Thursday, 14 August 2014

Of Death and Other Stories

                                                                                   Inmates II by Jackie Karuti
These have been days of turmoil. Sleep eludes me constantly while death beckons endlessly. Award-winning thesis material I tell you. So I was watching Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows-Part II yesterday, like normal people do (do not judge) and at one point Hermione reads out the story of the Deathly hallows, about death’s encounter with the three brothers. Remarkable magical story. And because you rolled your eyes I will not tell it to you. Watch the movie, better yet read the book. It reminded me of The Book Thief which is a story narrated by death himself. We know it’s a he because of the manly voice otherwise death could easily be a she. Or queer, but like Eddie Izzard queer because death certainly has a sense of humor and can be quite dramatic at times. Then again in these liberal, non-conforming, gender-bending times one can never tell.
Sylvia Plath & Ted Hughes (husband & wife in my shelf together)

I can’t remember the last time I read so much and so randomly like I’ve done in the last three months. I say randomly because there really was no particular order, time or place for whatever I was reading. From fiction, memoirs, reviews, art books, periodicals & catalogs, poems, my own writing, ebooks, other blogs and even book covers. I do that in passing and try figure out what the book is about. A good deal of these books were given to me by friends, recommended, while some I bought and others I mysteriously found/ stumbled upon. I feel generous so I’ll share my top eleven. Because ‘Top Ten’ is too mainstream.

  1.       Nayirrah Waheed-Salt  (contemporary poetry)
  2.       Dylan Thomas-Collected poems (classic poetry) 
  3.       James Joyce-The Portrait of The Artist as a Young Man (classic autobiographical novel)
  4.       John Green-Looking for Alaska (young adult fiction)  
  5.       Margaret Atwood-Cat’s Eye (autobio-fictional novel) That's a made-up word. Feel free to disregard it 
  6.       Alexander McCall Smith-The Lost Art of Gratitude (fiction)
  7.       Koyo Kouoh-An ideal Library (art book)
  8.       Raw Material Company-Condition Report (art book) 
  9.       Issa Samb and the undecipherable form-Work by Dakar based legendary artist, Issa Samb (art book)  
  10.   Review of My Bed, the controversial installation by Bri-ish artist Tracey Emin. Say what you want about        her but that work is the truth. Try engage with it from a non-judgemental p.o.v
  11.   Okwiri Oduor-My Father’s Head (short story, like seriously 8pages only). The descriptive style in her work is spot on, beautiful and witty. It will even  make you turn your head in mild disgust in some areas. I’m stoked because I recently got to meet her, in my studio, just a few weeks after clinching the Caine Prize for African Writing award. Not me but her. As in she clinched the award not me. Clinched… somehow I’m not sure this word means what I think it means…

That improv reading spot in the studio
     The challenge for this month is to read atleast two classics. I have a Dostoyevsky I keep in my studio library. It's a great conversation starter. Now normally I would never keep books that I value there in the open but for some reason I'm not worried about someone nicking Crime & Punishment. It would annoy you. Very challenging book. So I might just pounce on that one. The other one that I'm already 3/4 way through is The Invisible Man by H.G Wells. Not to be confused with Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. And then maybe I'll throw in one of the Bronte sisters...obviously. 

In regards to more contemporary work, I'm looking for a Haruki Murakami. Yes, the uber awesome writer from Kyoto. Short stories, poetry, novels...anything. But I'll be one happy lass if I can get his latest book, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki & His years of Pilgrimage. I dare you to not acknowledge that awesome title. 

     Seriously though of late I've been drawn towards coming of age stories like John Greens's Alaska that highlight lots of rebellion, teen angst, anarchy, raging hormones and that awkward stage when  you can't seem to fit in anywhere. I thought I was just a late-bloomer, which I totally am, for devouring what most seasoned readers and writers would term as mindless teen pulp at my very advanced non-teen age. I beg to differ. For some reason this books mean so much more to me now than they would ever have when I was that age. And isn't that the point ultimately? To read something that stirs up something inside you, to read something that disturbs you, to read something that evokes emotion in whatever form and yes, to read something that makes you feel infinite...?

                Book installation , Where Books Go to Die, 2014
      Rumour has it that Murakami is well on his way to being nominated or even possibly clinching (again with the clinching) the Nobel Prize for Literature. We shall see. My next challenge is African Literature. It shames me how little I've collected or read. Suggestions are welcome.

