QUARTZ Africa | By Abdi Latif Dahir

There’s a general misconception that whatever passes for popular art in Kenya are the curios sold to tourists or the murals that hang in restaurants and airport lounges. But as a new book shows, nothing could be further from the truth. In over 600 pages, Visual Voices presents over 400 pieces from 57 different contemporary artists in Kenya, showcasing a vibrant, edgy, and growing art scene. The artists in the collection use various methods including paintings, sculptures, murals, photography, glassworks, and furniture, besides on-site installation projects.

Issued by the Nairobi-based independent publisher Footprints Press, the book was curated by Susan Wakhungu-Githuku, a prominent Kenyan entrepreneur and a former executive with Coca-Cola in Africa. When she set out to compile the book, Wakhungu-Githuku said she wanted to present as a whole what Kenyan art looked like, and not just the oft-touted images of masks, tribal figurines, and bucolic scenes showing landscapes and wild animals.

The weighty book also displays art’s vital role in documenting the social, political and cultural experiences in Kenya from the 1970s till today. By including young, middle-aged and older artists, the collection shows the changing tastes, styles, and narratives—and by extension, how the conversation about art and its function has shifted with time. The surrealist swirling dreamscapes, the semi-impressionistic paintings, and the sculptures made out of discarded woods and sheets of scrap metal all combine to speak to an artistic sophistication that has evolved consistently and upwardly over the decades…read more

Image: Anthony Okello “Orders from Above” (Footprints Press)