Jackie Karuti’s work ‘There Are Worlds Out There They Never Told You About’, 2016, in ‘The New Observatory’ @ FACT

Jackie Karuti’s work, There Are Worlds Out There They Never Told You About, 2016 featured in the exhibition ‘The New Observatory’ at FACT  (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology), Liverpool, UK, from 22 June – 1 October 2017. It consisted of two videos from an ongoing mixed-media series: an animated video with sound, 1.05 mins,  a water-filled plinth and a video with sound, 3.41  mins.

I recorded my thought processes while in the gallery, by speaking them aloud into a voice recorder before, and after reading the curatorial blurb about the work. These are the results from Karuti’s two installations.



“There is a large box with light coming out of it, there is water in it, a boy in the exhibition puts his hand down to touch the water, that is both real and unreal.

There are paper origami boats, floating as a projection.

An oversized hand comes into the frame, and disrupts the natural motion of the water.


The camera angle stops, and changes.

The camera is now half submerged in water, we see the paper boats, a quarter of them in water, three quarters out, bobbing. An eerie melancholic sound, cello music, tells you that there are things you don’t know.


The origami boats, the edges look a bit beaten up, yellow, as if they are broken, turned away, turned away.

Above it, there is a crow squawking, the crow, a symbol of death, on a broken observatory tower. What is it doing? What does it symbolise?

The observatory tower is up again, alive. The crow is still squawking, a huge geometric linear shape comes to sit on its head, what is happening with this thing sitting on its head.

Then the crow is floating on these boats, signifying death, death and destruction, there is a foot, that looks like it might be dead, floating in the water.

Faces that come out of the sky, all look symmetrical, there are some barbed wire fences.

The crow is squawking on its broken observatory tower. Now the observatory tower is up again, the crow is on some rocks and that thing is floating onto its head again, full of rotating triangles, flying, rotating,

What is this spaceship that is flying through? What are these origami boats doing, floating on the water? Crowing, all together, and those feet coming in, those dead feet, and then alive again, walking. Something is dead and then alive.

The observatory tower, what is it transmitting. What are we transmitting?

The crowing and the cello music are working together, and the two video installations bouncing story-line off each other, creating an atmospheric imagination, documented”


“Now I have read the blurb I understand that one of the things the artist is talking about to is an imaginary world deep in the sea. It references the legend of slaves thrown off ships on their way to unknown lands, the Americas, who created their own world, their own environment, underwater.

The blurb also talks about there being worlds-out-there-that-we-don’t-know-about and how ‘home’ is sometimes only in our imagination. This makes me think: Can we imagine beyond the outside world, beyond the reality that we currently have? Maybe it is only our imagination that makes us have a home. What is our imagination as part of our being human?”


In review, I found Karuti’s work immersive and poignant, melancholic and Utopian. It reminded me that I ignore my imagination at my own peril. It encouraged me to see the potential of creative fictional thought (or dreaming) which, of course, is always somehow linked to, and grounded in, realities.

The exhibition blurb states ‘the idea of home […] might be something that can only be recreated in imagination’. I’m transported to the eighteenth century slave ships. The work alludes to an alternative world, a Utopia for those who fell off the ships on their way to the Americas. It suggests a different world order, that has been reversed or flipped, in ocean living instead of land living, in freedom instead of servitude. Themes of migration are strong yet not too obvious, the artist using visual language to prompt the viewer. The fragile bobbing paper boats taking on a tragic meaning. I am reminded of those migrating from ‘the back route’ commonly through Eritrea, at the mercy of those organising journeys whose finale is a boat trip. In an uplifting experience I’m immersed in the films black and white illustration, which has a potential to shape anything at all, freed from the boundaries of realities, such as gravity or solid being. Further themes of how we observe, engage and sense fitted both Karuti’s work as well as the rest of the exhibition.

