By margaretta wa gacheru
Njambi Rahab Shine is one of Kenya’s most exciting young female artists.
Her work of 24 paintings was just recently on show at the Banana Hill Art Gallery (Alex Wainaina’s wonderful African Masks are up there now) and the show gives one an opportunity to see how rapidly the woman has refined her colorful, impressionistic style.
Njambi’s a self-taught artist who got her start as a painter by making herself an integral part from the outset of the Banana Hill Art Studio. Being a wife to the BHAS founder, which had its inception in the early 1990s, but was officially registered in 1994, one might easily define Njambi as the mama mainstay of the group.
Njambi makes no secret of the fact that her original inspiration for becoming a painter came from her spouse, Shine Tani. For while both came from humble beginnings, Njambi had faith in her man. And her faith was not misplaced since Shine went on to become another leading Kenyan artist whose works have taken him all over the world, starting in 1996 when he won the Missio German Christian art award and was sent off to five European countries to visit museums, galleries, art centers university art departments all the way from Germany to France, Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg.
Njambi, being the mother of four, hasn’t traveled quite so widely as Shine, but artistically speaking she has journeyed many miles from the time she first took baby steps as a novice, experimenting with brushes and paints, plywood planks and the occasional canvas.
The only woman to be a founder member of the Banana Hill Arts Studio, Njambi was just a teenager when she first met and then married the performing artist turned painter in her hometown of Lari.
Attracted to the former acrobat turned artist who was still known as Njenga at the time, Njambi knew early on that she wanted to learn the art of painting and emulate the other aspiring artists who hovered around Shine who had begun earning from his art works since the late 1980s when he first met the Gallery Watatu doyen, the late Ruth Schaffner.
Some of the would-be artists who frequented Njambi’s and Shine’s humble home in the early Nineties were simply drawn to painting by the discovery that it could be an income generating activity. Others like Njambi were genuinely keen to create beautiful works of art that expressed their inner beings. Many of these men (she was the only woman at the time) would come to be recognized as standard bearers of Kenya’s blossoming contemporary visual art movement.
Among the first artists that joined the art network centered around Shine and Njambi and BHAS were Meek Gichugu, Martin Kamuyu, Joseph Cartoon, James Muriithi, Alex and Jeff Wambugu, Wanyu Brush, and John Silver Kimani. There were many more, including Andrew Kamundia, Joe Friday and Shade Kamau among others.
Some would stay with the Studio and cultivate their painterly skills alongside Shine and Njambi. Others like James Muriithi and John Silver would branch out and go off on their own: James eventually ended up at the RaMoMa Museum, John Silver at Kuona Trust.
But Njambi never strayed. Instead, she going increasingly more committed to painting and to perfecting her technique. Cultivating her own style which she says draws upon themes of everyday Kenyan life, her paintings are vivid, colorful and slightly impressionistic portraits of local life in the slums and peri urban areas around Nairobi.
What’s remarkable about Njambi’s work over the past two or three years is that one has seen a rapid evolution and refinement of style that is increasingly almost Turner-esque in its evocative and semi-abstract presentation of Kenyan rural life. Her blending of colors has become more subtle and sophisticated, and the effects of these advances have made her paintings increasingly impressionistic and startling for their beauty.
Apart from the Banana Hill Art Gallery where her exhibition just came down, replaced by a fine show of metal works in the shape of African Masks by Alex wainaina, Njambi’s best showcase and sales venue for her art is at the annual International School of Kenya art exhibition. It’s a site that many local artists look forward to attending and participating in since a number of serious art patrons show up at this annual weekend exhibition.
But Njambi aspires to take her art work abroad, to find a showcase that gives her art an even wider platform for the exposure of her painterly powers. Already her work graces a number of private art collections overseas, in the UK and Europe as well as in Asia and America where Banana Hill artists first exhibited as a group in Philadelphia, USA back in the early 1990s.
One hardly doubts the prospect of Njambi exhibiting abroad. In fact, what’s just as possible is for her to take her own private collection of Banana Hill artists’ works overseas. That way, she could expose not just her own art work but also her treasure trove of contemporary Kenyan art, collected over many years, to the wider outside world.
That day is sure to come if the past trajectory of Njambi’s artistic career is anything to go by! For not only is her art a testimony to years of dedicated work cultivating her latent creative powers. It is also evidence that this woman has a single-minded persistence to fulfill her far-fetched dreams. For from the time she was 15 and first introduced to fine art by her future spouse, Njambi has wanted nothing other than to work closely with Shine, to build her lovely family, and to pursue her dream to become a professional painter—all goals she has fulfilled successfully.
All photos were taken by Margaretta wa Gacheru, She reserves the rights to all the Photographs.
Email her: margacheru(at) gmail(dot)com
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