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Kenyan artist Thom Ogonga releases latest work based on Nairobi's vibrant night scene

posted 16 Nov 2012, 06:32 by Mpelembe   [ updated 16 Nov 2012, 06:33 ]

Self-taught artist, Thom Ogonga is inspired by fashion, music, urban life and fascinated by Kenya's night culture. He exhibits his latest series of works based on a "typical night out" in Nairobi.

 NAIROBIKENYA (NOVEMBER 14, 2012) (REUTERS) -  Art lovers gathered at the French Cultural Center in central Nairobi recently to view the latest exhibition by artist Thom Ogonga.

The award-winning artist is based in Nairobi and taught himself to paint, print-making, photography and film.

Ogonga's work is described by local artist's hub - AfricanColours - as "clean, reductive and illustrative". Many of his pieces are interpretations of the female form.

He's taken part in numerous international workshops, several residencies and exhibited in many parts of Kenya and abroad.

His latest body of work are drawn from his observations of Nairobi's dynamic night life. The exhibition was titled "Riziki', which means 'providence' in Swahili.

"I am not trying to raise controversy but I happen to like my drink and when I go to the bar, this is all I see. I would like to go to church and paint a priest but unfortunately I do not go to church so for me I am documenting the life of the city I live in because I think the artists that we respect and hold in high esteem for 500 years are the artists who painted what they knew, look at Van Gough, he painted sunflowers because that is all he saw, so for me i'm just giving you Nairobi in 2012," said Ogonga.

Art enthusiasts like Esther Auma - who came to the exhibition - say they appreciated Ogonga's depictions of real-life scenarios.

"He has painted them in a very beautiful way, like that piece over there it shows a guy who is very drunk and he is being held up, the piece is very real that's why this exhibition has attracted me," she said.

For Peter Mutunga, another art enthusiast, Ogonga's latest work is more evidence that the once-struggling local art scene is growing.

"Our African artists have come a long way so I think it's time we also embrace the fact that painters do not only come in the Diaspora, painters we also have painters here and also having hung around painters we have around, I am really appreciating the work they are doing and what I normally see in the exhibitions, it shows there is a level of maturity they have reached that we can also compete out there and we can make it," he said.

But even though more young Kenyans are choosing to become artists than ever before, most of them complain that government and private support is insufficient. Many artists in Kenya look to foreign individuals and institutions for patronage.

"Why am I doing my exhibition in a French institute, I am supposed to be doing it at the Kenya Museum, I am supposed to be doing it at the Go Down but I am doing it at a French space because they are the only people who understand my vocabulary but then when it comes to the nitty gritty of what is Kenyan art, we have to write our history ourselves," Ogonga said.

Many of Ogonga's pieces were selling for about 1,000 US dollars.