‘The New Observatory’ exhibition posters read:

‘re-imagining how we measure, predict and sense the world today’

Charles Esche, Director at the Van Abbe Museum in Holland has stated that ‘Art re-imagines the world’. This general comment is true for pretty much any art that has ever existed. Imagination is required to make artwork: it starts in our heads and ends up in the world, as art work. But it is the part of the sentence ‘how we measure, predict and sense the world today’ that really holds the works together in this exhibition of over twenty-one artists.

Rocks, water, seas, natural landscapes on earth, animals and outer space, are all represented by the artists, through some form of machinery: Cameras, projectors, digital screens, specialised head wear with screens installed inside (such as the Virtual Reality head set, 360° video with binaural sound)[1], or science related observing tools. Outer space, observatories and natural materials are interpreted through the digital lens as well as through installation and sculpture, in an experiential, other worldly exhibition.

Artwork by Evan Roth called ‘http://s33.820180e151.184813.com.au ‘, 2016 – Exhibition shot, taken by me, but the artwork is courtesy of Carroll / Fletcher . It is of a radio tower in Australia, captured in infra red and streamed to a web page. The accompanying sound consists of field recordings taken at the same location, along with other sonic elements.
Jeronimo Voss, ‘Inverted Night Sky’, 2016 Dome; lens; video with sound, 10mins, Dimensions 3 x 3 x 2m
Large sculpture in the Atrium, with the Cafe area outside of the two galleries. James Coupe ‘A Machine for Living’ 2017 Multimedia installation. Dimensions Variable
Phil Coy ‘Substance – A whole history of hollows and reliefs’, 2017 VR headset; 360º video with binaural sound, 7 mins;
David Gauthier
David Gauthier ‘Measure for Measure for Measure’, 2017 Mixed media, dimensions variable. 53°32′.01N, 003°21′.29W, from the Sea, 2017 Video with sound, approx. 15 mins; Hantarex monitors; Waverider buoy. Dimensions variable.

Karuti’s light box works well in this exhibition. Its ‘otherworldliness’ enhanced by the lack of light, creating a sense of the projections, floating.

Karuti’s inclusion in #TheNewObservatory engages an equality in contemporary art between African and western hemisphere based artists. Her work provides a useful discussion to add to the predominantly western artists work [2]. So often it feels that African artists, including artists of African heritage working in the diaspora, are consumed in ‘African Art’ and missed by major institutions exhibitions. Here we have an example of a successful inclusion which is credit to the curator’s research into broader art markets.


 Until 1st October 2017

[1] Artwork Substance- Awholehistoryofhollows and reliefs, 2017 by Phil Coy,

[2] (Netherlands, UK, USA, Canada, France and Greece, with artists from Iraq, and Taiwan who now live in the west, and an artist who splits his time between Turkey and the US).

Click any image for a slide show 

Dennis Muraguri – understanding the past to shape the future

Art Highlights of 2016

To shape the future, we must understand the past, to make changes in the present.

1. Dennis Muraguri creates visual art that makes the viewer think. Post-colonialism, neo-colonialism, capitalism, urban studies are all themes discussed in his work.

Dennis Muraguri’s exhibition at Circle. I would highly recommend reading this interview (page 9 of the exhibition catalog) with artist Jackie Karuti  I wish I could purchase the installation, ‘Dream in Alien’ Dennis Muraguri 2016, made from plastic toys.

Dennis Muraguri

‘Dream in Alien’ Dennis Muraguri 2016, plastic toys.  Photo:      Maral Bolouri / @maral_bolouri Instagram


Detail: ‘Dream in Alien’ Dennis Muraguri 2016, plastic toys/ Photo: Evans Gichuki  @darity100/ Instagram

It’s joyous and funny.

But I also want to know what the artist considers about the significance of these little found toys. – pondering consumerism, capitalism, Disney- type hyper-real? … and what does alien mean?