Friday, 20 June 2014

A Great Perhaps

Circa 1920
Colored pencils, ink & pastels on paper 2014
Residency is over. No more easy nights filled with kwaito music three doors down, independent films and plays downstairs, Black label pints, chicken and feta cheese pizza at The chalkboard, coffee and jazz  at Patapata, late-night exhibitions and thrift shopping at Arts on Main...Maboneng!! Really chill place. Back home to normalcy…not always a good thing. Traveling, somebody said, leaves you speechless then turns you into a storyteller. This just proves my point. 
Do you sometimes regret something immediately you say it? I thought so. Today In my feeble attempt to be funny I think I might have freaked someone out by suggesting I’m off to slash my wrists. *Pause for effect*. I really can’t afford to be making such comments while creating a body of work showing people hanging from nooses. Ok, don’t be weird now. Immediately I hit ‘send’ I face-palmed myself. Ah well…worst case scenario, she’ll probably unfriend me or send me survival self-help pamphlets. At least I can practice my paper-crane making skills with those.

Fordsburg Studios aka The Bag Factory. Johannesburg
I digress. Back to my residency. It was at the Bag Factory in Johannesburg for roughly 6weeks. It unfortunately came to an abrupt halt last week thanks to fucked up immigration laws. Couldn’t get my visa extended and so I had to come back two weeks early and consequently miss my exhibition on Thursday.
I feel like I left everything hanging. Accurate choice of words again. I wish I had more time to fully execute the ideas I had in my head especially with my video and hanging pieces. I however really enjoyed working on a material I don’t effectively use, paper, as well as ink, colored pencils and wood. I started off with some sketches and gradually added other media like pastels, ink and my iconic yellow paint but eventually the simplicity of colored pencils and ink on fabriano paper won me over.
The process

'You are here,You were here, You're getting here' 2014
Colored pencils & ink on paper, dowel wood
The final installation, coz that’s what I see the work as, was purely by accident. I had intended on framing the finished works using fancy box frames but unfortunately those things don’t come cheap. After quick calculations I realized I would have to forego my weekly purchase of books, film screening tickets, red wine and special ciggies and really, we couldn’t have that. So I improvised and I have to say it turned out quite well. I’m happy with the results. So now when I continue with the work here in Nairobi, I will follow the design of the frames I invented. *cough, genius*. I also got to shoot a video performance about a wedding with my Joburg based photographer friend and this lovely young woman studying at Wits university who I met there. It’s work in progress and a helmet is all I can show for now but I’ll give you more deets when it’s ready.

Work in Progress
My lovely friend Delene who actually took me thrift shopping in Pretoria to buy said helmet and veil deserves a big hug. She invited me to give a presentation to her class at the University of Pretoria. I also have to say a big thank you to my studio mate Thato who was such a great friend during my stay in Joburg. We ended up collaborating on work, discovering new things together, almost getting mugged together, partying together, bouncing ideas off each other and introducing one another to each other’s’ friends. 
Where the magic happened. Very Tracy Emin methinks.
12 Decades, Maboneng Precinct, Johannesburg
Other beautiful people I connected with at the Bag Factory were Pat Mautloa who is/was such a fixer and more than happy to just talk or offer advice on anything, David Koloane, yes the one and only, who always popped in to say hi and bye every day without fail, Tshepi who we traded beautiful and silly stories with and who always offered to help every single time she stopped by, Thonton with his calm demeanor and French accent and finally Nicola who I only got to share a real conversation with on my last days but whose view on life really made me pay attention and whose input contributed to my work. They’ll probably never read this but if you see them tell them thank you. And hug them as well. They all played a part in my 'Great Perhaps'.
Exhibition poster| A Great Perhaps| June 18th 2014, Bag Factory Studios, Johannesburg SA
In related news, the one week I spent in Dakar during my residency period was pure magic. I wrote something about my experience in my last entry but I still can’t emphasize how good an experience it was. I’m more than happy to share the biennale exhibition catalogue that’s in my studio with anyone who’s interested. Just bring good vibes. I think it’s important to see what was curated as great art coming from Africa and also familiarize oneself with artists doing incredible things out there. Ignorance ain't cool man. So what have I been upto here in Nairobi this past few days I’ve been back…

One of Dennis' Matatu wood-cut prints
I attended my studio-mate’s exhibition yesterday which coincidentally opened the same night mine was opening in Johannesburg. Such an international vibe. It was a very intricate installation of matatu’s (our public transport vehicles) using stop-motion seen through numerous light-boxes. His print work, which is exceptional by the way, and sculptures were not exhibited here but one can see them in his studio. Pass by Kuona Trust this week. And can somebody tell him I raved about his work here. Thank you. I might just get a week’s supply of free beer or samosas.

