PROFILE MAGAZINE | ONLINE EDITION East African Standard Online Edition
    Saturday, January 3 - 9, 2004

The best of 2003
By Kenneth Kwama

In April last year, the French Cultural and Co-operation Centre (FCCC) in Nairobi hosted an outstanding contemporary
exhibition of abstract art, which brought together artists from Mozambique, South Africa and Kenya.

South African artist Dinkie Sithole’s genius was on display, as was that of Mozambican Nito Dos Santos and Kenyan Justus Kyalo, who captivated the audience with an insightful piece titled Not Grasping Down and Under.

The audience who were struck by their works may not have been art critics, but they certainly recognised genius when they saw it.

The Goethe Institut was also a busy place, screening several documentaries that showcased Kenya’s diverse natural resources and other aspects of life. The films constituted an important body of knowledge of the country’s cultural practices, history, landscape and people. Viewers were taken on an insightful journey around the country, with the Coast as the point of departure.

Rabai - Where It All Started focused on the community that played host to the first German Christian missionaries from the Church Missionary Society. The documentary, directed by Susan Wamburi, also recalled how the rich cultural heritage, traditional religion, song and dance styles of the Rabai people has remained intact over the centuries.

Kenya Cultural Music Safari was an engrossing selection of music and dance from different communities including the Turkana, Pokot, Luhya, Kisii and Kipsigis. The Cushitic Cultural Festival, directed by Brutus Sirucha, focused on the unique cultural rites of the Borana people. Lamu - A Splendour of Heritage was directed by Wamburi and sampled some of the unique facets of the Swahili culture, particularly in Lamu.

The Institut also screened fictional works by professional film-makers and some by students. These included Daisy’s Diary, directed by Denise Anyana and The Will, directed by Kibaara M’ Kaugi. In August, Lara Croft, Tomb Raider - Cradle of Life, the film which was partly shot in Kenya, was released in the US.

Women painters and sculptors also had an eventful year. The artists’ works explored a number of themes that centred around the desires and wishes of women. Emitting energy and enthusiasm, most of the works celebrated traditional themes like a woman’s beauty and the role of women as mothers in the community. They also delved into topics previously considered taboo like sexuality.

In March, Tabitha wa Thuku’s pieces - Blind Hunter, To be Free From Men, Sit on Them and Peace is a Struggle, were shown at the Goethe Institut and were nothing short of eye-catching. On the performing arts front, Heartstrings Ensemble collaborated with Artscape Company at the FCCC to present a hilarious play titled It Runs in the Family. The play revolved around Dr Victor Okinda, an accomplished and well-respected environmentalist who had a lot of skeletons in his closet. Just when he was about to get his break, his old flame showed up with a son she claimed was his.

The Kenya National Theatre (KNT) remained busy throughout last year. In October, it hosted Siku Njema, an adaptation of Ken Walibora’s Kiswahili novel of the same name.

In November, a captivating play titled Lwanda Magere was on the menu. The play received rave reviews and even had extended shows owing to public demand. In October and part of November, the Concert Hall at the KNT hosted the European Film Festival, during which a number of interesting films from various European countries were shown.

The films were many and varied in theme, plot and content, but among the most memorable ones was Life as a Sexually Transmitted Disease. This film told how Tomasz, a physician in his sixties, worked on the set of a film about Saint Bernard. Intelligent but moody, Tomasz suspected he might be terminally ill. A series of medical tests confirmed this and he set out on a mission of self-destruction. Another film that got a lot of attention was Everybody Famous.

This review of major events would not be complete without mentioning the release of a new book on art, which happened towards the end of last year. The book, Thelathini: 30 Faces of Contemporary Art in Kenya, focuses on both Kenyan and non-Kenyan artists who have made a significant contribution to the development of the art scene in Kenya. The book has about 100 colour plates and a one-page biography of each artist. Among the artists featured are Jimnah Kimani, considered to be the face of a new generation of emerging Kenyan artists.

This year promises to be even more interesting. Already, renowned film producer-cum-director, Kibaara M’Kaugi is working on a full feature film about the Mau Mau war. The project is the first of its kind and promises to give more insight into the war that liberated Kenya from colonial rule.

"We are through with the filming and we hope that it will elicit enough response both locally and internationally because the Mau Mau war is one that people would like to learn more about," says Kibaara. The film was partly shot in Chuka town, Meru South district.

Valentine Kamau consoles Carter Kavuti in the play, It Runs in the Family.




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