\\ In Search of Alternative Utopias: An Exhibition by Longinos Nagila
‘Everything here is Fake except the Cars’
Kenyan artist Longinos Nagila delves into the mind of those around, thinks deeply about the psychological before he explains it within the confines of art. His work is a lecture of who we are behind the curves of a smile, the creases of anger and the aura of success. It is a classroom where the mind is exposed and the soul stripped bare revealing the intrinsic truth about self. Ever since he got back to Kenya from Italy, the artist, from his first exhibition at Shifteye in Nairobi, to the current exhibition by the Artspace at the Simba Corp Aspire in Westlands Nairobi, has shown his remarkable grasp of human desires and whatever it is that drives these needs.
The exhibition dubbed ‘In search of Alternative Utopias’ looks at the journey from discovery, love, desire to own and finally ownership. A lot of people buy labels from cars to clothing and bags, the names Versace, Prada, Vuitton among others appeal to both the haves and have not’s, one may have the power to purchase while the other’s desire ends at admiration but it all boils down to what appeals to us, whatever fulfills our desires is ‘accepted’ within self and society.
In life, as it were, we all have dreams, plans and expectations. We make plans on how to fulfill our dreams. Some of us work hard in school to become top public servants; others invest or go into the private sector. Some win the lottery and all of those tickets to the West in the form of green cards or something of the sort just to make a kill while the ‘unlucky’ ones remain behind forced to contend with what they have or still grasping on the hopes of what is defined as success by society. Those who remain behind may try the non-legal means to get into Europe or Americas in search of their own Utopias.
The illegal immigrants. These are the subject of Longinos current exhibition. It is not just this exhibition that the artist exploits the lives and times of those in search of greener pastures somewhere in foreign lands. Some of his paintings in his studio, at Kuona Trust, question the existence of a free world when one needs papers to make it across the borders-including borders of countries that neighbor his state!
In the ‘In search of Alternative Utopias’ exhibition, Longinos looks at the journey of an immigrant saddled with few belongings headed for Italy. The journey begins with the imagined beauty and grandeur well interred in concrete as the artist puts it in slabs of concrete covering luxury bags, like Prada. From here the traveller picks up his few belongings and packs them in metal box clinging to the beauty that lies in the unknown. The drive and the desire most certainly lies in the adage that, tomorrow may be better until, faced with the depravity of life the immigrant merges with the bustling streets of the Italian cities selling replicas of genuine merchandise many would yearn to have but are beyond their reach.
Picture this; an immigrant selling fake Prada, Vuitton on the street to a customer who may never afford the original- this merges the two dream chasers into an odyssey of the realities of life. It is remarkable how the artist identified these parallels which define a majority of individuals in search of their utopias.
In order to amplify his message, Artspace added grandeur to the exhibition by hosting it in a motorcar showroom. As art lovers mingled and interacted with the art, the cars and the writings like “everything in this room is fake except the cars.” They themselves became part of those in search of their own utopias. Many gleefully admired the brand new Mitsubishi, Renault and BMW posing for a photo, caressing the interior so that they became part of the whole show; not as audience but as admirers of the alternative utopia just next to them but a distance away.
In this exhibition, the Artspace and Longinos proved to be well above the aesthetics of art as they reached into their bags of tricks to manipulate the audience to become part of the art and at the same time share in the journey towards understanding the life and times of a pilgrim. The video installations, the concrete slabs, paintings and bags made of wire paraded by cars were an intoxicating display of the works of masters who stroke the indelible desire that is the driving force for the struggle of existence.
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