November 26, 2022 - January 28, 2023
April Kamunde, Boniface Maina, Elias Mung’ora, Florence Wangui, Lemek Sompoika, Onyis Martin, Paul Onditi & Peterson Kamwathi
Walking the Edge is a group exhibition showcasing eight artists from, and currently based in Kenya. As diverse as their artistic practice is, they are, however, united by their extraordinary ways to explore their subject matter intellectually and poetically, and courageously pushing boundaries of the known and familiar for themselves and their audiences.
Pushing boundaries, here, may be perceived as entering a liminal space (‘liminal’ originating from the Latin word līmen, meaning "a threshold"). This exhibition suggests the concept of liminality, of Walking the Edge of comfort and familiarity, as well as the experience and interrogation of it, as a lens to engage with the artworks on show – and last but not least with the process of art-making itself.
A state of uncertainty, loss of control over one’s life, or feeling as if one is not the same anymore during a career change, moving to a new place, a breakup or divorce, pregnancy, menstruating for the first time as a young woman or shaving a newly grown beard during puberty, or simply while passing through an airport transit – this can present experiences of a liminal space. All these situations are inherently periods, moments, or spaces of transition, of being in between what was and what will be. One of the most challenging examples of liminal space might even be in the creative process for an artist.
This state and its implications on individuals and groups – even whole societies or humanity as a whole – have been conceptualized as liminality by anthropologists, psychologists, and philosophers since the early 20th century. More recently, it has also been applied to entire societies that are going through a crisis or a “collapse of order”. This could be during the rise and fall of colonialism, or the experience of a pandemic, war, or revolution.
Liminal spaces, in all their facets, can have both destructive and constructive effects and can lead to significant personal and social change. There is uncertainty, crisis, and disruption but also opportunities, possibilities, and open-endedness.
April Kamunde’s recent body of work explores meanings of rest and the pursuit of it. The work is driven by personal reflection and response to feelings of weariness triggered by a rapidly changing world and the endeavor to live a successful and fulfilling life in fast-paced Nairobi. Here, rest becomes a space of liminal experiences requiring courage and acceptance of chance.
Boniface Maina’s intricate works on paper are surreal, at times cryptic, yet figurative. He is interested in questioning societal existences among places, things, and activities that inform everyday decisions and effects that follow. His work leaves a wide and intentional margin for interpretation by the viewer.
Elias Mung’ora works along inquiries of personal and national archives and memory. It becomes a space to interrogate the non-static nature of memory, its inseparable relationship with the present and future, and how it is, in fact, a liminal space of indefinite meaning and knowledge production.
Florence Wangui’s paintings ooze a melancholic, fragile yet powerful, and graceful aura. Her astonishing portraits show predominantly women in deep introspection, seemingly nearly turning the figures’ internal psychic realities and their physical bodies inside out. Her figures are placed in a surreal space surrounded by metaphorical elements.
Lemek Sompoika is a Nairobi-based artist who grew up in a rural Massai community. This contrast in his biography drives his work, which perhaps guides us to the ambiguity of identity and the fact that it does not merely exist, but is often continuously and painfully disputed within liminal spaces.
Onyis Martin tackles shared global experiences such as migration, human trafficking, and consumerism, yet also leans towards an introspective departure point in his work. Using his personal life experience and connectedness to urban contemporary culture, both physical and identity-related mental displacement are dominant features.
Paul Onditi’s richly layered paintings may invoke a sense of uneasiness in the viewers’ eyes. He is a master of visually creating imaginary worlds, placing figures into a meticulously fragmented space, in which there seems to be no beginning and no end.
Kamwathi’s prolific practice, materialized mostly in thematic series, questions
the individual vs. as well as within the collective from multiple angles. He
poetically masters to examine holistic social, political, economic, and
cultural questions by visually breaking them down on a micro-level. His iconic,
conceptual and highly symbolic interrogations mirror his ongoing artistic and
intellectual debates with global relevance.