By Bethsheba Achitsa
Published February 11, 2012
Mexican soap operas are almost a permanent feature on Kenyan television. The overly romanticised stories that usually revolve around love, greed and family disputes. Now, critics of these soaps have something refreshing from Mexico as an art exhibition on the Mexican revolution opens in Nairobi, Kenya.
On an evening when millions were tuned to Citizen TV watching ‘Triumph of Love’, a sizeable crowd of men and women were witnessing a different artistic presentation of Mexican arts as the month long art exhibition “Mexico: Imprints, Independence and Revolution” opened at the Creative Gallery of the Nairobi National Museums. Men and women feasted their eyes on a sombre collection of 52 black and white imprints that celebrate and commemorate the political protest against the Porfirian regime.
These images is a realisation of 52 artists who want to build relations and encourage reflections among people on the Revolution and Independence, the two events regarded as the most defining of the Mexican history.
Speaking during the opening ceremony of the exhibition on February 9, 2012, Luis Javier Campuzano, Ambassador of Mexico to Kenya, stated that the exhibition was created as a commemoration of the centenary of the Revolution and bicentenary of Independence and provided an occasion to undertake a mature appraisal of what Mexicans have forged in two centuries as an independent nation.
Hazy paintings where humanity seeks refuge under the wings of eagles, forlorn faces that sometimes express fear or uncertainty, domineering images of eagles that are constantly swallowing snakes constantly recur in the collection. It’s an exhibition that covers a broad range of subjects.
Some talk of distorted dreams, others inaudibly tell of the fallen heroes of the revolution in faint strokes of the brush that requires keen observation. Adapting a monotone of black and white, these compositions are dreamlike, half here and also nowhere. They do not render concrete scenarios, but capture a psychologically charged undercurrent.
A quest to understand why eagles that are ever eating snakes offer a different and intriguing building of the nation that is Mexico. The explanation offered by Ingrid Berlanga Vasile, the Cultural, Political and Commercial Attache at the Embassy of Mexico who also organised the event, is interesting. According to her architects who were about to start a construction in the land witnessed an eagle that was swallowing a snake; the architects took this insignificant as a divine vision to go ahead and build on the land.
“The beauty of this art is only seen by someone who has a great understanding of the craft. You can’t simply view art once, you need to continuously attend exhibitions like this frequently to develop your understanding,” commented an ecstatic Alawy Abzein, a Public Relations Officer at the National Museums of Kenya who described the collection as enlivening and fantastic. His understanding of the various imprints reveals an enthusiast who is keen and looks at each imprint with a critical eye to unravel what lies underneath.
Just like Alawy, Tess Kinyanjui, a Nairobi fine artist, the allure of exhibitions like this one is only recognisable among those who understand abstract art.
“For a mind that is not artistic, this form of art is very complicated and means nothing,” the petite artist noted. She however loved the variety of themes addressed by the artist.
“I could easily identify with Dream 168,” she observed. ” It captures the nature of dreams. Just like in real life our dreams are distorted and very mystical and the artist greatly captured this aspect.”
Lydia Gatundu-Galavu, the Art Curator at the Nairobi National Museum who describes herself as a teacher first, the Mexican exhibition is a fantastic exhibition that she has witnessed at the museum: “It offers an individual with a multiple of stories about the Mexican Revolution. There is a lot that a keen observe can gain from looking at the pictures.”
As to whether Kenyans appreciate this form of art, Gatundu-Galavu notes that though the National Museums of Kenya has 42 sections that have to generate funds to run the institution, art is one of the big earners for the organisation. However, she is not able to clear state how much the sale of art at the organisation generates in a month.
Though the exhibition’s main objective is to address freedom as perceived by the artists, for a keen observer the art is also about environmental advocacy is seen hovering in the backgrounds. In one picture a man pulling a cart full of garbage is seen and from to time imprints on flowers keep popping up.
Mexico: Imprints, Independence and Revolution is a breath of fresh air for a public that is enshrined in the simplistic and sometimes escapist soap operas that rule Kenyan TV. The general public has until February 29, 2012 to view and learn about the Mexican cultures.
In case you are left wondering why the images are black and white, the explanation is that this is a tribute to the collective, photographic and cinematographic memory of the historic moments the art refers to. The 52 images shall remain in Kenya at the end of the show on February 29 as they have been donated to the National Museums of Kenya ‘as a sign of the close friendship relation’ between Mexico and Kenya.