Chemu Ng'ok

Nairobi, Kenya

September 1 - October 16, 2019

In collaboration with The African Centre, Cape Town

Artist Statement

I’m a Kenyan painter. In 2017, I completed a Masters in Fine Art with a focus in Painting at Rhodes University, Makhanda South Africa. Studying in South Africa has allowed me varied experiences which include navigating the journey of being an immigrant and ‘otherness’, yet managing to establish a sense of belonging. I now consider both Makhanda and Nairobi to be my homes. These spaces have informed my practice socially and nurtured in me an understanding of painting. They have also each carried a particular context of a post-apartheid and post-colonial legacy; I find myself constantly negotiating and engaging with these complicated contexts.

In 2014, I held an undergraduate exhibition titled ‘Social revolution’. I painted about relationships occurring between people. I think relationships provide interesting power dynamics that can evolve further into a variety of themes such as politics, romance and riots. Afterwards, I went on to do a masters exhibition, ‘Riot’ in 2017 which was more focused and in depth. It was a personal journey where I was trying to understand how to fight a patriarchal and post-colonial system. This painting journey took place at the same time as protests sparked off in the university and globally.

'Riot' has been fulfilling work. In rioting against the patriarchal system, I find myself as a Kenyan woman, being able to continue to work towards my own liberation in society. For instance, by proposing that a ‘psychological riot’ happens in the psyche, I'm able to decipher the ways in which systemic violence occurs. It can exhibit itself in the body but at the same time be hidden. And, it is both personal and communal. By making ‘psychological riot’ tangible and apparent it then becomes easier to disarm and stand up against systemic violence through my own prism of the world.

I held an exhibition in Johannesburg Art Fair, Self Esteem for Girls in September 2017. This body of work was about creating agency for young African women. It was an affirmation of putting one’s own well-being first in order to advance one’s goals. And, since then my painting has been expanding in relation to politics, intimacy and narratives on identity and power.

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