I also attended a cool gig last Saturday hosted by an underrated band called Yellow Light Machine. These kids are going to be on everyone’s lips and list very soon. 
Yellow  Light Machine in concert
They are too good. There’s a party going down tonight at the Belgium ambassador’s residence…Yosh! Then on Saturday there’s an exhibition organized by Circle Art Agency. Come Sunday afternoon there’s a screening at the National Museum of Edvard Munch, him of The Scream. They've screened War Horse and Frakenstein before which sadly I missed but I’ll try make it to this one. Then next Sunday there’s a reading salon organized at Kwani Trust with sessions to be held by some of Africa’s leading writers. This one looks good. I have actually been struggling with my reading these last couple of weeks. A page or two is the most I can do without my mind straying. 
Stories from Dakar, Nairobi & SA
This is worrying seeing as I could chow a book or two per week. I have to confess though, I’m addicted to fan-fiction and I don’t seem to have a problem reading that. It’s pointless word porn but it occupies my insomnic nights pretty well. It also serves as a good break whenever I hit writers/artists block. There’s really good stuff out there. I’m just saying. Anyway, maybe listening to other people read and talk about books will ease my mind.
As I finish… I received this beautiful card yesterday all the way from India from my lovely friend Kat whom I spent all of two weeks with and it already seems like a decade of friendship although it’s only been an year now.
Love + fist-bump  in an envelope
I had an unfortunate series of events earlier this year with the most crashing being a rejection letter, well email really, from a school I was hoping to get into. It hurt like a MF and I was in a state for a few days plus the other bad things happening at the same time were not helping. She was enormous help during the application process and when I didn’t get selected she was equally devastated. Anyway the point here is, months later when it has stopped mattering she still finds it necessary to send me love from miles away with a declaration of support. So much love for this woman. I promised to have a street named after her one day.

Still on random acts of kindness, my lovely writer friend who traveled to London yesterday just sent me a text saying, "This is a man...who has got your books". He offered to to bring me back Looking for Alaska by John Green, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami who're quickly becoming favorites and 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel G. Marquez to replace the one I lost during my exhibition. Magical book this one.

P.s: She didn't freak out. She replied and said she’s actually on her way to hang herself. Another day paper cranes…another day.
Notes about an unread book I & II 2014
Notebook covers, dowel wood and canvas string 

Monday, 26 May 2014


I have been a vessel of rage, rants and sighs these last couple of days. Tjoh! I am now convinced that I just met some of the world’s meanest people. Also in an unrelated incident a couple of weeks ago, did I mention how my friend and I almost got mugged in these mean Joburg streets…in broad daylight? Best believe.  Anyway, aside from all that unpleasantness, I’ve been blessed to have met some pretty amazing people who’ve really just made me believe in the human spirit once again. These are people who deserve major accolades but will probably never get any. One of them is a friend I met last year in a foreign land at a workshop I wasn’t meant to attend. Earlier this week she invited me to give an artist talk for this class she teaches at the University of Pretoria. I could have chosen to give excuses and say how busy I was and what not or some equally pretentious bullshit but I’m glad I wasn’t even tempted. I much rather prefer hanging out with these third year students who will hopefully hang on to my every word or totally disregard everything I say with a careless shrug.

When I’m not being ‘almost mugged’ with non-existent guns on the streets I’m holed up in my studio painting death or attending provocative art  exhibitions or sampling beers, braais & wine at friends’ houses or watching indie films and plays at the cool theater downstairs at my apartment or shooting videos for my performance work or playing pool  with some random backpackers from Slovakia or attending open studios at midnight or exchanging music with the French girl next door or sipping overpriced lattes with a director of this and that. The energy here is so far removed from what I’m used to in Nairobi, which is obviously a very good thing. I keep feeling that everyone here is in transit.

