Richard Kimathi Exhibition
About the exhibition
Richard Kimathi is often cited as 'The Artists' Artist', an accolade indeed from his peer‐group but not an epithet that defines him. More accurately he might be described as 'The People's Artist'. He is a remarkable artist with a compassion and caring for his fellow man, the 'Grassroots Kenyan', whose emotional state is the abiding focus of his work. Grassroots too is a misnomer in an urbanising Kenya whose heart is heard to beat louder in the cities and towns: the Kenyan Street is really more the subject of his focus.
There, where the distance between people is short and lessened by technology, words become currency: at the kerbside, in the salon, and trade freely, circulating words at break‐neck speed. As with all currency, the greater the issue the less it's value. In Richard's Conversation Series, talk becomes increasingly meaningless until we are stupefied, not knowing who or what to believe and more painfully not knowing who or what to believe in. That confusion brings with it feelings of mistrust and separation that leave us floating through the floodwaters of society rudderless and adrift: people, people everywhere nor anyone to talk to. We all share this pain to some degree, but the wounds are more keenly felt in the poorer eschalons of society where people have less control over their lives. Young men are particularly vulnerable to feelings of emasculation brought about by a sense of powerlessness which Richard describes in sequences of genital awkwardness and inhibition. With inked fingers they proudly display their voting prowess, expecting in return the feelings of empowerment that are the promise of democracy. In it's absence they appear confused and frightened.
This is a powerful snapshot of the entire Kenyan political state‐of play: though voting takes place nothing ever changes. The actors may (sometimes) change but the plot remains the same: the entrenched elite grows richer while the growing poor grow poorer. These are the manifestations of a captured state where, in a vicious circle, a handful of people who have grown so immensely rich by the plunder of state resources, now wield an influence so strong over the machinery of state as to ensure they can not be dislodged and instead are perpetuated in their plunder of state resources. Elections will come and go but the true axis of power does not change.
While Richard's insights are exclusively of the emotional state of Kenyans, his portrayal of the essentially disenfranchised Kenyan bears an uncanny resemblance to the picture emerging in other more established democracies of the world. Take Britain, for example, where the same sentiment of a system not working for ordinary people led to the vote for Brexit. It is instructive that this result could not have been achieved through the regular election cycles that are the long stablished democratic process of the UK. It required a referendum which, as a binary choice requiring a simple majority, is more sensitive to the common will of the people ‐ that same will many are now seeking to overturn. Is Britain, in it's normal functioning, a captured State?
And there too, Richard's babbling classes are conspicuous, trading in the efficacy of their own words, convinced in their virtue and rightmindedness. One is reminded of the Amanpour‐ite liberalism that purports to defend the interests of The Man in the Street whilst decrying his will as 'populist', seemingly oblivious to the natural definition of that term which is 'not elitist' and is precisely what she claims to be; and of the American evangelical conservative who purports to know God's will and lays it out in a hierarchy: God; America; The White Man; The White Woman; White Children; Other Men; Other Women; Other Children; Animals at the pleasure of Man. His message to ordinary folk is "don't worry if it's not working for you, stay where you are and tough it out: God has a plan for you.". Although pitched as polar opposites the hypocrisy in these two streams of thought suggests a similarity in the preservation of the particular elitism that each serves. In countering the threat that the emergent discontent poses to both of them, they brand it as populism and extremist whilst presenting themselves as mainstream. The opposite appears more often to be the truth.
And while we're on America, we in Africa are aware of the unfolding there of a deception the likes of which we know well. We are all too familiar with leaders swept to power on a populist wave who direct their newfound power at dismantling everything that challenges their absolute authority, including the rights of the very same folk who put them there. The American State has long been subordinate to corporate interest but it is about to be captured by something much more sinister as the Big‐Manism that has blighted Africa for so long takes hold there.
So, for better or for worse, change does come and, as with everywhere else, it is Richard's study‐group who will bring it about. Beautifully captured throughout this exhibition and particularly in the self‐harming of Rosy Cheek, he tells us that that there is a well‐spring of hurt in the underbelly of society which, for now, appears to be turned inward on itself. But, if the wounds won't heal, that may change and, if the page is finally turned, those bold characters in the headings of the current folio will find themselves suddenly out of print.
Of Pictures and A Thousand Words
More on Richard Kimathi
Preview of Works
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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.