By Iminza Keboge
Published December 24, 2017
When life hands you bitter lemon, so the sage have said, the wise turn its bitter taste into palatable sweet lemonade. This could be the description of a boy whose quest for formal education was cut short due to lack of resources for fees. But Robin Okeyo Mbera, who was born near a stone-mining quarry in western Kenya, uses the mine to put food not just on his own table but also that of many other dependants. ArtMatters.Info speaks to him about his work.
What do you do for a living?
I am an artist.
In which area of art do you specialise?
I major in stone carving.
Where did you go to school?
I studied at Tabaka Boys and Tabaka Secondary School in Kisii County of western Kenya but couldn’t complete my education due to lack of school fees.
How did you discover you were an artist?
In 2006 when I participated in a group exhibition at Nairobi National Museum.
What do you enjoy most in sculpting?
The whole sculpting process is a lot of fun for me because from the start to the end it is a real communication with the stone on every step I take.
Where can one see your art?
My work is available in private collections and galleries in Kenya and abroad; it can also be viewed at Nairobi National Museum in Nairobi. One may also visit my workshop in Kisii or view it and on my website or social media like Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.
Which media organizations have covered you and your work?
I have been interviewed by ArtMatters.Info, BBC Kiswahili , Tabloid Africa, and Kenya Arts Diary.
Do you have any favourite art pieces?
All my pieces are amazing!, But the pieces that made the took Kenya Arts Diary to notice me in 2014 and 2016 are ‘Appreciation’ and ‘Generation Gap’.
How many pieces have you created so far since 2006?
More than 100.
Who do you describe as your role model or mentor? Put another way, what has shaped your journey into art?
My mentors are very many in one Sense. That I was born near a quarry mining area, is the foundation of my work as I started playing with stone at a tender age.
I have worked with very many senior and renowned artist locally and internationally. They are the ones who enabled me to get exposure. They include Elikana Ong’esa, Motondi Oroo and Peter Kenyanya .
What is your sculpting style?
The dominant style in my sculpture was abstract, these is what has pushed me over into my new inventory on stone-carving.
I call my current style Afro Cubism Journey through which I hope to revitalize the old concepts in Africa from the three dimensions (3-D) to 4-D. I believe this is what will change the entire industry of sculpture in Africa.
What type of stone do you work in most?
I mostly work in Soapstone, Silicate, Basalt, Petrified wood and Quartz, just to name but a few.
What is the highest price your art has ever fetched?
Sh125000 (about US$1250). But I hope it shall sell at even higher prices as the economy improves and more people appreciate art.
Do you live entirely off art or do you do anything else?
It is art that gives me something to put not just on my own table but that of many other dependants.