 I’m currently in residence at an art studio in Johannesburg. I have particularly had to struggle somewhat with the body of work I’m going to create while here. As a creative it’s something we rarely admit. The struggle. We always want to be in control of what we create, if not our lives, and effortlessly produce work but sometimes it’s just not the case. My growing pile of sketches frustrates me constantly because nothing looks like what’s in my heart. I didn’t mean for that to sound so overly profound. Oh come on admit it, it kinda did.

I wrote about how death has constantly been on my mind a few months ago. I now find myself doing sketches of hat and helmet wearing beings hanging from nooses with their hearts in prison over and over. I don’t even know if this will constitute my final work but I seem to be stuck on this path. I have a strong feeling of searching for something that’s not even there. I was in Dakar last week but one and one of the most moving artworks I saw was Peripeteia, a short film by John Akomfrah. I use the word moving in this case to mean sad and disturbing because really that’s what it made me. Yet I couldn’t NOT watch till the end. It took me to another time and place that I think I have existed in before. It could also be that I am currently in that place. Really sad and disturbing.

Always one to overanalyze things as a friend once told me, I’ll go overanalyze all this most likely. But for now I am content to sit in this class occupied by third year university students in a place far away from home or closer to home. Depending on how you or I look at it. And a rather obvious gem I picked up this week as well… People will always believe in you just when you’re about to give up on you.

Next week: Excerpts of two collaborative video performance pieces, sketches of work done so far, exhibition openings & more escapades…

Friday, 16 May 2014

Dakar in pictures

Something I liked
Alas where did that one week go? The 11th edition of the Dak’Art Biennale was well represented this year with artists, friends and supporters from all over the world converging in Senegal’s beautiful city Dakar.

Public transport in Dakar. I don't even know the make of this vehicles. But so colourful & full of character
Auberge Keur Diame. Our little hotel by the sea. It had these books all over the place!
As an artist and art lover I draw a lot of inspiration from Léopold Sédar Senghor who was a Senegalese poet, politician, and cultural theorist who served as the first president of Senegal. He is regarded by many as one of the most important African intellectuals of the 20th century and he played a huge part in promoting the Arts in Senegal as well as Africa as a whole.

Mingling & Dazzling
Being my first time in Senegal, I was pretty stoked to be selected as one of the Moving Africa participants to go experience the Dak’Art Biennale by the Goethe Institut.

Maps, badges, phone...Just incase I got lost :-) I also collect cool posters and catalogues whenever I travel

One of the openings. And they were many

Something I liked
But first who did I meet that really made my world spin? Wangechi Mutu for starters.

She is an artist and sculptor born in Kenya but now living in Brooklyn, NYC. Coming from Nairobi where she is regarded an icon, I was star struck after meeting her but also because I got to sit through a presentation of her work, one which was featured in the biennale’s international exhibition.

Yours truly with Wangechi Mutu. Pow! 

Of course numerous pictures were taken and swiftly posted on every social media portal I subscribe to thus making my friends effectively jealous. Other notable artists were Julie Mehretu, John Akomfrah and one of the biennale curators, Smooth Ugochukwu who called me by name and casually announced to everyone that he & I were Facebook friends. I died. 
Other notable moments included the official opening of the biennale, participating in a performance by Kenyan artist, Ato malinda,
Ato Malinda's performance at Dak'Art
attending the epic after-party hosted by ContemporaryAnd magazine, a viewing of work by Abdoulaye Konate, visiting the Goethe Institut space in Dakar, 
sighting the famous African Renaissance monument, the horse-drawn carts on the roads, inevitably getting a history lesson about Senegal from a taxi driver, sampling that famous onion soup that came with every meal, and of course shopping for fabric and raw sheer butter at the markets. Eish, but a girl needs her moments.

I think I speak for most of the participants when I say that communication was our biggest obstacle during our stay in Dakar. French, the national language, is widely spoken as well as Wolof which is one of the most popular regional languages. After Dak’art officially opened we spent most of our days skirting across town daily trying to catch the numerous exhibitions happening in almost every corner of Dakar.

