Considered the chief platform for the arts from ‘Lake District’ Kenya, the Western and Nyanza region that is, the annual Lake Basins Art Exhibition is on its way back. For the fourth time in a row, tradition, legend and myth will fuse together in one pause as artists from Kisumu and its neighbouring settlements use paint to explore cultural folklore.
Bicycles by Patrick Adoyo
Kisumu, a port city originally named Port Florence, was founded in 1901 as the head terminal of the Uganda Railway. The name Kisumu comes from the Luo word “sumo,” which means a place of barter. Mass producers of sugar and rice, and rich in many natural resources, Kisumu’s contribution to the national economy is wide-ranging.
In fact, it’s currently one of the fastest growing cities in Kenya. You might not know too much about Kisumu’s history and that’s probably because in Kenya, people have a tendency to be Nairobi-centric. Most exchanges revolve around the capital’s axis and urbanites often neglect the affairs of neighbouring townships.
The Lake Basins Art Group is an institution that uses art to develop the wealth of an impoverished district. LBAG showcases many disadvantaged artists from the politically and economically marginalized regions of Western Kenya. With the scenic waters of Lake Victoria to enthuse the artists, the works are full of that village charm us urbanized Nairobians often miss.
If you were there last year, you might remember Jimmy Rakuru’s Fisherman, the celebrated hatted man holding his catch of the day. It captured the essence of rustic life at the lake scene. It had that minimalistic rural feel, very down-to-earth yet almost transcendent.
Inevitably, as years go by, art from the locality changes and many of us are waiting in anticipation for this year’s eye-catchers. Will more pieces have this surreal contradictory feel? What kind of subject matter will the new and guest artists exhibit? What will the member artists produce? We look forward to seeing affiliated artists David Otieno, Edward Orato, Edwin Ochieng, Samuel Olweru, Meshak Odera, Jackson Juma, Willis Otieno and Peko again this year.
Speaking with Patrick Adoyo, the curator and chairman of LBAG, he’s very excited about this year’s exhibition. “LBAG is a non-profit making community based organization,” he explains and, “many of the exhibiting artists have never gone to school for art or been influenced by tourism and commercial life".
He continues, "Some of them didn’t even know they could make a living this way. Our goal is support artists from those municipalities as many of them have a really tough time. This is my home town and I’ve witnessed their plight firsthand.
He has a smirk on his face as he says he’s on leave for a little while over the next week. It seems strange timing and there’s definitely something hush-hush about his expression. When probed a little further, Adoyo, who’s also an exhibition designer, reveals some painted canvases behind his desk at the National Museum of Kenya
With his background, it doesn’t seem surprising. He’s the head of the Exhibits Section at the Museum and naturally, there might be some artwork about. In truth, it turns out that the paintings are his. Let me rephrase, he’s the artist!
Detail from Market Day by Partick Adoyo Milenye
Yes, pushed to uncover the reason behind his furtive smile, it turns out he’s taking a short timeout to produce a painting or two for this month’s show. Some time ago, Adoyo’s oil and acrylic paintings had made it to exhibitions in London and Italy.
Known in the past primarily for his human figure models made of plasticine and cast in fibreglass and resin, Adoyo is in fact a well-known artist. These days there’s a long stretch between paintings of course but he’s once again inspired. As he pulls out Market Day, a lively painting of a Kenyan souk, he talks about his ardour for art. “I have participated in all of The Lake Basins Exhibitions,” he says proudly.
Adoyo’s enthusiasm for art means he still puts his personal touch in to each of the Lake Basin Exhibitions. He’s passionate about what he does and genuinely enjoys being a contributing artist of the more silent kind. Look for his paintings amongst the lake painters.