It all began with a drawing of Minnie Mouse which, much to my chagrin, was not Akili Akili. Although this drawing from our 9-year-old daughter, Naomi elicited a glint of self-guilt and reflection (where did I fail as an Afrocentric parent who is always preaching Afropride) I chose to look past the effects of Disney’s influence on our children and the Disney-fication of every merchandise everywhere you look.
Instead, I saw the potential. I saw intent. A spark of something that school and education dedicate themselves to killing. That knack for symmetry. The photographic memory, the ability to bring something to life by just drawing and knowing which colours will bring it to life. We saw that in Naomi.
Are Artists Born or Bred?
When Naomi, our firstborn made it clear that she had an eye for the arts, I did what any artistic parent writer would do, I went onto social media and shared her work.
The response was good and even though I tagged the wrong John Lasseter on twitter, and Disney never acknowledged my tweet.
I thus began the search for a visual artist who would mentor her on the basics until she found her voice in the brushstroke.
It is then that I remembered Margaretta Wa Gacheru, an old-time friend, a fellow writer and a great art lover who wrote the forward to my first book ‘Mines & Mine Fields; My Spoken Words back in 2010.
Wa Gacheru who has written on the Kenyan visual art scene since the days of Ruth Schaffner led me to Patrick Mukabi.
Who is Patrick Mukabi?
Patrick Mukabi, known to his peers as Panye, is plausibly Kenya’s foremost multi-talented visual artist. He is globally acclaimed in the art world and has been to over 23 countries exhibiting and teaching for over two decades now.
For those who have thronged of the Java coffee shops that dot Nairobi’s restaurant scene, then Mukabi’s work is no stranger. His distinct depiction of African women; voluptuous, self-assured, determined and always clad in Kangas/Lesos, has not only been his muse, but also his trademark.
Mukabi has been teaching art classes to kids for as long as he can remember. Unlike the many who have come before and after him, he has taken the road less travelled. He is painting his legacy in the hearts of a new generation of visual artists at his Dust Depo Art studio.
From Nudes Art At the Godown
I first met Mukabi back in 2006 at his Godown Arts studio when I was working with the now-defunct African Colours.
Back then, he had carved his niche as a Nudes artist. His speciality, women.
I remember interviewing him about it, asking how he gets women to pose naked, sometimes for hours. At some point during our interview, I decided to be cheeky and wondered with a tongue in cheek comment if he ever felt anything during this creation process. His response, he was too absorbed in the moment and getting it right to be distracted.
Mukabi’s Kids Art Classes
Mukabi’s studio is in an area where he grew up and one where his formative years as a young art student took root. Located behind Technical University of Kenya (formerly Kenya Polytechnic) where he did his 2-year certificate course in graphic design, Dust Depo shares a wall with The Railways Museum.
The place is an anthill on any given weekday and mostly on Saturdays. When not busy travelling or going to numerous private schools, Mukabi will be at the Dust Depo with a bevvy young men and women eager to learn.
To them, he is an icon, a friend and a mentor who will not turn them away no matter what, as long as their hunger for artistic expression is palpable.
When our three kids and I made our way there a fortnight ago, Mukabi was taking a break from his morning kids class and was walking around barefoot.
Our son asked him if he had no shoes, his response;
“I can’t think well with my shoes on, so whenever am creating, I remove them”.
Mukabi’s Uncle Suppu Character, Kenya’s Peter Pan
Naomi and her siblings were immediately taken by the place with its vibrant feel and the rich bold colours that throng the canvas mountings.
Their first-afternoon class was delirious as they got introduced to Uncle Suppu – Mukabi’s kids’ art show character and his magical world of huts and blue skies. Richard and I just hoovered there admiring just how absorbed they all were, exchanging banter, oblivious to our presence.
When it comes to teaching art to children, Mukabi is the proverbial Peter Pan. His spirit is still like that of a child. Inquisitive, simple, free. You see it in the way he holds conversations with children. How they all get so absorbed together in agreeing on what colour and brush to use. How to apply that paint like jam on bread.
Our house walls have slowly started transforming into an art gallery with every weekend class they attend. We might just decide to hold an exhibition later in the year.
Mukabi does kids art classes twice every Saturday ( 9-10.30am) and 2.30 – 4 pm) charges are Ksh. 500 ($5) per child at his studio and Ksh 1,500 ( $15) for home visits.
As I reminded Mukabi how he couldn’t remember me without the long dreadlocks, I would never have imaged that I’d meet him again 16 years later. This time, not looking at him from a narrow lens of an artist making very controversial art but instead, as one whose spirit floats on a canvas with his legion in tow.