A unique art exhibition took place in the posh suburb of Lavington in Nairobi. The exhibition was specially curated by Wajukuu Arts Collective.

In the posh suburb of Lavington, Nairobi, a unique art exhibition is underway. It started on March 16 and will end on April 2, 2022. It was specially organized by Wajukuu Arts Collective. In December 2021, the Collective organized the Wajukuu Slum Festival from December 26 to 28 in the Mukuru-Lunga Lunga slum, where all the artists live and where they have, over the years, honed their skills as painters and sculptors.

Wajukuu was created by Freshia Njeri, Joseph Waweru, Josephat Kimani, Lazarus Tumbuti, Mary Mugoiri, Ndung’u Kimani, Ngugi Waweru, Sammy Mutinda, Shabu Mwangi, Stanley Githinji and Victor Chege. These two public events were a prelude to participation in the 15th edition of the Documenta International Art Festival in Kassel, Germany, which will take place from June 18 to September 25, 2022.

Held every five years, Documenta is ranked among the most important art festivals in the world. “That Wajukuu has been invited to Documenta is the signal of their arrival,” said Emmaüs Kimani, curator and project manager of Wajukuu. “After years of dedicated work, their efforts might finally pay off. In Germany, they’re going to mingle with the crème de la crème of the art world, it’ll be a learning curve for them and I hope they’ I’ll pick up the gauntlet and run away with it.” The 2022 festival will be organized by a nine-person Indonesian artistic group Ruangrupa and around 51 artists who will be grouped into mini-majelis, the Indonesian word for advice, have already confirmed their participation.

The Nairobi exhibition organized by the Circle Art Gallery showcased some of the group’s artistic works which will be exhibited in Germany. Danda Jaroljimek, the gallery’s owner, said the Wajukuu exhibition is one of a kind, a milestone for artists who were, every inch, married to their work. Nairobi’s burgeoning art connoisseur Peter Achayo said the artists were on course to reach the heights of global success.

Tabitha Thuku one of the most established brush artists in Nairobi and who has worked with the artists in the ghetto as their instructor and mentor told me she has worked with many artists and Wajukuu has to rank among the artists most most engaged she has ever worked with.

Mukuru-Lunga Lunga, is a slum located southeast of Nairobi, right in the middle of a myriad of industrial factories that dot the general area. Mukuru in the Kikuyu Bantu language means a throat. This particular mukuru is not a valley, but was a dump site, hence its derivative, to suggest a valley created from a dump site.

Founded by nine people in the late 1960s, Mukuru-Lunga Lunga is now home to a population of over 600,000 people. Some of the nine people who started the slum worked for Jack Reuben, a former British Army soldier, who owned thousands of cattle that grazed in the vast land adjacent to Mukuru-Lunga Lunga and where the present adjacent slum of Mukuru-Lunga is located. Mukuru Kwa Rueben. .

It is one of Nairobi’s toughest slums, where a young man’s life is brutal, cruel, dangerous, mean, poor, lonely and short, to paraphrase Thomas Hobbes, the 17th century British classicist and philosopher, in his treatise, Leviathan. Where “lives are ruined among the leaves and rot like pumpkins in a field of mud”, to quote the late South African ghetto poet laureate, Mazisi Kunene, and where rogue policemen kill young men for sport.

A word in the Kiswahili language, Wajukuu means grandchildren. The term was coined from the proverb – Majuto ni mjukuu, huja baadaye – literally it means that regret manifests through a grandchild and occurs much later in life. Contextually, it alludes to a transfer of a “generational sin”, either of commission or of omission which suggests that the “sins” of a parent are suffered by his grandchildren. In many African epistemologies, the propitiation of such “sins” is still common practice.

“Growing up on the fringes of society, a society plagued by poverty and violence, filth and embezzlement, environmental degradation and raw effluents, death and unmitigated disaster, so much hunger, abuse – of children, of women and of the weak – by adults, able-bodied people, parents, state security agents, I wondered if I would live to survive this quirk of fate,” Shabu testifies darkly. Mwangi, the director of the Wajukuu Artists Collective “How come we were born into this brutal, smelly, melancholy, deceitful, ruthless world?”

Shabu’s parents’ generation was driven to the outskirts of downtown Nairobi by a combination of conspiratorial forces – both local and international. Post-independent Kenya fervently embraced capitalism and aligned itself with international capital. “Hakuna kitu cha bure, there is nothing for free, founding President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta adopted his political mantra for Kenyans early in his presidency, once the country gained political independence in 1963.” Kazi na jasho, “you have to work for your sweat,” roared a president eager to please and retain the favor of the country’s former imperial rulers.

In the 2000s, Hope Worldwide, affiliated with the Nairobi Christian Church, started a rehabilitation program for children in Mukuru. “That’s how I got to know all the budding Wajukuu artists: I raised them,” said Caleb Odhiambo, former Hope program manager. They led difficult lives; many of them were drawn into the dangerous criminal underworld, but some of them survived, largely due to their stubbornness, resilience, determination to live on and assert their optimism and survival instincts to see another day. So they’ve really come a long way – they’re celebrities in their own right now.”

Caleb’s job in Mukuru was to nurture, provide sanctuary for young boys, and hopefully deter them from the lure of criminal life and gangs. “Believe me, it was a tough decision,” Caleb says. “Gang life had all the trappings to offer: an admirable lifestyle, a sisterhood to admire, a criminal underworld that provided money and food, as long as you weren’t arrested by the police or killed by the crowd.” Thus, the organization has created a children’s club. “The truth is that we created the kids’ club to absorb the ‘graduates’ of Mukuru Art Center in Lunga Lunga.”

Mukuru Arts Center was a project of Sr Mary Killeen, the Irish Catholic nun and teacher of the Sisters of Mercy, who has lived in Kenya for 45 years. Born in Phibsboro, Dublin, Ireland, she is 75 and arrived in Kenya in 1976. “Sr Mary would do a fantastic job of training children in curves and colors, but after that, what next?” observed Caleb. “They had nowhere to transition to once they finished their course and they couldn’t hang around the center because they needed to make room for other kids. That’s how we came the idea of ​​a club, a sort of halfway house to provide them with meals and hopefully get them off the bad streets. It didn’t always work out that way: a lot, after a few weeks of showing up at the rehab center, bored and restless – the meals weren’t enough to keep them away from the beckoning gangs and the nasty streets. center equipment to resell at a low price to waiting street vendors.

Lazarus Tumbuti is ebony-skinned and lean with a deceptive calm that belies his tough upbringing. Tumbuti, with dreadlocks, is a metal sculptor, as well as a painter on canvas. One of Tumbuti’s timeless canvas paintings is that of a portrait of a lady, deep in thought, her arms crossed, her eyes sunken gazing into the afterlife. “I did this painting in 2013, it’s one of my first paintings, I really like it. The painting reminds us all of the trials and tribulations that women in the ghetto go through,” Tumbuti explained. He speaks fondly of his mother. He could also have thought of her courage and resilience, as he mixed the colors to create the dark curves of a boiling woman, with his paintbrush.

Wajukuu has become a home away from home, a refuge, says Freshia Njeri. “It saved my life. Joining Wajukuu was the best thing that ever happened to me.” Njeri joined Wajukuu in 2008. She recalls that fate wanted her to meet Shabu and Joseph Waweru and they asked her to join them in Wajukuu. “It became my safety and my safe house and soon Shabu and Tumbuti became my very first art instructors. The rest, as they say, is history.”

Freshia, the only female artist who will travel to Germany, says it was a long walk and she had to work hard to get to where she is now.