Art: ‘The Changing Room’, An Exhibition On Introspection

‘Ndoka ethye kana ka yoa,’ (Do not feed the child of hunger) is an Akamba proverb, which sets the pace for Kaloki’s current exhibition, ‘Changing Room’ at Kuona Trust in Nairobi Kenya.

Dickson Kaloki is a Kenyan artist with a keen mind to take his fans to a period in the past before unraveling his intent of discussing the present. Kaloki says that, according to his people the Akamba, it was a taboo to feed a hungry child for it was believed that, in so doing, you were welcoming famine into your own home. It is a sad tragedy since his grandmother Munanie and her brother had to go through this treatment during the great famine of ‘Zaa ya ngomansye,’ the great famine of the 1890s. Were it not for the mission station established in ukambani at the time, Kaloki’s wise and photographic memory granny would have succumbed to starvation.It is not the ‘starving to death’ that the artist wants the art lover to take from his work but the ‘belief’ itself which in this case, subjected young innocent children to untimely death. There are numerous beliefs that majorly are based on human thinking. The individual thinking basically bars one from asking the question: ‘What if it was me?’

In the ‘Changing Room’, Kaloki takes the art lover into a journey of trying to read the outside while comfortably ensconced in your safe zone. As you drink and try to grasp the art pieces around, he lets you ponder on why; the heads of the subjects of his works are boxed in different squares and rectangles. As your fascinated eyes wonder in the exhibition hall, a white box at the center of the room stares back at you, the reflection of you in the mirror brings a realization that the work of this incredible artist is more of the psychological, intuitive and meant to change the way we perceive things. Kaloki, who started his art at Nairobi’s Mukuru Promotional Centre wants his followers to ‘change’ their perceptions by thinking deeply about who they are and what they believe in and how those beliefs affect those around them. 

Away from the geometric shapes, the art itself is full of mystery. The beautiful use of mixed media and aging of colours takes you into the medieval and the unreal before carrying you to the present. Children subjects in dark alleys and the silhouette of mothers, the disappearing subjects on the canvas and the individual behind bars all summarize life as we know it. The children more so represent vulnerability, confusion and the state of helplessness in a background of fear and of course uncertain dreams.

At 32, Kaloki who started off from the famous Nairobi’s Mukuru Slums has grown from humble beginning to a charismatic well known artist that minutes after the opening of the exhibition, most of the pieces had been booked. This would be credited to the fact that, despite being down to earth and like everyone else yearning for glory, he has remained original and true to his roots. From Mukuru, thanks to the mentorship program of the legendary Kenyan artist Patrick Mukabi, he moved to the Godown Arts Centre where, his amazing canal paintings lifted many from the humbling studio at the Godown to the Italian narrow waterways. He managed to conceal the slum open sewers to imagined beauty- a fact that most slum dwellers feels rather normal. As an artist, Kaloki has worked out of the canvas to set decorator and set dresser for movies like the popular Kenyan movies Nairobi Half-life (2011), Nasisi (2014) and Malika (2010.).

His art has been exhibited in countries like Germany, Spain and the UK. The current exhibition in Kenya opened on Friday 24th March and runs until April 08th. 

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