Letter from Nairobi

New Talent and New Avenues in Nairobi’s Art Scene

Mūhunyo Maina reviews the artistic offerings in Kenia’s capital in the first quarter of 2024.

Joy Maringa. Installation view at Kobo Trust. Photo: Mūhunyo Maina

Joy Maringa. Installation view at Kobo Trust. Photo: Mūhunyo Maina

By Mūhunyo Maina

The vibrancy of Nairobi’s art scene in the first quarter of 2024 is palpable. Art lovers in Nairobi have been spoiled with 16 exhibitions running in the month of March alone. But the beginning of 2024 has shown promise in the variety of new talent and new directions taken by different artists.

Visual artist and musician Coster Ojwang opened a new show at the Tribal Gallery entitled ‘Tracing the Lines’ on the 22nd of March. Ojwang’s works usually depicts various rural landscapes and urban scenes painted in a vibrant expressionist mode using broad impasto strokes in oil point. However, he has broken the mould in ‘Tracing the Lines’; there are none of his trademark landscapes to be seen, and the subjects of all the paintings presented are of models as well as close acquaintances to the artist himself. These paintings are darker and broodier than his previous bodies of work, with the majority of paintings being underscored by shades of opaque navy and deep-sea blue.

Coster Ojwang, Next Breadwinner, 2023. Courtesy the artist.

The show is both retro and introspective, and recurring themes throughout the exhibition are youth and manhood. His painting Self Portrait is clearly of a much younger, adolescent Ojwang, albeit with his familiar dreadlocks. A recurring subject in the work is a personal friend of his, young man who frequents his studio regularly. The young man in question is a brilliant and talented individual by Ojwang’s estimation, but struggles with the influence of drugs and other substances. As such, paintings such as Next Breadwinner clearly explore the struggles off young men to take their place in society. Ojwang also explores religion in this show, with paintings such as Jadolo and Dreaded Reverent depicting clergymen in their robes. These works draw on Ojwang’s experience with people who belong to multiple faiths and denominations among his family and friends and his admiration for people who totally submit themselves to faith in a God.

Brian Kimani, Main Stage 1, 2022. Courtesy the artist.

The young members of the Mukuru Art Collective impressed again with their group exhibition ‘Sprouting Realm’, which ran from the 29th of February to the 19th of March at the Village Market. The title is a double entendre: one the one hand, the ‘Sprouting Realm’ in question is the bustling urban environment in which these young artists live and depict in their work. The Mukuru Art Club was founded by Adam Masava, a highly successful artist and art educator who decided to use art and art education as an opportunity to empower the youth of Mukuru kwa Njenga, one of Nairobi’s toughest underprivileged residential areas. The members of the Mukuru Art Club are for the most part his former or current students, some of whom he has trained since primary school. Therefore, the ‘Sprouting Realm’ could also be the artists themselves, a group bourgeoning new visual artists. Under Masava’s tutelage, these young and hungry creatives continue to grow from strength to strength as new professionals, and with each show their work showcases continual technical improvements as well as conceptual maturity.

One artist who impressed in particular was Brian Kimani, the main exhibitor in this group show, whose painting Main Stage 1 is featured on the cover poster. Kimani’s ability to intricately capture the shadows and contours of the busses and various subjects at matatu terminals in the heat of Nairobi’s equatorial sun, and yet still maintain a realist subtlety is impressive, especially as this is not an easy feat in acrylics.

Joy Maringa. Installation view at Kobo Trust. Photo: Mūhunyo Maina

The month of April has seen Nairobi’s female artists take centre stage. The Kobo Trust opened an exhibition by multimedia artist Joy Maringa, who presented a bold and challenging corpus of conceptual works entitled ‘Pertinent Perspective’. Additionally, a new and exciting space, called The Station, has opened in Ngara in East Nairobi. Envisioned as a concept space for creatives, thinkers and educators aiming to redefine the boundaries of engagement, their first edition of ‘Art in Ngara’ featured Sudanese artist Amani Zhari, who exhibited her endearing figurative works of female portraiture in mixed media and paint on the 14th of April.

If the offerings of Nairobi’s artists in the first quarter of 2024 is anything to go by, we are certainly in for an exciting year ahead.


Mūhunyo Maina is an artist and writer from Nairobi, Kenya. 



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