Leevans Linyerera: Hope among those deemed hopeless

By: Craig Halliday

Leevans Linyerera’s exhibition at the British Institute in Eastern Africa (BIEA) constitutes nine works on canvas in the medium of paint and charcoal. These works were inspired by a visit the artist made to ‘Korando Educational Centre’ in Kisumu, Western Kenya, in April 2016. The centre provides informal schooling opportunities for children from the area; many of these children are orphaned, are at risk, or vulnerable – something the artist saw as “giving hope among those deemed hopeless.”

Providing young people with an opportunity to follow their passion, and experience what they love, is close to Linyerera’s heart. The artist explains to me how he never had the opportunity to learn art at school, though this didn’t stop him from continuing art in his spare time, nurturing his talent and passion. In 2015 Linyerera’s art practice took a new direction, he received tutoring by Patrick Mukabi at the GoDown Art Centre and then later at the Dust Depot (an art organisation in Nairobi started by Mukabi which offers, space training and mentorship to artists).

Perhaps these experiences led Linyerera to give back; for example the artist says “I am now taking an initiative in teaching young kids”, while also, he along with Wallace Juma founded Kijani Trust (an open art studio). In addition to the time spent at Korando Educational Centre Linyerera has held various art workshops for young people. Describing this experience Linyerera says “working with children gives me a sense of hope, knowing that our future and great art will come from them. Also, I find children’s kindness and humility towards each other inspiring.”

Returning to Linyerera’s exhibition at the BIEA, his nine pieces on canvas constitutes two distinct bodies of work which likewise reflect the artist’s divergent experiences and art practice.  One of these bodies, made up of monochrome works using paint and charcoal, capture (in a non-intrusive way) some of the activities at Korando Educational Centre – sports, education and horticulture. The other two images are portraits of young children, the subjects are conscious of their image being taken. The artist’s use of tone, resolute brush strokes and charcoal scribes – with bright whites and deep blacks – creates a sense of depth and vigour which draws the viewer into the action taking place in the artwork.

These works (which can be seen as studies from photographs taken by the founder of Korando Educational Centre), through the choice of figurative subjects and mark making, are a nod to the tutelage received under Mukabi. Linyerera’s work does nevertheless have enough distinction to set it apart from Mukabi’s. The artist has clearly taken on board technical aspects acquired and is now applying them to a style that suits himself, not his mentor –  something others under Mukabi’s teaching have yet to achieve, or at least choose not to do so.

The artist’s second body of work comprises four paintings which Linyerera describes as abstract. These paintings, which are less controlled than the others, are made up of raw, and at times harsh or clumsy, mark making – angular sweeps of paint applied with a pallet knife, thin washes, drips, and thick paint stuck to the canvas. While not as refined when compared with his other abstract work, these paintings do evoke a playfulness, and perhaps mischievousness, which references the artist’s experience of creating art with, and teaching, young people. During his week-long stay at Korando Educational Centre Linyerera taught children art through experimental ways – such as using plastic bottles, ink, charcoal and detergent to make art.

Linyerera is still early on in his career. The exhibition at the BIEA contributes to a growing list of successful exhibitions which the artist has featured in – these include group shows, such as: ‘Not a Big Spoon’, held at Alliance Francaise this year; ‘Young Guns’, held at Circle Art Agency this year; and ‘Arts to End Slavery’, a traveling exhibition which took place in Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa in 2016. The exhibition at the BIEA runs until 13th October 2017.

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