Kenyan Diaspora Artist Naomi Wanjiku Gakunga Wins Prestigious UK Award

Kenyan Diaspora Artist Naomi Wanjiku Gakunga Wins Prestigious UK AwardKenyan Diaspora Artist Naomi Wanjiku Gakunga, a Kenyan sculptor and visual artist, has won the prestigious Charles Wollaston Award for her sculpture, Wetereire– Waiting, which is made of galvanized sheets, otherwise known as mabati.

The prize worth Ksh3.8 million (£25,000) is one of the largest art prizes in the United Kingdom, awarded to the most distinguished work at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in London.

The sculpture, priced at Ksh3.6 million, is inspired by her upbringing amongst the Kikuyu people, symbolizing her childhood memories of when grass-thatched roofs were replaced with galvanized sheets.

Gakunga’s piece is uniquely made from metal and wire, and was created by combining traditional techniques with contemporary processes, in mediation to showcase the progression from the past to the present.

The wall-based sculpture is made using dyeing, weaving, and oxidation techniques to the galvanized sheets, to bring out a chromatic effect on the raw sheets.

Gakunga uses the weather itself to stain her materials, leaving them exposed to the natural wind, sun and rain before assembling them into the three-dimensional pieces that are her final works.

She solely works with galvanized sheets, tin cans, and steel wire for her sculptures.

Her sculptures reflect, at one and the same time, both the Mabati’s enduring functionality and its fragility, hence the narrative of waiting displayed in her Wetereire sculpture.

The 61-year-old artist is a former University of Nairobi student, where she acquired a bachelor’s degree in Design, that she furthered at the University of California in Los Angeles.

The US-based sculptor’s inspiration of the medium is stemmed from the Mabati women groups of the 1960s, of how they used galvanised roofing on their houses and how they would corrode due to the adverse weather conditions in Kenya.

In 2016, she was shortlisted for the Financial Times/Oppenheimer Funds Emerging Voices Awards and in 2017, her sculpture Mũgogo – The Crossing was exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts’ Summer Exhibition.

She also successfully showcased her own solo show dubbed Tushauriane- Let’s Talk About It at the October Gallery in London in 2017.




Kenyan Diaspora Artist Naomi Wanjiku Gakunga Wins Prestigious UK Award

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