October Gallery presents a new exhibition of works by Naomi Wanjiku Gakunga. This will be her second solo exhibition in London.
Born in Kenya in1960, Naomi Wanjiku Gakunga first studied art at the University of Nairobi, Kenya, before continuing her studies at UCLA, USA. She now lives and works in San Antonio, Texas. Gakunga has been included in several exhibitions in the USA, UK, France, Brazil and Poland. Her UK debut solo exhibition, Ituĩka – Transformation, was presented at October Gallery in 2013. She was long-listed for the FT/Oppenheimer Funds Emerging Voices Awards, 2016.
Gakunga’s works are predominantly wall-hanging sculptures ingeniously created from tin cans, steel wire and oxidised sheet metal. While the techniques Gakunga uses are common to the fibre arts across many traditions, her chosen materials are not; corroded sheet metal, rusted tin cans and stainless steel wire all follow the concept of Jua Kali, a Swahili adage which translates literally as ‘under the hot sun’ and refers to the serendipitous outcomes born out of discarded and weathered materials. Here, nothing goes to waste and what is considered unwanted material becomes the medium for a new focus of attention.
Mabati, or galvanised sheet metal, is ubiquitous in Kenya. Used mainly for roofing and building walls, this sheet metal is particularly associated with the Mabati Womens Groups and their empowering community housing projects of the ‘60s. Gakunga observed the success of their efforts, the harvesting of water from the new roofs and the consequent ageing of the material itself. Mirroring these weathered effects in her own artistic process, she deliberately saturates rolls of sheet metal in water, a process that oxidises the submerged surfaces, occasionally adding dyes to create different colours and other more complex effects. Tushauriane – Let’s Talk About It pushes Gakunga’s practice further, by consciously adopting new diverse materials that intertwine with her core material Mabati, she visually articulates the concept of dialogue.
Her choice of ropes, poultry wire, handcrafted paper, and Jua Kali painting, is an attempt to avoid the ‘danger of a single story’ or one single perspective. The works provoke a re-evaluation of our individual histories and the commonality of our different heritages. The delicate interweaving of materials creates fragile connections, that reflect the reality of borders and borderline relations. Key works such as, Bridges Not Walls and Routes of Migration, question how to reach across real and perceived differences, and address our global responsibility in a world that is continually shrinking. The works instill optimism that mashauri (dialogues) can be created to explore our current social, cultural, economic and political situations. Gakunga uses her visual language to capture our changing world and reiterate, Tushauriane - Let’s talk about it!