MWILI, AKILI NA ROHO
10 Figurative Painters from East Africa
Artists: Sam Joseph Ntiro, Asaph Ng’ethe Macua, Elimo Njau, Jak Katarikawe, Theresa Musoke, Peter Mulindwa, Sane Wadu, Chelenge van Rampelberg, John Njenga, and Meek Gichugu
Mwili, Akili na Roho showcases a multigenerational group of artists varied in their backgrounds, thematic concerns, and formal strategies. The exhibition represents a starting point for critical engagement with the history of painting in East Africa. The selection of artworks represents a cross-section of figurative painting from East Africa, particularly Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. Composed of over 40 works created between 1950 and 2000, with subjects including politics and society, faith and religion, the natural and the supernatural, the body and sexuality, Mwili, Akili na Roho(Mind, Body and Spirit) offers an entry point for a deeper engagement with the genealogies of artistic creation in this region, and the enduring influence of certain ideas and institutions in the creation, dissemination and reception of art in/from East Africa.
Mwili, Akili na Roho was first presented at Haus der Kunst, Munich (2020), then at the Royal Academy of Arts, London (2021), as part of Michael Armitage: Paradise Edict. The exhibition at NCAI will expand on earlier iterations by introducing additional works from the collections of the Margaret Trowell School of Industrial and Fine Arts in Kampala, private collectors in Kenya, the UK, Japan, and works on loan directly from the artists. The exhibition will be accompanied by 2 publications: a zine comprising archival material relating the artist’s in the exhibition; and a fully illustrated catalogue featuring contributions by Professor George Kyeyune of Makerere University, Lutivini Majanja, and Asaph Macua Ng’ethe.
© Sam Ntiro, Log Cutting in the Forest, not dated, Oil on Board
*1923 Machane,Tanzania ✝1993
Sam Joseph Ntiro was born in the chiefdom of Machame on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro.He was educated in a Lutheran mission school. Ntiro studied art at Makerere College, University of East Africa, in Kampala, Uganda, under Margaret Trowell where he later came to teach painting from 1948. Between 1952-1955 he then furthered his education at the Slade School of Art after being awarded a Colonial and Welfare Fund Scholarship . During this time, he published his book Desturi za Wachagga (Traditions of the Chagga) in 1953, and also had debut solo exhibition Paintings of Africa at Piccadilly Gallery in 1955 where he sold over thirty works.
He later received the Carnegie Travel Grant and spent ten weeks in the United States where he had a solo exhibition at the Merton B.Simpson Gallery in New York. His work toured America under the auspices of The American Society . Nitro’s works were bought by many prominent buyers during this exhibition including historian Dr. Horace Mann Bond and the Museum of Modern Art.
In 1962 his paintings were shown at the Sorsbie Gallery in Nairobi and his work has been collected all over the world in notable collections such as the Museum of Modern Art, Chase Manhattan, Rockefeller,Commonwealth Institute,London,Stevenson Gallery and many others
After graduating from the Slade, Ntiro returned to Uganda and his role at Makerere, until Tanzania gained independence in 1961. Prime Minister Nyerere appointed Ntiro High Commissioner to the United Kingdom 1961-1964. He later taught at Kyambogo Technical Institute in Kampala and the University of Dar Es Salaam where he founded the Department of Music, Arts and Culture. He was then invited by President Nyerere to become Commissioner of Culture for the newly independent Tanzania.
© John Njenga, Untitled, 1994, Oil On Canvas
* 1966 Ngecha, Kenya ✝1997
John Njenga Wambu, was born in 1966 in Ngecha village Limuru. He began his schooling in 1970 and completed primary level in 1980. He started painting in 1991, encouraged by the success of a number of young artists from his home village, and like many others at the time he took his art to Gallery Watatu. There his artistic potential was recognised. He had his first solo exhibition here which was sold out and he became widely accepted in the artists community and Gallery Watatu. His work was exhibited regularly until his untimely death in 1997.
John Njenga's work quickly evolved through several different styles. From an early naive realism, using oil on canvas or paper, and a palette of colours most often associated and influenced by the group of artists from Ngecha. Njenga's imagery moved through surreal depictions of a distorted world where bizarre figures of human-animal creatures floated in landscapes.
By 1993, the year in which his work found a wide international audience when his paintings were included in a group exhibition of contemporary African art in Japan, Njenga had found what was to be his mature voice.His work depicted a more naturalistic world, making use of a subdued, earthy palette of browns and greens. His subjects also transformed at this time with the appearance of ethereal but naturalistic human figures and characters embracing, or emerging from the bud of a flower or a plant
His work has been featured in Thelathini : 30 Facets ,30 Faces of contemporary modern art in Kenya