Naomi Wanjiku Gakunga Art Opening August 4 2017

Radius Gallery August 4, 2017 – November 10, 2017


I have worked with metal, wire, strings, and recycled materials ever since I was a child growing up in Kenya.  My grandmother and her friends were basket weavers. From them I learnt how to be creative using any materials that were available, mainly straws and shrubs known as migiyo.

I studied design at the University of Nairobi, Kenya, where I explored the dynamics of fiber arts. For my graduate studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. I experimented and merged the old fiber arts and imagery of Africa with contemporary techniques. I explored the juxtaposition of material, color, and space using stainless steel wire.

I have lived in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Dallas. I now live in San Antonio, Texas. There is no doubt that my American experience interacts with my Kenyan heritage and influences my art.

My mabati art uses galvanized sheet metal to contemporize traditional activities I observed while growing up in Central Kenya. The move from grass thatch to the corrugated iron roof was a momentous marker of entry into modernity for many families. Women’s groups mobilized the
traditional concept of communal pooling of resources to roof individual members’ houses. Galvanized sheet metal or mabati roofs became associated with the Mabati Women’s Group and their empowering community housing projects of the 1960s in Central Kenya.

I observed the women’s celebratory dances as each home was built. The movement of the women dancers as they delivered the mabati created a spectacular visual display. I also observed the subsequent ageing of the mabati over the years, even as the women aged too. Their dances evolved to a slower, rhythmic movement. I strive to capture all this in my art.

My art tells stories about the impact of water on women’s lives. It examines how women have confronted the challenge of collecting and managing water resources in underdeveloped countries. I tell their stories of transformation, renewal, and empowerment. My sculptures reflect, at one and the same time, both the Mabati’s enduring functionality and its fragility. My mabati work pays tribute to the spirit of the Mabati Women Group. The transformations in both the women and the mabati by the effects of weather, chance and time emphasize an ethereal, transient beauty.

In my work, I integrate timeless African artistic traditions with powerful contemporary materials. This has given me a strong base as well as the ideas and inspiration to continue creating new contemporary work. I manipulate metal to explore both material transformation and the contradiction between its qualities. Through manipulating of patterns, layers, colors, and surface textures, my work obscures and reveals images beneath the surface. My methods are unique and complex, developed and refined over many years.

Stitching industrial sheet metal with fine gauge stainless steel creates the illusion of weightlessness and transparency through elements known for their strength and durability. A personally developed stressing technique uses a chemical process to change the sheet metal’s surface structure. Once I achieve the desired result, I introduce color. My dyeing process adds delicacy not normally associated with metal. The application achieves an effect similar to water color, resulting in interesting interplays between surface and structure. Repeated linear grids and wave patterns contribute additional textures and forms, ranging from figurative to abstract.

I borrow from numerous techniques and processes, which combine in a single aesthetic purpose. I want viewers of my art to experience an intricate and intriguing setting that can be perceived and contemplated endlessly.



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