About the exhibition
Well on his way to establishing himself among Kenya's finest contemporary artists, Peter Ngugi might still be described as emergent. In the search for his voice, his work reveals an acute social sensitivity and a diverse and ingenious creativity. His experimentation, naturally, has involved some amount of role-playing in the mannerism of other established artists of the likes of Richard Kimathi and Peterson Kamwathi but, refreshingly and uncommonly, his influences seem to be drawn exclusively from other Kenyan artists: he is truly homegrown which only serves to broaden his license. Some of these influences persist, as in the Kimathian excoriation of complexity as a window to insight, though Peter's version is softer.
Peter is interested in people as they go about their business of being people: the every-man in every way engaging in the everyday. He does not shy away from a decorative flourish or two and textile-patterned embellishments frequently appear. Typically, they are not solely decoration but employed as visual euphemisms for prevailing social or political influences, frequently corruption, as in a fish extending the metaphor of something to 'eat' which, in the Kenyan idiom, is itself a euphemism for an inducement. Similarly, the Coca-Cola crate motif is a symbol of corruption networks. He explains that in the contemporary Kikuyu tradition - his own provenance - a contribution to a Kikuyu wedding is only acceptable in a Coca-Cola crate containing Coca-Cola products - an endorsement of the power of branding in all cultures at all levels of society though surprising that the Coca-Cola brand might be considered aspirational. The person dispensing the drinks becomes a figure of power and those closest to him the beneficiaries, receiving more than their fair share of the rewards. At the other end of the scale, at the top levels of Government, the same power dynamic is played out. The governmental equivalent of the Coca-Cola dispenser short-circuits, into the pockets of a handful of people closest to him, tax revenue extracted from the likes of the Coca-Cola donor. The result is a distorted economy of hideous inequality where the Nation's stolen wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few individuals, leaving the vast majority jobless and in penury to loiter without intent in the streets and falling prey to the scrutiny of an artist - a complex but circular irony captured in the single hieroglyphic of an image of a Coca-Cola crate. Might Coca-Cola wish for less success in their branding?
Tribe plays a significant role in the identity of Kenyans despite the ethnically agnostic efforts of the younger generation. The cast of characters appearing in Peter's work reflect Kenya's tribal mix and you can see that clearly in the work. In the Kenyan context that is a banal statement: of course you can; until you notice that the painting you've just dismissed as the three Kikuyu lads talking to a Luo lady, all have their backs to you. And now your hair stands on end. The principal determinants of ethnic identification are: language, facial features, body type, skin tone; probably in that order and, generally, multiples of these determinants would be required. But if the artist presents us with three men and one woman without language, obviously, without facial features, with a flat uniform skin colour, wearing baggy generic clothing and caps, all standing with their backs to us and we can proclaim with confidence that they are three Kikuyu guys talking to a Luo lady, what on earth is going on? Well, don't ask me. It is clear that the markers we put out are profoundly more subtle than we may have thought.
There is more genetic diversity between Africans themselves than there is between Africans and Europeans or Africans and Asians. There is more genetic uniformity between the denizens of Ulan Bator and Oslo than may exist between the inhabitants two adjacent villages in Africa. Does this extra diversity between Africans make it easier somehow to distinguish between them? If Peter presented us with an Asian, a European and an African all featureless, with green skin in baggy clothing, wearing caps and with their backs to us, would we be able to identify them; or perhaps, a Celt and an Anglo-Saxon? With the deeply-held conviction that Science and Art are the same inquiry by differing methodologies, please Peter, 'unbeg' this question.
And thank you for your beautiful art.
More on Peter Ngugi
EastAfrican - 13-10-2018 - GALLERIES: Food for thought is a feast for the eyes
Kenyan Arts Review - 09-10-2018 - PETER NGUGI: ‘WEAPONIZING’ ART WITH PATTERNS OF TRUTH
Preview of Works
Click thumbnail to enlarge and scroll through all images
Exhibition openings are usually on the last Saturday of every month, excluding December. The gallery remains open on Sundays allowing anyone who missed the opening to catch the exhibition the next day. Do join our mailing list so we can send you an invitation.