\\Annstella Wanjiru, visual artist with sights on the world
Stella is a young enthusiastic Kenyan visual artist hoping to take on the world one canvas at a time.
We all enjoy sandy beaches. Some of us will walk hand in hand letting the sand caress the toes as it slithers between them, others will play with the sand as it filters through the fingers. The last group will create models out of the sand. This last group defines Annstella Wanjiru a 27 year old self-taught Kenyan visual artist.
On her last visit to Bamburi beach in Mombasa, Stella would create a rhinoceros from sand. “That was just me having fun with sand” She quipped in a Facebook comment reply. This defines Stella’s artistic nature.
She started off as a nature photographer before the pencil came calling, wooing her to doodle her thoughts on paper. This would turn out to be an epiphany of what her fingers were itching for- not to click the shutters but to turn to the drawing board. Like a child learning to write, Ann’s ‘doodles’ would transform into great biro art. “I got introduced to Nuru Bahati a truly inspiring and a gifted biro artist who really pushed and fostered me.”
Ann was initially skeptical of presenting her pencil sketches to Nuru Bahati- a Kenyan artist who has made a name in the art world with truly inspiring works in biro and graphics- an outlier of sorts. Nuru stunned many with his online art exhibition last year dubbed ‘People Change’ which was featured on Afroway. Nuru took a look at what Stella says were “horrible works” and to her surprise “These are beautiful drawings!”, Nuru Bahati bellowed. It was what Ann needed and three years later she still remembers those magical words that greatly inspired her craft.
Though she is yet to hold any exhibition, Ann has perfected her skill through commissioned works which have made her an artist to look out for. She is currently building a body of works in her home studio which she hopes to be her first works on display in an exhibition in 2018. Working at home has certain advantages to Stella who says; “it gives her the comfort of being alone without the prodding eyes of other artists in a studio”
Stella’s current oil on canvas works, are incredibly bold and enigmatic infusing the natural, surreal and the traditional to render an in-depth view of what defines our confines. The ease with which she moves from one dominant colour to another makes it hard to classify her works based on the determined use of certain divulging hues. The pieces are at a glance assuaging with clear and comfy outlines that lull the eye and soothe the soul.
The paintings are an interpretation of the journey Stella has taken, “I was in a state of depression when I started art. Art healed me. I realised how strong self-awareness is and wished I’d discovered myself earlier,” Stella details her revealing experiences. To her, art has been a journey from pain and solitude to a vibrant social life that she hopes to speak about. It is for this reason that she started free art classes for children and she is surprised by how much talent there is out there.
Pencil, pen and finally oil painting, Stella has lived up to what her mentor Nuru instilled in her that; “Talent without determination and humility is useless.” She speaks fondly of Nuru whom she says, never corrected her but encouraged her to invest more of her time in bettering her dexterity.
Stella’s creative process is quite engaging or not, depending on the nature of the piece. “Usually I start by writing. I write a lot, to keep sane or to create a concept for my next painting,” she poses. During the painting process she listens to music “It helps me block out the outside world and totally sink in my own. Sometimes I have to access a very sad memory to successfully do a sad piece”
Art can be tedious and somehow a skeptical career, where many may advice a creative to reconsider before venturing into it. It is also pretty hard to get support especially in a society like Kenya which does not really appreciate art and therefore few scholarships within the arts sector.
Despite being fully aware of how this field is, Stella decided to blind skepticism and focus on the field. Her journey has made her meet and work with, if not, besides Nuru Bahati, Peter Elungat of the OneOff Contemporary Art Gallery (Kenya)-all accomplished artists and Ian Gwagi the co-founder of Cre8ive Spills, a body that organizes Slam Africa poetry in Kenya, all artists who gave her the support she needed. She also credits her mother whom she says has played a pivotal role in her art career; “My mum is my biggest supporter. She’s always gone out of her way to see me achieve every goal, whether she understands it or not.” She speaks fondly of her mother.
As she builds her body of work, Stella hopes that her art will heal, repair and bring change to those who interact with it. She says, “I have just started and I am literally bursting at the seams.”
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