By Ogova Ondego
Published September 21, 2008
Since 1995 when she sold her first artwork at the age of four, 11- year-old Edelquinn Chiku Njambi has never looked back. Now in Standard Six, the young artist has exhibited widely, participated in workshops and won awards. But then, this is hardly surprising for a girl who has been brought up around art.
Njambi’s mother–artist Tabitha wa Thuku– used to paint and design jewellery while she sat on her lap or table playing with her material. Njambi and her mother live in a house which also doubles up as their studio. The walls of that building are adorned with large oil paintings. While some are framed, others are just stretched. Still others are just piled up on tables, stools and on any available space. Pieces of sculpture, too, have their own room in the studio that has more artwork than furniture. This is the work made by the mother and daughter team.
Saying she paints during school holidays and on weekends, Njambi adds that people used to think it was her mother who created artwork for her. She has exhibited at Kuona Art Trust, Gallery Watatu, Paa ya Paa, and National Museums of Kenya in Nairobi.
But art is not smooth sailing for the talented girl. Her age sometimes works against her. For instance, an art gallery declined to exhibit her work last year as, to quote her, it had been “made by a child.”
Njambi, who designs season’s greetings cards, paints and works in clay, says she does not always create in order to sell.
“I paint to express myself and to keep some of my artwork at home,” she says. “Some of my paintings are priceless and so I create them for myself.”
What themes run through her work?
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“Social life,” she says. “Among my favourite works are titled ‘LittlG girl Jumping’, ‘Maasai Women’, ‘A Little Girl by a Little Girl’, and ‘Wedding of Two Little People’.”
Njambi says she has noticed that some children are aspiring to be like her while her teacher still “thinks I am not the one who paints my work.”
Njambi, who says she does mainly abstract work as opposed to its realistic counterpart, is sad that art has been removed from examinable subjects at primary school level.
“We learn Christian Religious Education in the time that was allocated to art and craft lessons,” says the girl who models, cooks, and makes jewellery.
“I want to be an artist and model when I grow up so I may sell and document history besides teaching art,” she says, adding that her favourite subject is mathematics “as I love calculating.”
Although she says she always has lots of homework, she always completes it because she fears punishment.
Njambi aspires to travel around the world and even tour Italy to see a friend she made in Korogocho slums in Nairobi where her mother used to work while she was still a baby and she would take her along.
She enjoys donning “trousers or long dresses as there is no need to expose my body to everyone.”
But make no mistake. Njambi hates slums. She says the air there is not so fresh and people easily pick airborn diseases from it.
“I no longer go to Korogocho as it has too many prostitutes who spread AIDS.”
As if aware her assertion has raised a question in my mind, she hastens to address it: “How do you get AIDS? Only if you are a prostitute.”