Air Brush ‘artist-in-residence’ project was launched by the ‘Brush Tu Art’ (BTA) Studio in conjunction with the Danish Embassy less than a year ago. Yet in the past few months, the Buru Buru-based project has grown far beyond its founders’ expectations.

“We didn’t know how big AIR Brush would become,” says Michael Musyoka who is BTA’s contact man with the Danes.

“We especially didn’t think our travel budget would be enough to bring artists from across the region; but we managed to pool resources to get them here,” he adds, referring to artists from Benin, Nigeria and Rwanda who are in residence at BTA.

In fact, the project has served as a source of inspiration to both local and Pan-African artists alike. That’s largely because the site has allowed artists to see their creative output grow significantly during their stay at the studio.

It’s also got to do with the convivial atmosphere generated by the busy BTA founders, Boniface Maina, Waweru Gichuhi and Michael Musyoka. The programme is also carefully structured. What’s more it’s run solely by artists themselves, so there’s a natural feeling of creative comradery among them.

“The project is structured so that artists from outside Kenya are offered three-month residencies interspersed with one month awards for fellow Kenyans,” says Musyoka.

Evidence of the Pan-African character of AIR Brush was seen this past Tuesday at BTA’s Buru Phase 1 studio where South-South creative co-operation took the shape of a trio of African artists sharing their perspectives and practices with a house-full crowd of local friends of BTA.

In stand-up sessions, each of the three revealed wildly different persona. In part, this was because they came from different parts of the sub-continent: Stacey Okparavero from Nigeria, Lionel Yamadjako from Benin and Timothy Wandula from Rwanda. The rest had to do with culture, education, artistic inclinations and gender, of course.

The one thing they all had in common was their penchant for social media. It was through Facebook that all three found AIR Brush and applied. “We never anticipated the programme would attract artists from across the continent, but we’re happy that it has,” says Waweru Gichuki who explains how much the Rwandese artist Wandula hopes to return to Kenya on a more permanent basis.

“I grew up in Uganda and only moved to Rwanda six years ago after meeting my Rwandese dad. Now I have citizenship, but Kenya reminds me more of my life in Uganda where I grew up,” says the self-taught Wandula.

Displaying his paintings and sculptures via BTA’s rapid-fire slide show system, he says Kigali’s art scene is much smaller and more constrained than Nairobi’s where he feels free to sit on the roadside outside BTA and watch the world go by.

He says that’s a pastime one cannot practise in Rwanda where artists learn early that self-censorship is the only way to survive. Benin’s Lionel Yamadjako says Conakry is also a conservative city where dreadlocks are frowned upon, unlike Nairobi where dreads are considered fashionable within some circles.

Shy to speak English since his first language is French, “Yam” as he’s called, nonetheless was able to explain how he graduated from a technical college but moved on to become a professional full-time artist.

Social media, he says, is what’s enabled him to not only sell his art online but also find opportunities like AIR Brush and travel all over Africa and Europe attending workshops, exhibitions and art residencies.

Yam won’t be attending the trio’s final exhibition since he’ll be travelling to another workshop before his Kenyan residency is done. But he’ll leave his painting produced while here for the exhibition to be held at Kobo Gallery on September 21st.

Stacey Okparavero will be at their September opening and hopefully, this multi-talented painter, print-maker and performance artist will perform a reasonable facsimile of the rain dance that she did at BTA on the first day that it rained after she’d arrived in Nairobi.

Having found the city dry and dusty, Stacey’s modern dance recreation of traditional Nigerian rain-makers’ ritual was captured on a phone video, revealing the celebratory and graceful style of this dance yogi.

Explaining how she’d known from early on that she wanted to be an artist, her family’s opposition to that choice was only broken after she brought home the renowned Nigerian artist Bruce Onobrakpeya to meet her dad who finally got convinced that fine art was a serious profession. She subsequently studied art at University of Warwick, Lagos University and the Beaux Art in Paris.

This article was originally published by Business Daily Africa

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