Karuti, Muraguri, Kabiru, three very different artists

Jackie the Third (Jackie III) In The Case of Books an ongoing performance work is based around the communal ritual of dusting, cleaning and arranging library books. A key part of the performance is around the conversations that happen on the anatomy of knowledge, place of books, relevance of libraries, and the myths and rituals within participating individuals and the organisation or institution. Please see here.

  •  Installation at The Goethe Institute Nairobi in a solo show titled Where Books Go To Die
  • These images below are screenshots of that installation from videos by Mark Kiarie and David Githonga

Cyrus Ng’anga Kabiru –  TED Fellow 

  • These sculptures are situated in the bounderies of performance, wearable sculpture and commodity objects
  • Artist Cyrus Kabiru constructs narratives through photography, sculpture and rumour – each set of glasses has its own story – its own title.
  • Collaborations with: TED, Tuska Beer, Guinness, Milan Fashion week, and curators in London, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Bilbao, Barcelona, Nairobi and Kampala. Kabiru’s recognisable unique work has been re-produced on the internet, it is not an exaggeration to say, millions of times.
  •  What is rarely described, but is actually the most fascinating part of these artworks, are the titles of each of these glasses. Each of these has a unique narrative, yet are rarely referenced on Instagram, news stories or video interviews.
    • The series on prisons; ‘Haiti’ (the most overcrowded prison in the world); ‘Madiba’ (concerning Mandela’s detention on Robben Island); ‘Manyishi Wundanyi’, (where Kabiru’s grandfather was imprisoned as a Mau Mau ‘rebel fighter’, now re-termed ‘freedom fighter’, as part of the recognition that Kenya, as a nation, has for the Mau Mau uprising during colonial times;
    • the series on African leaders; title such as Mugabe, or The Dictator;
    • Individual titles such as: Texas Windows, 2009; Yellow Fever, Chinese Train.



Dennis Muraguri –  Handmade woodcut prints, acrylic paintings, mixed-media installations. PLS SEE TEXT BELOW FROM 2013 NEWSPAPER ARTICLE by Zihan Kassam

  • Socially engaged, urban subject of the Matatu that naturally brings up questions around power, street performance, economics…the list is endless.

(Photo credit Audience member viewing the installation during the exhibition ‘Matatu Games’ Wachira Mwangi)

Muraguri tells us about his fascination with matatu culture. He sees the positive, comical side. He describes the manamba (conductor) hanging off the matatu or dancing in the street as the matatu keeps moving only to jump back on the bus just in time to speed off. “It is street art,” he shares, “It’s unorchestrated, unchoreographed street theatre. You ask yourself why one matatu gets a passenger and another doesn’t, even if they charge less. It’s because they know how to flirt to get the attention. It’s all part of the business.” Muraguri discusses matatu laws; laws that are happily ignored. As he engages the guests, they sit together cozily surrounded by two mixed media-sculptures; two vibrant woodcut prints depicting matatus in all their crooked glory; three partially painted-over photographs of a red matatu with the word ‘Neocolonised’ sprayed across the back, and a giant painting that is mostly black and white with some bright colours for dramatic effect. The painting ‘Matatu 4 Governor’ portrays the manamba hanging out of a matatu, one arm raised high as if vying for presidency. The vehicle is decorated with a jumble of popular iconography which includes an image of Kenyatta International Conference Centre and State House. Your eye is drawn to the mandatory yellow band that is legally required of them. It must state starting point and the destination. Bold text along the bottom reads, “Manyanga. Music. Mischief & Mayhem.'” Alluding to the rigged elections Kenya is famous for, there is a big ballot box with a voting slip painted on the bottom right of the painting. “It’s all kind of self-explanatory,” says Muraguri. With a ‘Matatu 4 Governor’ slogan across the top it’s hard to miss the point; the matatu driver epitomizes Kenya in all its wonder and dysfunction. Muraguri’s art is meant to be provocative and humorous but it’s also highly intuitive. He portrays matatu men as relentless artists (decorate their vehicles despite the laws) and voyeurs (always on the road and know where the city is headed). He addresses the decay of Kenyan society and the tragedy of sleaze that permeates this town. A good conversation with Muraguri reveals that he is still cheeky but it’s definitely the good kind of mischief. The kind that makes us question the world around us, rather than just staying stagnant.

