bundus1
I am on my way through dirt and distance to visit the artist Jackie Karuti. She has been living at Neo Musangi’s2 home on the periphery of the Nairobi National Park for what will become two months as a sort of artist residency. Karuti makes work around the idea of the alternative, the imagined-made-real and the inhabitants of many worlds.
Collective Magic: session #1
When Thiga was a baby his mother took him and ran away from his father who was a gluttonous misogynist piece of shit. She managed to relocate them in another land far away from him. I think the husband was a kind of giant. Many years passed in bliss and the mother thrived as Thiga grew up to become one of the most handsome and strongest men in the village. He is described as having had many girlfriends. One day his mother took him up the hill near their hut and showed him a massive stone that was wedged firmly into the earth. The stone seemed to have been there for a very long time because its exterior was weathered greatly and had turned some parts of the rock shiny and smooth.
Thiga’s mother then proceeded to ask him to move the stone and bring her what lay underneath it. Thiga loved his mother more than anything. She’d been the one constant person in his life and he’d have done anything for her. So he went, stretched, placed his hands on the stone and planted his feet firmly on the ground. The stone did not even budge. He tried again and again and again. Nothing. Days passed with no success but still he persisted. He soon realized that as strong as he was, he was just not strong enough to move the stone. So he started training and challenging all the lads in the village to sword fights and wrestling matches. (He never challenged any women). He beat them all, grew more stronger but still he could not move the stone. When no one else was challenging him anymore, he went into the forest and fought with wild animals. First with a weapon, then without a weapon. (show me fragile masculinity). He still couldn’t move the stone. Years had passed at this point and his mother was getting older and loosing hope until one day… More…
Collective Magic: session #1
A gathering of dust announces that the process of making a new creation is underway. Gathering dust is the accumulation of filth to make magic. A sorcerer’s task. A gathering of dust is also the act of collecting this filth and discarding it elsewhere. Dust from different books mix creating a strange kind of science. Histories mesh. Facts are distorted. Futures re-imagined. Languages mix.
The library is loud with the dead weight of time. The city has been passing through everyday claiming space, leaving traces and settling in. Specks of dust illuminated by the slanted afternoon light rest over the shelves but I have to be very still and focus my eyes to see this. Dust is gathered, transferred as I my body cuts across the space. My fingers are sooty.
Black on your fingertips.  More…
Collective Magic: session #1
I’ve been spending my time for the last couple of weeks browsing through Joseph Murumbi’s library at the National Archives. Below are some selections out of the thousands of titles. As I try and figure out who this man was I’m realising he was easily Kenya’s record keeper. I don’t think young Kenyans realise how properly we were colonised and what the white man thought about us. Still thinks about us.
The 60’s. Africa as a continent was gaining independence left, right, centre and there was both excitement and tension. The stench of betrayal was as heavy as the breezy wind of victory. It was a time of celebration and assassinations. (ahem…the beginnings of my yet to be published novel). Murumbi collected everything. He had stamps from places he travelled and from various correspondences and subscriptions. He had books and records documenting activities in every African country. He subscribed to journals, magazines and periodicals about pan-Africanism, literature, arts and culture even wildlife. A big deal is made about his collection of artefacts but I think his books are worth a tidy sum in both intellectual and monetary value. He also had a foreign language collection. He was fluent in various languages. His own mother was a polyglot. It also makes sense seeing as he was the country’s minister of Foreign Affairs at one point before he became the country’s Vice President. I am purposely not mentioning the state of the books because it’s quite deplorable. Also of course not everything is out there for the public to see. Most of his correspondence, letters and other the sensitive cables are locked up somewhere…in a vault possibly in the UK. Some interesting finds in the library have been:
Collective Magic: session #1
In one of the interviews recorded inA Path Not Taken, Murumbi narrates how once during his days as the Foreign Minister he told off an Under-secretary in his office. It was regarding an incident where an old friend of Murumbi, fresh out of detention had showed up at his office looking like shit. Murumbi took it upon himself to help him including dispatching a call to the then president, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, because the man had been a true patriot. When Murumbi asked his secretary to find a job for his friend, his secretary proceeded to ask the man what kind of job he could do. This infuriated Murumbi so much that he turned to his secretary and snapped, “Don’t ask this man what kind of job he can do. What have you done during this emergency?”
Murumbi’s statement is charged. A revolutionary call. More…
by Jackie Karuti
In a conversation with Bob Nickas for Interview magazine, Nikas comments on Wolfgang Tillmans’s work by saying that it seeks to answer the basic question, What else can a photograph be? This question also describes the thoughts I had when I first encountered Tillmans’s work. Taking it as a starting point, I will first frame it by referencing work by several Kenyan artists whose approach towards working through lens-based media seeks to address this question.
In his series Undefined Constructions, James Muriuki observes a city whose architectural landscape is rapidly changing. Buildings under construction soar while swathed in brown tarp and multi-level scaffolding. The increase in seemingly misplaced high-rise buildings in Nairobi interrupts a skyline that is also scarred with brutalist, colonial era and Kikuyu-Gothic architecture. In this regard, Muriukis work presents a reading of the city by questioning how sites of construction were determined and what purposes they might have served in the past. More…
“I am essentially a maker but people feel more at ease when I describe myself as a sculptor… which is also fine.” Arlene Wandera
Arlene Wandera was born in Kenya and moved to the UK with her family during her pre-teens.
She works with multiple mediums, including sculpture, installation, and image making. Her works initially stem from her immediate experiences intertwined with childhood memories, before developing into forms that navigate complex social and political interactions in daily life.
Many of Arlene’s works are made using common, discarded and forgotten materials like fabric off-cuts, broken furniture and empty food tins, broken wine glasses, reminiscent of repurposing. This is particularly prevalent in her ongoing series “Rejects Reclaimed”.
In her sculpture series “Everymen”, the conflict and relationship between Wandera’s heritage and life in the west, inform much of the production process, resulting in works that resonate with the viewer.
Arlene is also one half of the collaborative duo Duck & Rabbit Projects. More…
Mitchell Messina on the work of Jackie Karuti for issue II of adjective
“Who are these ‘Young Guns’? Where have they come from? Who are their mentors? What are their concerns, their dreams, their aspirations?”
These questions, simultaneously pertinent and tedious, are the object of Young Guns, Circle Art Gallery’s exhibition of emerging voices in Nairobi’s art scene. With its conspicuously all male cast of twenty six, drawn from various artist spaces within Nairobi – communal work spaces, artist collectives, and private studios – the exhibition attempts to capture the expanding scope of artistic practice within the city. This complete absence of women artists, from the outset, lends an irregularity to Young Guns. More…
I recently sat down with Dennis Muraguri who I also happen to share a studio with, over tea and chapati. We delved into a discussion outlining his practice in general and his upcoming exhibition at Circle Art Gallery opening on the 28th of June 2016. It will be a presentation of new work in different media; prints, video work to sculptures which are a comment on traditional masks from different African countries and the inadequacy of our own history especially in reference to the Kenyan art scene. We also talked a lot about the what he is most known for; Matatu’s.