Past and present meet in art show


Veronica Paradinas Duro, an arhictect and lover of art, first came to Kenya in 2014. By the end of 2016, when GravitArt Gallery was started in Nairobi, she had been round the city and met many artists, whom she felt deserved more exposure and appreciation than they were getting then.

But, from the outset, Veronica also made a point of seeing beyond encumbering boundaries. She visited artists from all over East Africa, many of whom are in her current exhibition entitled Beyond this face 2 – Echoes of the past.

There are 32 artists in the exhibition, half of whom are Kenyan. The rest are from Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan and Uganda.

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But numbers are not the issue in this show.

“To me, art is universal, but the history of art hasn’t yet included Africans’ art or art reflective of their point of view,” she explained.


Having studied the historical movements of art, from ancient Egypt to the Renaissance up to Surrealism, Graffiti street art, and Modern Black Figuration, Veronica has tried to situate all 32 artists’ works with a comparable painter from the past.

In some cases, one can easily see how Egyptian painter Souad Abdel Rasoul has much in common with late Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, for they share an element of surrealism in their art.

Kenya’s Michael Soi’s art and that of American celebrated visual artist Andy Warhol also have much in common and how both can be correlated within the Pop Art movement.

One can just as easily see how Kenya’s Ehoodi Kichapi and American Jean-Michel Basquiat (who rose to success in the 1980s) can fit well together within the graffiti art movement.

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“What I have done is not to say that one artwork is better than another but give them a place within the broader story of the history of art,” Veronica said.

At this stage, one can see that her knowledge of both the African and the Western world of art is encyclopedic. For how else she could have recalled that one of Boniface Maina’s more recent works just happened to have comparable features to the Spanish artist. Salvador Dali.

I have always felt that Shabu Mwangi had a lot in common with the British painter Francis Bacon. But having recently seen an exhibition of Leo Mativo, I couldn’t imagine why she would have also correlated Leo’s art with Bacon’s. But then I saw how Leo’s art had radically changed since he began working closely with Shabu and cultivating some of his style and darker approach to painting.

In fact, Veronica does not pass judgement on anybody’s way of painting. Instead, she takes their art at face value, looking at artists who either share comparable colour palettes, or subject matter or even comparable positioning of the subject seated as their portrait was being painted.

The last consideration is one of the reasons Veronica saw so many correlations between Nedia Were’s Mukhana Shiong’o (Beautiful Lady) and Leonardo di Vinci’s beautiful lady, Mona Lisa. Both women are seated in a three-quarter frontal position, both have an imaginary landscape behind them and both have a classically enigmatic smile.

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What I find most interesting about this exhibition is that although it might seem absurd to look for commonalities among artists of the past and present, Veronica has curated this show in her own unique and unconventional way. She has sought to share African art from a different perspective, one that can give their art an open door into an international art world that can’t help being surprised by the beauty, vibrancy and diversity of African art.

There’s a 42-page catalogue that one needs to see for no other reason than to read the captions to understand how for instance, Patrick Kinuthia could be correlated with the Fauvist movement of the late 19th century, and how Peter Elungat is appropriately classified as a magical realist.

Even the way the curator found compatibility between the 19th century German artist, Casper David Friedrich and Paul Onditi’s solitary figure of Smokey is a marvel. And even the way she appreciates how Coster Ojwang’s portraits are as stunning as Claude Monet’s portrait of himself.

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