Lunch with the director of the Goethe Institut-Dakar and fellow Moving Africa participants

Talking, smoking, drinking, waiting for the next party
 This one! Too cool. Selfies had to be done! Lotte & I. Good times
Reunion 2years later! Melanie, Jackie & Milumbe who was one of the biennale winners! I know cool people

Usually at breakfast we would decide on places to go for the day.
One or two participants spoke or rather understood a little French which usually came in handy but every now and then we’d encounter a driver or two who only spoke Wolof and we’d be back to the wild gesticulating. Utter chaos!

The thing I love most about artists is the ability to get along and mingle with anyone and everyone. I ended up meeting people I had met before so it became a blissful re-union of sorts and also got to meet a lot of new people. They made Dakar magical.
Moving Africa participants-Selfie moment thanks to Lotte

Lunch and cameras. Ian, Ato, Mimi & Ibrahim

At the Medina. Midnight exhibition at the Street Museum-Dakar
My scarf & I. Evening walk by the beach

Thinking about taking the stairs that lead to a door marked No Entry


Wednesday, 14 May 2014

That Particular Moment...


The end

May be a new beginning

Not for the attention

I`ve had everything but freedom

Let me soar with the gods...

Let me just end it!


This is so sweet. And,

Being in control feels so inspiring

So hold that `why? ` question

Hold it till after the sermon for some...

But I’m not crazy. This is just my goodbye to you lads

So as you wait for your turns, warm the seats!


It’s not over;

Even i know that.

This is the beginning of an end

Or the end of a beginning...



Saturday, 19 April 2014

"There's always something left to love"- Gabriel Garcia Marquez

This is a song for the genius child
Sing it softly, for the song is wild
Sing it softly as ever you can
Lest the song get out of hand

Nobody loves a genius child,

Can you love an eagle
Tame or wild 
Can you love an eagle
Wild or tame
Can you love a monster
Of frightening name

Nobody loves a genius child
Kill him and let his soul run wild

-Genius Child, Langston Hughes-
Death has been on my mind for the last couple of days. My own, that of other people. Maybe it’s because people I know, knew of or had met briefly at one point recently passed on. But it’s the taking of one’s life that fascinates me, albeit in a morbid way. There should be a discourse on the subject of suicide. You’re right, there probably is already. I used to think people who took their own lives were cowards. Quite the opposite. They’re just souls brave enough to understand that the world we live in is not the place for them. This world will always be too small, too big, too wild, too rigid, too neutral, too closed-minded, too loud, too hateful, too easy, too something for some people. They're tortured souls. They die young. And they're not necessarily artists. Just people we love.

Veils, Voids, Suits, Acrylics & Pastels on Canvas- Jackie Karuti 2014
Gabriel Garcia Marquez passed on this week. He of the acclaimed books Love in The Time of Cholera and 100 years Of Solitude which I had both recently acquired. (100 Years of Solitude was sadly 'borrowed without permission' during my recently ended exhibition. I hope the person who jacked it will read it and pass it on). García Márquez, a native of Colombia, is widely credited with helping to popularize "magical realism," a genre "in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination," He was 87 and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982. A life well lived if you ask me.
"There's always something left to love"- Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Rest well.


Onto other art forms... I’ve had the joy and disjoy, if there’s such a word, of watching some work on film this past couple of weeks.
1. Basquiat: The Radiant Child-A short documentary about the artist, Jean Michel Basquiat.
2. Downton Abbey- A British costume-drama depicting the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants in the post-Edwardian era—with the great events in history having an effect on their lives and on the British social hierarchy. Each character is well represented and the dialogue/plot is equal parts serious, sad, dramatic and downright hilarious. I highly highly recommend this one.
3. House of Cards- (overrated methinks)

SideNote: Downton Abbey Sn1 Ep3
The typewriter scene is a great example of women’s emancipation. As is the case with a couple of other scenes with Gwen & Lady Sybill especially. But contrary to the best intentions of sisterhood, not all women share identical interests.

I'm off in a couple of days, for a couple of weeks.
Change of scenery...
Fresh ideas...
Beautiful people...
Good energy...
All the things I'm looking forward to.


University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg 

Fordsburg Artist Studios aka The Bag Factory, Johannesburg
CapePoint- Cape Town
 And lastly something rather profound I read today,

"Sometimes artists are so far ahead of public taste that their work is best left in the studio until the world catches up"- Frank Whalley