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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Worlds of the Indian Ocean

My show at the National Museum of Kenya opened last month – this, to make a change, is my own work. I was invited to put on an installation of my sculpture as part of the Aga Khan Worlds of the Indian Ocean conference and festival taking place in Nairobi recently. Over three hundred delegates from all over the Indian Ocean attended this event whose primary purpose is to start dialogues over the curriculum and shape of the Aga Khan Regional University to be opened in Arusha, Tanzania in 2013.

The exhibition features photographs from contemporary Lamu by Abraham Ali to together with an educational exhibit on the carved doors of the Indian Ocean put together by the National Museums of Kenya and Alliance Francaise; and my work – inspired by and using material from the East African coast.

Its not quite as fun writing about your own work as others – but I am pleased with my exhibit – which was a synchronistic coming together – offering a contemporary, imaginative interpretation of the East African coast by, I hope, a respectful and appreciative outsider – along with liberal quantities of beautiful white Diani beach sand.

As I type this I have just witnessed the first major test for the show - an invasion of about sixty small school children thronging round the work – rather like the insects that had besieged the wood earlier, they troop in some on all fours , others scooting along the tiled surface of the newly renovated museum, and are gone. And then silence returns.

My show consists of some older work – and some new pieces that I did specially for the installation. In the newer work I have started to coat some of the pieces in white Diani beach sand as in this work – Kaya Couple.

Kaya’s are the sacred forests of the Mijikenda peoples from the East African coast, recently listed as UNESCO National Heritage. Some may contain some Swahili ruins from several hundred years back but a Kaya is a place in an indigenous coastal forest where the traditional leaders conduct their ceremonies. Shrines may be erected but essentially a Kaya is an area of a forest, places of unique biodiversity and beauty. Some of the canoes that I use in my sculpture will have been carved from trees surrounding the Kayas.

This piece is made from two sides of a dug out canoe found as a ruin in Mombasa, the wood has been beautifully etched and eaten, initially by marine insects and then later by termites in my garden producing undulations and shapes that – evoke tidal sand patterns – I have based on a simple wooden base which is hidden by beach sand. Depending on where it ends up it could either remain like that or could go in to a sealed Perspex box. Essentially the piece represents a man and a woman – the woman is pregnant. The materials may arouse curiosity – the arc of the wood, the origin of the boat from which it came and its unknown history, the men that used it to fish, the countless generations of men before them that used similar boats, the tree that it was made from, the trees that seeded that particular tree and so on – it stretches back in to time. I am excited about the application of sand – its a simple idea and obvious in retrospect – the combining of materials that are central to these boats

One of the larger works –Essences combined - is from the floor of a huge canoe from Nyali (you no longer find boats of this size) that was buried in the sand for many years by its original owner – and here it reincarnated with its sand coating – evoking the beach itself.

Along with the larger wooden works I have included some smaller works in clay with beach sand.


African Artists said...

Wonderful work - the pieces so fragile yet constant. Good one Ed.

African Artists said...

This is so beautiful, so sensitive there is only one person that could possibly write about this work and that is David Kaiza. You'll find him through Maggie at Chester House, Nairobi.

Truly, wonderful work and a real appreciate of nature and of the coastal area of Kenya. A great insight. Thanks Ed.