By Ogova Ondego
Published April 26, 2014
Graduation, an art exhibition on how memory shapes humans and their destinies, continues at Talisman Restaurant Gallery in Karen Shopping Centre till May 11, 2014.
Artist Martin Onyango who signs his work as Martin Onyis explains that the 20-day exhibition that opened on April 21 is based on his own childhood memories. And he has quite a tale to tell from that experience.
Hardly had Onyango been born in Kisumu some 27 seasons ago than he and his mother moved to Nairobi where his father was working. And perhaps this is where his journey into the world of painting and storytelling begins.
“I left school after the first term of nursery due to lack of fees,” Onyis says. “While I was at home, I started drawing collages and mosaics using material like cigarette filters, waste paper, sand and gluing them together with the sticky milky sap of a cactus plant.
“The appreciation of admiring neighbours kept me going till I rejoined school in class three,” Onyis says.
But school was tough as one who had skipped two classes could hardly compete effectively. Onyis says he soldiered on and managed to catch up with others towards the end of class four.
“Once I managed that I went back to drawing for a while. I even won an arts and craft competition,” Onyis sums up his life in primary school before he joined Aquinas High School.
“In Aquinas I was more of a designer than a painter as I designed and decorated envelopes for boys who wanted to impress their girl friends. Hey, I knew everyone’s girl friend because they all commissioned me to design envelopes.”
After completing secondary school the largely self taught artist Onyis became a peer educator with an organisation called Hope Worlwide. He now works from Jampark next to Jamhuri Park area in Dagoretti Corner and teaches art in Mukuru and Mathare in Nairobi’s expansive Mathare Valley.
Hey, I must get back to the exhibition at Talisman. So, I ask him why his exhibition is titled ‘Graduation’ .
“Well, this is my first solo show after having participated in various group exhibitions such as Manjano and The Journey,” Onyis says. “The title ‘Graduation’ is a sign that I can now stand on my own as an independent artist.”
And what is so unique about memory?
“Memory not only guides our present behaviour but also shapes our future,” Onyis says.
Saying his paintings tell the story of a boy who lives in a world dominated by women, the artist appears to be delving into mind-boggling metaphysics when he asserts: “The painting and the boy is one and the same but possessing different bodies. One of my paintings tells the viewer how we, as little boys, used to play on the dusty pitches of Nairobi’s Mukuru slums only to be stopped dead in our tracks by deafening gun shots that appeared to be exploding in our bodies; we had to learn how to live with danger from a very tender age.”
Onyis is one of 15 painters from all over the world word has been invited to exhibit Taiwan in 2015.
“I was among 60 artists from all over the world who were shortlisted after submitting my art to Taiwan International Art Competition. I am, once again, among the 15 finalists,” Onyis says, his excitement personified.
So, what can stop Onyis from realising his dream after his ‘Graduation’? Join him at Talisman and interact with him as he continues to add more paintings to the 18 that are on show. You just might help in animating his memories further besides you yourself getting inspired by the dreams of a 27-year-old.