Artist in Residence

Peter Ngugi: Lamu Workshop 2014

Peter NgugiPeter Ngugi starts his day at the Lamu Artist Residency running on the beach at first light when all is quiet and he has the whole stretch of an 11-kilometre beach to himself. “At first, when I saw that no one was here, I thought maybe I shouldn’t be jogging,” Peter confesses then laughs at himself. Perhaps his discomfort stems from his experience of city living where human beings are constantly rubbing shoulders and the happenstance of being alone can cause alarm. Lamu proved to be a different place, even under curfew. “I am completely comfortable here,” Peter remarks. “I am already planning to return, this time with my family.”

Born and raised in Thika, Peter’s painting techniques have been honed by meticulous attention to other artists’ work be it in art volumes or exhibitions in Nairobi. His work shows his valuable experimentation and his successful learning along the way, ultimately finding out what works for him, and, on the positive side, his audience has grown in measure.

Peter is fond of using satire in his paintings and pointing out the discrepancies in contemporary Kenyan life. In his Lamu work, he focused on the dawn to dusk curfew and its malevolent cost on the local economy—particularly the fisher folk. “I learned that fishermen often go out at night to fish and, with the curfew, they can’t fish.” This statement is Peter’s way of introducing me to his large canvases with depictions of woeful figures: heads hanging low in tired resignation, armless torsos illustrating an inability to work and boats standing idle in the water. “I want to show what is happening in Lamu because of the curfew,” Peter tells me. “How long will it last?” The question hangs between us. Both of us look again at the figures in his painting and grasp the reality ‘no work, no income’. “I think my paintings communicate what is happening here in Lamu.”

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