10 Top Kenyan Artists You Haven’t Heard Of Yet
Kenya is full of talented artists who are pushing the limits of expression – and doing so in ways distinctly African and contemporary without just mimicking trends of the Western art scene.
These 10 top Kenyan artists you haven’t heard of yet are among the ones who truly represent the country’s rich culture and vibrancy.
Sources: Wamathai.com, CreativeAfricaNetwork.com, AkwaabaMusic.com, NYTimes.com, Nairobinow.Wordpress.com, Contemporaryand.com, YouTube.com, NaomiWanjiku.com, TheCultureTrip.com, WanjaKimani.com, Kuonatrust.org
1. Wangechi Mutu
Though she lives and works in New York City, Mutu is a native of Kenya and considered one of the most important contemporary African artists of recent times. She works in a wide range of media including video, installation, performance, sculpture, and collage. No matter the medium, her work can be described as surreal. Unlike the original surrealists though, Mutu deals with topics such as feminism, identity, and violence in ways that are discomforting yet impossible to ignore.
2. Just a Band (collective)
The art collective Just a Band has videos that have gone massively viral, to the point that they are getting feature write-ups in The New York Times. They are being dubbed “Kenya’s first viral internet meme” by the likes of the Wall Street Journal and CNN. They make music videos that draw on African mythology, old movies, and Japanese anime. Don’t pigeonhole what the trio behind the collective does as purely music or music video. As Akwaaba Music said of their album, 82, “Deep and soulful vibes … are surrounded by straightforward urban expression and revolt … and modern day sarcasm.” Just a Band often uses elements of installation in its performances as well.
3. Sydney Mag’ong’o
Sydney Mag’ong’o is one of Kenya’s many hidden talents, but his name is becoming more resonant in the art world. The Nairobi-based painter has a contemporary and profound approach. His creations go beyond politics, religion and culture to find expression in beautiful color-and-shape fusions. Although his paintings remind some people of Picasso’s work, his perception of the contemporary world is considered unique. His art is full of emotion, vibrant colors and abstract shapes.
4. Peterson Kamwathi
Born in 1980, Kamwathi represents a new generation of Kenyan artists. He primarily works in printmaking and charcoal drawing, often using the image of a bull to represent Kenya as a country. Kamwathi’s imagery is incredibly powerful, as is the symbolism of using animals in place of people.
5. Uhuru Brown
The world might never know about Uhuru Brown because his chosen medium is graffiti. However, we shouldn’t dismiss the importance of street art for transforming society – and it certainly has a much broader reach than art relegated to galleries. Brown’s works are considered masterpieces that urbanize traditional Kenyan motifs.
6. Ato Malinda
Born in 1981, Ato Malinda has many different influences. She grew up in Kenya, the Netherlands, and the U.S.A., studying art as well as molecular biology at the University of Texas. Her performance and installation pieces can be described as “brutal” in their imagery, which is appropriate considering that her works comment on the state of feminism in Africa as well as racial hierarchies.
7. Cyrus Kabiru
Cyrus Kabiru got a fair amount of attention on the global stage for his C-Stunners series — “glasses” made from found materials such as old scissors, scraps of metal and forks. The C-Stunners each have a story behind them and, when worn, could best be described as a blend of Clockwork Orange and steampunk.
8. Naomi Wanjiku Gakunga
Gakunga is a sculptress mostly known for the weavings she makes out of found objects. The weavings look very delicate despite being made of rigid materials like scrap metal. Through this juxtaposition, she is able to intertwine Kenyan weaving traditions and the contemporary landscape.
9. Wanja Kimani
Wanja Kimani was born in Kenya in 1986, though she currently lives and works in Ethiopia. Her work uses highly personal objects such as dresses, family photographs, and embroidery to evoke stories dealing with displacement, memory, and imagination.
10. Paul Onditi
Paul Onditi is Kenya’s own Kafka. His prints and illustrations often use dark tones and muted hues to depict strange, intimidating places. The work is expressive of the dark side of human life, yet there are still comic or absurd undertones to the imagery.
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