Kaafiri Kariuki (Kenyan, born 1973)
Orchestra ll, 2021
Signed ‘K.KARIUKI 19’ (lower right)
Pen on paper
39 x 56.5 cm
Ksh 225,000 – 340,000
(US$) 2,000 – 3,000
Provenance: direct from the artist
Born in Nyahururu in the Rift Valley, Kaafiri Kariuki has been drawing and painting since childhood, with the support and encouragement of his mother and schoolteachers. Following a tumultuous period working as a musician in Dandora, Kariuki returned to Nyahururu where his friendship with a university librarian brought him back to art. As well as giving Kariuki books such as Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, Marcus Garvey and Jomo Kenyatta, Kariuki’s mentor, who was also a portrait artist, encouraged him to paint. Kariuki began by making wildlife paintings for tourists at Thomson’s Falls and Maralal – after some years of developing his skills this way, and acquiring knowledge from tourists who were also artists, he joined the Banana Hill Artist’s Group in Nairobi. There, using only a ball pen and a sketchbook, Kariuki developed the technique for which he has become so well known – his ‘dancing pen’. With extraordinary draughtsmanship and compositional experimentation, Kariuki’s drawing-paintings merge observation and symbolic storytelling with influences from his research into religion, history, art history and biographies.
This work is from the Bird King series in which Kariuki fuses political undertones with the personification of birds. In Orchestra II, 2021 the cock guides the goose and vulture as they play for the guests, while the owl is the master of the orchestra. The positions of the birds in the ensemble and the divisions of their roles and responsibilities denote class positionality, political leadership and electoral relationships. Flowing strokes exemplify the splendour of the peacock, who towers above the other birds, indicating the varying political might and opinions among the gathering. Together the band and audience shelter below a tree representing common beliefs, ideologies and histories.
In 2003 Kariuki initiated the Mukuru Arts and Craft project and from this emerged the Wajukuu Arts Project. Since the 1990s Kariuki has exhibited frequently in Nairobi, as well as in France, Ireland and Zanzibar.