“Tafsiri (Interpretations)” Highlights Kenya’s history with a modern perspective
in Works by Naomi Wanjiku
Opening Reception: Saturday, March 25, 5:30-8:30 pm
Artist Gallery Talk: Saturday, April 1, 2 pm
In her work “Gitiiro,” Kenyan-born artist Naomi Wanjiku has cut, dyed and linked pieces of sheet metal to assemble her wall hanging that mimics the swaying movement of a dancer.
Wanjiku explained that sheet metal is used mainly for roofing materials and walls and is particularly associated with Mabati women’s groups of the 1960s in Central Kenya. They organized to improve their communities by upgrading the roofs of their homes using sheet metal.
“I observed the success of their efforts, the harvesting of water from the new roofs, and the consequent ageing of the material itself,” Wanjiku said. “I mirror these effects in my own artistic process that weathers the surfaces of the materials. I occasionally add dye to create color and more complex effects. The delicate transformations etched in metal by the effects of weathering, chance, and time emphasize an ethereal, transient beauty.”
Bihl Haus Arts hosts an opening reception for “Tafsiri,” which means “interpretations” in the Kiswahili language of East Africa, from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 25 The exhibition, which is in conjunction with Women's History Month, Contemporary Art Month and Poetry Month SA, runs through May 5. Wanjiku will give a gallery talk at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 1 at Bihl Haus.
At first glance, “Gitiiro” resembles a large, multi-colored, Spanish folding hand fan, or even small propeller blades swirling in circular motion. But, after a while, one begins to see the shape of a woman twirling round and round. The inspiration for the work comes from the artist’s pride in the traditional Kikuyu women of Kenya.
“It is a woman only song-dance that facilitated mentorship of courtship, sexuality and family life, for younger women, by older women,” Wanjiku said. “The mentorship would facilitate the gradual transition of these women from youth, to adulthood, and into respected members of their communities. This was a time for women to bond, to inspire and empower each other, in the absence of the male figure. It was their dance, their space, their time.”
The artist studied design at the University of Nairobi, where she explored the dynamics of fiber arts. During her graduate studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, she merged the old fiber arts and imagery of Africa with contemporary techniques. “There is no doubt that my American experience interacts with my Kenyan heritage and influences my art,” she said.