A collection of intriguing portraits executed in coloured pencil on paper fill the exhibition hall at the British institute in Eastern Africa this month. The exhibition, titled ‘Different Faces, Different Races’, showcases images of different people’s culture and races. According to the young artist, Reagan Muriuki (25 and from Nairobi), who created these works, the exhibition is “aimed at appreciating the different races and cultures that exist in this world.” Muriuki goes on to say “I came up with this idea because appreciation of different cultures and races helps to improve self-identity and promote peaceful co-existence between different people.” The exhibition comes at a time when varied groups and individuals attack cultural diversity within their community, country or globally, espousing virulent forms of intolerance. Muriuki instead wants to celebrate this diversity as he feels it enriches our lives, and the differences that we all have strengthen us, and brings us together instead of dividing one another.
Muriuki started drawing as a child. He would draw in school and although art classes were limited he did nevertheless find other means and avenues to pursue this passion. For example, the artists recalls that he would often create art for special events hosted at school while at other times he would practice calligraphy on the letters that he and his fellow students would send to friends and family. Growing up in Nairobi and moving through the city’s streets and suburbs Muriuki encountered the various images and texts that are sign-writing. The art of sign-writers is delivered in a variety of styles depicting an enormous range of imagery from political figures, global and local celebrities, depictions of tradition, folk tales and myths, sport teams and brands. The artist also draws inspiration from another form of art found on the street – that of Matatu art. Matatu art (the painting or covering with graphics of minibuses used for public transport) has become highly individualised, with paint jobs ranging from an assortment of colours and logo designs to airbrushed famous faces, whilst incorporating a differing degree of expressive text. Their designs are icons of Nairobi and have become moving representations of urban culture. The ubiquity of sign-writing and Matatu art is of great significance to the whole populace. For a lot of people this is perhaps the most common form of art witnessed in their environment. For many artists, including Muriuki, their evolution has been influenced by this exposure to commercial art.
Muriuki clearly has an understanding of techniques used to create intriguing portraits from his singular choice of medium, coloured pencil. Though the artist does not feel restricted in what this medium can offer. By employing a range of mark making methods – be it hatching and cross hatching, the layering of colour, or divergent uses of applied pressure which result in varied tones – the artist begins to challenge the remits of what is possible through coloured pencil work. Such exploration into any given medium, and grasped techniques, are important stages in many artists’ careers and development. Drawing is often regarded as the foundation for artistic practise, and as an artist who has only recently decided to pursue art as a career (after receiving a Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Nairobi and having drawn as a hobby since being a child) it will be interesting to see if Muriuki continues with this medium or begins to explore others.
The exhibition runs from 4th August – 31st August 2017. To commission the artist to do a portrait of yourself, a loved one or friend please contact Reagan Muriuki ([email protected]).