Art Noma! can have two meanings. Either art that’s awesome or art that is dangerous.
The seven-artist exhibition at Goethe Institute in Nairobi is definitely awesome. Combining virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) with poetry, painting and visual artists who’ve been given a crash course in how to create radically different types of art using new digital techniques nearly all of them have never worked with before.
Out of the seven, only Nelson Ijakaa had experimented with AR before when he had an exhibition at Alliance Francaise last year with Richard Alleya. Some of his augmented paintings are included in Art Noma! But far more engaging is his virtual reality installation entitled ‘This House that We Built.’
The only ‘dangerous’ (Noma!) feature about this Goethe show was having to stand in crowded, amorphous ‘lines’ on opening night to get a chance to put on the head gear required to experience the virtual reality that the artists designed and which techie wizards from Black Rhino VR like Steve Kimani and Longino Muluka helped to animate for them.
The other hazardous aspect of opening night came after one had got signed in at the door and instructed on how to download the appropriate app onto your smartphone (if you had one) in order to experience the augmented reality personally.
Or if the downloading process hit a snag, one could stand in another line to sign up for a tablet that was already equipped with the necessary app.
After that, one needed to know about the colour coding of each artist’s augmented reality. I wouldn’t have known which colour belonged to which one of the seven if it hadn’t been for Wamaitha Junniah, the curatorial assistant to the show’s curator Nyambura Waruingi. I also wouldn’t have known which colour correlated with which coloured circle painted on Goethe’s cement floor if it hadn’t been for Wamaitha. Somehow others in Goethe’s crowded turquoise-blue auditorium figured the mystery out. But I also know quite a few who were mystified but happy to jostle their way through the mainly millennial mass till they found friends to give them greetings and clues.
Nyambura is the one who originally brought together the seven artists from art centres around Nairobi. But last-minute changes resulted in the seven being Michael Musyoka, Peteros Ndunde, Emmaus Kimani, Sila Mwake and Melody Virgody of Brush tu Art Studio together with freelance Nelson Ijakaa and the late Ngene Mwaura of Kuona Artists Collective.
It was Nyambura who curated this Goethe-inspired project entitled ‘State of the Art’ which began last October with a weeklong introductory training in AR and VR by the German expert Dominic Eskofier. After that, the follow-up training was ongoing for several months with the artists assisted by the two techie wizards from Black Rhino VR, Steve Kimani and Longino Muluka. “It was Black Rhino’s Steve and Longino who were responsible for getting the artists’ work into the appropriate (AR and VR) formats,” says Maria Parker who’s the project manager at Goethe for ‘JENGE-CCI’ which is jointly funded by Goethe and GIZ.
Sadly, Ngene Mwaura tragically passed on in the middle of the project. But fortunately, he had created enough of his exquisitely intricate-and brightly coloured masks before he died.
Among the other seven, Musyoka’s VR addresses a theme that he has been preoccupied with for some time, at least since his 2019 solo (2D) art exhibition at Red Hill Gallery ironically entitled ‘Time.’
But in the VR version of Time, Musyoka both drew and animated his lumbering runners. But it was Black Rhino who helped him translate his work into the VR format that captured his runner dashing into 360 degrees of space.
The VR easily underscored the artist’s subtle mockery of a civilisation that has its people running to who knows where or why!
Peteros explores the world of binaries with his VR installation of ‘Kiti ya Baba na Kiti ya Mama’ while Emmaus examines human behaviour at the level of emotions and soulful conversations.
Silas designed a whole VR street shop complete with a butchery and blazing grill where Kikuyu sausage is being cooked. And Melody Virgody’s concern for mental health and suicide leads her into visual realms that are cerebral and semiabstract.
Ijakaa didn’t do an augmented reality since he focused on a five-screened VR entitled ‘The House that we built’ which makes a powerful political statement.