Filmed by Matteo Lonardi, Commissioned by Haus der Kunst and NCAI
Born in Karura, Nairobi, in 1930 Asaph Nge’the Macua was born into a family that characterised the shifts in attitudes brought about by the spread of religion during the lifespan of the Kenyan colony. His father, initially a stonemason by craft, later became a church leader, introducing a young Macua to school and education. The young artist, would later train attend the illustrious Alliance High and was formally trained at Makere University.
As a young, observant child, he paid attention to craftsmen using their hands to making bricks or carving marks onto stones, continually fascinated by handmanship, stirring this innate passion within him towards craftsmanship and artistic labour. His childhood was marked with a traumatic episode of sickness, in which Tuberculosis, resulting in the full loss and extraction of one of his lungs. During this time while he was confronted with his fragility and limitations of corporeality, deep within him, it was the reparative and restorative work and nature of painting which gave him the impetus to recover from this bout of illness, reaffirming to him his inability to do anything else other than to be an artist.
The video opens with the artist discussing a painting he made at the advent of independence in Kenya – an interpretation of the motto and zeitgeist of the anti-colonial movement at the time “Harambee”. The painting he presented to Jomo Kenyatta, the first President of Kenya, foreshadowed the direction of Macua’s career, as he later became the Chief Artist of the East African Community, illustrating the centrality of artistic and cultural production to projects of nation-building across newly independent nations in East African countries and within newly formed integrationist organisations such as the EAC.
#MwiliAkiliRoho is part of 'Michael Armitage, The Paradise Edict' at Haus der Kunst and runs till 14 February 2021. It features works by Meek Gichugu, Jak Katarikawe, Asaph Ng'ethe Macua, Theresa Musoke, Elimo Njau, and Sane Wadu.
Writing by Mukami Kuria