GALLERIES: Food for thought is a feast for the eyes
1 months ago, 12 Oct 17:26
Peter Ngugi likes his food — and it features heavily in his latest exhibition.
Bread, fish, yoghurt and to wash it down Fanta or Coke; all appear in paintings on the walls of the One-Off gallery in Nairobi.
For Ngugi, food is a metaphor for the interactions that mark our daily lives, and, at its most pointed, for corruption; for those who eat.
As a painter he is blossoming, like the flowers he loves to paint as yet another symbol of gains through graft.
Over the past couple of years, Ngugi has developed from making mouse pad-sized pictures of wildlife to a strong if subtle voice highlighting society’s ills. And he is doing so on a huge scale, many of the figures in his current show being at least one-and-a-half times life-size.
These new paintings can be enjoyed on two levels; for the stories they tell and for their formal qualities; the drawing and compositions, the graphic sense of space and use of colour — from subtle caramels and creams to vibrant oranges and pinks — and especially for the dynamic contrast between the succulent strokes of oil paint that shape his subjects’ clothing and the intricate monochrome forms, as tightly designed as henna patterns, of some of the background flourishes.
Like his thoughtful contemporaries Peterson Kamwathi, Richard Kimathi and Michael Soi, he sees art as a pathway to change; a reminder of the challenges we face and as a way to apply pressure for a more equitable future.
First know the beast then seek to slay it.
Ngugi shows us groups of men and women, often with their backs to the viewer, apparently discussing the day’s events.
Their clothing is vigorously realised, yet their faces, arms and legs are simply silhouettes; there is no attempt at modelling. The figures then are ciphers; devoid of features they stand for us all, irrespective of tribe or religion. It is as if they are shadows of ourselves cast across the picture surface.
A Kikuyu brought up in Thika and around six feet tall, Ngugi told me he was often mistaken for a Maasai or Kalenjin. It always amuses him. The figures in his paintings are also tall and with exaggeratedly small heads, which adds to the sense of height.
“My paintings are about how all of us behave, not just one or two tribes. The figures are not specific to any community; they stand for everyone,” he told me.
A group of eight small paintings, each around 62cm by 50cm, and called Accomplices I-VIII, record the protests that took place shortly after the disputed 2017 general election.
One shows a street preacher, another a demonstrator with a bullhorn and a colleague waving twigs, and yet another shows women dancing.
“If you elect a bad leader you are an accomplice, not a victim,” Ngugi commented succinctly.
The food and drink punctuate the eight large paintings that are the crux of the exhibition (up to a wall-swallowing 210cm by 214cm) and are signifiers of corruption. The artist has developed a new visual language for prosecuting his attack, ...
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