Black in white Spaces
2013, Kaloki travelled to Spain . The work he has made on return to Nairobi, collectively titled‘Black in White Spaces’, explores identity in shifting landscapes. Change often provokes an analysis of space and this body of work began with such analysis – questioning the disorientating ability of things to become triggers, mentally transporting one from one place to another and reflecting on how circumstance redefines sense of self. Figures from colonial-era photographs inhabit these pieces – people from another time and context, represented through a colonial gaze are called into a new environment, reimagined by the artist. Amongst this investigation into the fluctuation and fluidity of place and self, memory has become important as both strategy and subject. Part of his approach has been an
investigation into his own family lineage, including interviews with his grandmother, whose stories bridge generations, Kamba and Christian traditions and culture. He found her stories to be full of both contradictions against widely held perceptions of cultural roots and historical narratives, as well as reflections of current day happenings. He wanted to create works that express the complexity and contradiction as well as continuity and repetition inherent to human behaviour throughout history.The artist describes how important storytelling is to the passing on of African history – in many of his paintings he imagines these passed on stories as boxes, symbolising the social, cultural,economic, political positions we are located in, or locate ourselves in.
Kaloki’s interest in the power of storytelling, and the flexibility of meaning is also shown in his titling. The works’ titles are all in his Kamba language, reinforcing the importance of interpretation and perception in these paintings. His visual language is layered and implicit, allowing the works to reveal themselves gradually and offering potential for new connotations through each viewers translation.Kaloki explores the parallels between the past and the present through richly layered,multimedia works. Drawing heavily on the stories of the Kamba people, the works explore how history and identity are intertwined and how this has informed the identities of people living in
present day, post-colonial Kenya. At the core of his practice, the artist confronts what it means to be black in white spaces and the textured surfaces of his works reflect this struggle in their very construction. The paint is laid on heavily and becomes scarred with cracks as it dries and the additional layers of ripped canvas that are pasted onto the original surface create a rich palimpsest of colour and texture. Another recurring element in these works are the rectangular
spaces that surround his subjects implying their isolation and entrapment. These recurring formal elements in his work highlight his interest in the repetitive nature of human behaviour, and through this questions the behaviours of people in post-colonial societies by positioning these difficult questions within the constructs of a skewed power dynamic.
Kuambelelia ( Starting a conversation); This current body of paintings are meant to evoke an open conversation highlighting the tension within our recent shared colonial experience as propagated by a binary education system and the discontinuity of it that is manifesting in our daily psycho-social dramas. Kaloki seeks to address the power of a ubiquitous abstract symbolic world over our personal dramatic experiences by employing iconic images; the upended chair, a three legged stool, the cow, a red square and a box over the head to question what role dichotomies represented in the current system of acquiring knowledge about the world around us plays in conditioning our outlook and relationship to a post-colonial environment.Once again, the artist is drawing upon conversations with his grandmother in a painful memory exercise clearly meant to recall who he is in a world bereft of an indigenous cultural archive. The work is questioning the meaning of devices that have replaced archival objects of his
grandmother’s era. When she narrates to the artist about colonial childhood, It appears she is narrating a period
of loss of knowledge; the disappearance of communal archival objects which are now being replaced by devices represented by the artist as interfaces connecting through cables.These works contain a sense of protest against the patriarchal brand arising from a colonial period and questions its relevance is a post-colonial worldview. “Being a man”, “Deception”, ” Man worship” are some of the phrases scrawled on some of the paintings, where human and animal figures are suspended all the time in an unframed white space. Tensions created by conversation between people, animals and abstract forms in the work is meant to provoke the sense of being and relation as a man in the
Text Gor Sudan