Text credit: http://allafrica.com/stories/201305291323.html Zihan Kassam

Video featuring Muraguri, (artist featured at 7min30).

Bold exhibition explores the pain of Substence misuse

Before you step foot into the Kuona gallery (an exhibition space willing to take the risk on edgy exhibitions) you will likely know the theme of the exhibition, from the leaflets and posters advertising the show. ‘Enjoy Responsibly’  is a universally a well-recognised phrase.

Coincidentally, in the past weeks the Kenyan press has shown impounding of 385 different brands of apparently illegal, sub-standard liquor. This is due to a number of people having died at the mercy of these sometimes 70% proof spirits.  Many favourite spirits banned, and public figures ‘Chiefs / Assistant Chiefs’ exposed and sacked for profiting on these brews.

Curated by Thom Ogonga this show also includes established artists such as Peterson Kamwathi who shows a video, Anthony Okello, and Kamicha.  As well as newer to the scene artist Maral Bolouri, who investigates cultural values and cross-cultural differences.

The art work It is John Kamicha’s work that successfully interrogate the title in all its pain and complexity.

Although I do like Anthony Okello’s rather wonderful green men and women diagram piece, Radioactive Chain seems to be saying:

  • Surely this is about a collective responsibility? Find solutions in working together as society not blaming individuals

In the depiction of Boys wa mkali – ‘The bad boys’ we see a playful but serious pun on the boys who drink alcohol for breakfast. Spirit bottle labels are folded into milk carton shaped triangles, implying that instead of Chai for breakfast, alcohol is on the menu. These Boys wa mkali cut out in sculpture with warped almost bird like face features, are conjoined together by an orange river of warmth.

Anthony Okello, ‘Radioactive Chain’ Paper cutout
Anthony Okello, ‘Radioactive Chain’ Paper cutout
Anthony Okello, ‘Radioactive Chain’ Paper cutout
Anthony Okello, ‘Radioactive Chain’ Paper cutout


Detail: Maral Bolouri ‘Untitled’ Photocopy transfer, Pen, Watercolour, Paper
Detail: Maral Bolouri ‘Untitled’ Photocopy transfer, Pen, Watercolour, Paper
Detail: Maral Bolouri ‘Untitled’ Photocopy transfer, Pen, Watercolour, Paper
Detail: Maral Bolouri ‘Untitled’ Photocopy transfer, Pen, Watercolour, Paper
John Kamicha ‘Boys wa makali’ Mixed Media / Ply Wood
John Kamicha ‘Boys wa makali’ Mixed Media / Ply Wood
John Kamicha ‘Boys wa makali’ Mixed Media / Ply Wood
John Kamicha ‘Boys wa makali’ Mixed Media / Ply Wood

Their legs consist of collage of found images on DVD, reminiscent of religious paintings by masters of The Renaissance. The artist referencing ideology of our culture, making popular DVD characters into possible religious figures.

John Kamicha ‘Boys wa Makali’ Mixed Media / Ply Wood
Detail: John Kamicha ‘Boys wa Makali’ Mixed Media / Ply Wood

In Instead of the war on Poverty we got the war on Alcohol features painful looking colourful staples in a visually beautiful pattern joining Lesso materials together. Possibly a metaphor for Kenyan multiple identities. The mask head is a reflexive comment on the tradition of African culture, and reminds the viewer of their assumption of ‘african art’ by modernising it with some specs.

 Detail: John Kamicha ‘Instead of War on Poverty, They Got War on Alcohol’
Detail: John Kamicha ‘Instead of War on Poverty, They Got War on Alcohol’