Artist in Residence

Peter Elungat: Lamu Workshop 2014

Peter Elungat is known for painting expansive canvases depicting his idealized woman.  His style is reminiscent of the Pre-Raphaelite painters combined with magical realism, a term usually used to describe a modern literary genre rather than paintings. But it seems to fit here. The artist’s magical realism flows from dreams in which he is carried on the back of a bird and flies over landscapes, watching from above.  These visions inspire his paintings, which often have a dreamlike feel to them as well—women floating in air or flying with their flowing garments caught in invisible jet streams. Explaining his work, Peter remarks, “I am not an artist who intellectualizes. I feel.” And to emphasize his romance of life, he sings an inspiring solo in a strong baritone voice.

Born in Busia in Western Kenya, Peter has travelled quite widely but in his own country he found the foreignness of Lamu more real, more palpable than in other places.  “Lamu is like a foreign country,” the artist remarks. Here, he found his favourite subject—women—were less conspicuous than he would like.  “I long to see women,” he told me. “I want to admire them, see them, but I can’t.” There is a wistful yearning in his words. Perhaps seeing them would kindle his dreaming, a precursor to painting. But Lamu withholds the feminine from male eyes, as it has done for centuries. Privacy guards her feminine virtue from strangers and in public she is veiled as a sign of respect to herself and her religion.

As an alternative, Peter turned to other subjects including the negative effect of the dawn to dust curfew on social life in Lamu. His piece Padlocks of Lamu portrays a male musician absorbed in the revelry of music making. He holds a guitar-like instrument in his arms as his fingers strum empty space where strings should be. The promise of his sweet melody is forever silenced by a series of padlocks, locking the instrument and disabling any music from being played or heard. “There is no music because of the curfew. Music is dead,” Peter explains. Hopefully, music is only sleeping and will awake when the curfew ends.

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