Maasai Mbili Artists’ Collective – Deeper than just the aesthetic

There are a lot of ways to find healing from whatever’s ailing an individual or society. One of these ways is art. Enter Maasai Mbili Artists’ Collective, a group of free-spirited artistic geniuses -also fondly referred to as M2. These artists re-purpose junk and trash into material for creating art. They are also involved in a lot of community projects in Kibera and beyond.

Maasai Mbili Artists’ Collective is an art studio based in Kibera and founded in 2001 by two brilliantly talented artists; Otieno Kota and Otieno Gomba. The collective has painters, sculptors, photographers, filmmakers, poets, writers. It is however largely known for the visual art it produces such as paintings, collages and sculptures.

I consider myself fortunate to have sat and had a chat with some of these artists at their studio. I was awed and pleased not only by their humility in spite of their impressive reputation and artistic portfolios, but also by the intricate simplicity of their art.

We talked about some of the projects that they have worked on such as Superheroes of Kibera and Ni nyumbani?

Superheroes of Kibera

This was a collaborative project with Nyota Arts. Kevo Stero, an imaginative guy with short dreadlocks on his high top fade, said that the project was meant to inspire the kids of Kibera to embrace their inner and unique superheroes.

They worked with the children through photography, dialogs and designing costumes, to create superheroes relevant to the challenges that they face in the slum. The inspirational thought behind this project is one that anyone seeking to mentor younger generations should have.

Superheroes
Some photos from the ‘Superheroes of Kibera’ project. Photo courtesy: Maasai Mbili Artists’ Collective

Ni nyumbani?

Ni nyumbani? is a project that sought to redefine the concept of home; to confront the misconception that home is just a roof over your head. In Anita Kavochi’s words, ‘Some children come from emotionally abusive homes, and are assumed to be alright just because they look like they are.’

Anita worked with Kevo Stero and Blak Odhiambo on that project. Among other artwork in an ongoing Wachemba exhibition featuring the Maasai Mbili Artists’ Collective at Polka Dot Gallery, is an installation by Ms Kavochi named ‘Nyumba moja: Father, Mother and Son’. The installation is a depiction of the basic family unit, represented by drawers and part of a bed. She also admitted that a lot of her work features the concept of ‘nyumbani’, and that joining M2 has been a therapeutic journey for her.

Nyumba moja
Artwork by Anita Kavochy Pictured at Polka Dot Gallery for the Wachemba exhibition. Title: ‘Nyumba moja: Father, Mother and Son’ Photo courtesy- Maasai Mbili Artists’ Collective.

As I was being told about the project, I couldn’t help but feel the immediate relevance of it from the warmth with which my friend Monicah and I were welcomed by the artists into their space. I was also informed that they constantly brainstorm together even for individual projects. How homely is that? They basically walk it like they talk it.

Art4Peace

After the 2007/8 post-election violence, the artists took initiative to help heal affected children in Kibera. They would go to locations where there was violence with paint and paint brushes. In Otieno Gomba’s words, the first sessions would be difficult. ‘You’d see a kid painting and writing hate political slogans and symbols, but with time, that kid would graduate into drawing a flower. That was a sign that the kid was healing and seeking peace.’

Body mapping

Otieno Gomba told me about a body mapping project they did at Meru. Body mapping therapy via art helps people to come to terms with difficult issues affecting their bodies, in a bid to seek healing/ self-acceptance. That project was targeted at people living with HIV/AIDS. They have also done this project with gay people.

Challenges

On asking what major challenges they face as artists, cinematographer Ronald Ronics promptly said being broke at times. This is mostly owing to the fact that there aren’t a lot of art collectors in our society. However, they don’t work on their art with money being the biggest motivator. What seems to be their principal priority is to inform change and be beacons of hope and inspiration.

On why they’ve never left Kibera, Kevo Stero said that Kibera inspires their art. Sure, they would open up other studios elsewhere if the chance came, but Kibera remains home.

Maasai Mbili Artists’ Collective currently have an exhibition running at Polka Dot Gallery in Karen, till June 3, 2018.

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Art by Kevo Stero hanging on the walls of the M2 studio.
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A wall scribbled on inside the studio, by children during the ‘Ni nyumbani?’ project.
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Inside the M2 studio.

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