Talented string artist sets eyes on global stage

Yona Mudibo

Yona Mudibo with his artworks. 

Photo credit: Pool

What you need to know:

  • Yona Mudibo's works address issues such as corruption, civic duty, black heritage, racial tolerance and environmental conservation.
  • The main pieces are priced at between Sh10,000 and Sh200,000, depending on size and complexity of the artwork.

Yona Mudibo sold his first string portrait in April 2019 at a silent auction to an art collector in Norway for Sh105,000.

The portrait of Fela Kuti, the Nigerian multi-instrumentalist, human rights activist and pioneer of the Afrobeat music genre, was about 4 by 4 feet – he used more than 1,500 nails and uncut thread to produce the piece.

“The Fela Kuti portrait took me two months, working between 10pm to 4am. You have to concentrate because once you start at a certain point you cannot stop until you are done with it. If you stop you might lose the tension that you have on the string,” Mudibo explains.

The Mombasa based virtual artist uses art as a medium of expression, he specialises in murals, string art, illustrations, body art, oil and acrylic painting.

Most of his works aim to address issues such as corruption, presenting his work as a mental mirror of the world, civic duty, black heritage, racial tolerance, and environmental conservation.

He does both commissioned and personal projects.

“I am mainly focusing on string art for now, and my works are centered on the legends that have defined black history and those that have made an impact on the society. I am mostly known for my murals, installations and string art.’’

Sold over 100 artworks

His company, Nzuri Sanaa, works with clients with the aim of creating a visual design that matches their vision of a wall, space, photo or even a brand logo.

“We paint murals, canvas paintings, body art, string art and make installations. We hope to inspire the art industry into being a lucrative industry through professionalism,” he says.

All Mudibo needs to make a string masterpiece with is some yarn and nails. When inspiration strikes, he creates incredible, photorealistic portraits by meticulously coiling thread around the nails.

“My venture into the business involved a lot of purchases for artworks that never really got to sell, however, my most defining moment involved an artwork that cost me around Sh5,000. But in truth, it cost me much more than that to get the business going.”

He adds that he has sold over 100 artworks since the inception of his business. Mudibo is currently working with three upcoming artists with the hope of bringing more onboard to build a bigger art company.

Their main products are priced between Sh10,000-Sh200,000. The price depends on the size and complexity of the design of the artwork. He has exhibited at Alliance Françoise in Mombasa and the National Museums of Kenya in Nairobi.

“Although string art is mainly utilised for artistic DIY projects, in the right creative hands, thread, cord and yarn can be used to create incredible masterpieces for mainstream art.”

Yona Mudibo

Yona Mudibo with his artworks. 

Photo credit: Pool

Mudibo started practicing art professionally in 2014, and incorporated body art design around the same time.

In 2019, he started doing string art with no idea that it would attract praise and a purchase.

He explains that the process of starting a painting to selling is pretty standard. He first engages with the client and identifies the type of painting, size and budget involved. 

The budget determines the size and style of painting. After agreeing on the parameters, the client then pays a deposit of 50 percent of the full amount and the balance upon completion.

He then embarks on the job, first making a sketch of the model which he transfers to a bigger paper before placing it on plywood.

“Paintings have had a low demand since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, but it’s slowly picking up. I charge my paintings for as low as Sh5,000, with the prices going up depending on the details and size of the artwork that the client commissions.”

Mudibo describes his work as more experimental than most works in the market, as he works with unconventional media in his projects.

‘Seeking the Roots’

These include strings and nails, bottle sculptures, and scrap plastics that he mostly collects along the beaches and streets of Mombasa hence championing environmental conservation and fighting plastic pollution.

While there are misconceptions around body art and for some the thought of having paint on a big portion of their skin would seem off, many of Mudibo’s clients are quite comfortable with him working on them.

He charges between Sh3,500 to Sh10,000 for body art.

“I have worked with a number of photographers, models, musicians and dancers in my body art projects. They include Sarakasi dancers of Sarakasi Trust, Nelvin Chuma, Mohamed Abbas and Larota Africa, among others.”

He hopes his pieces will one day make it to museums in London and New York.

Mudibo is currently stringing a piece that will be part of a series dubbed ‘Seeking the Roots’ that will be exhibited later this year.

Like any business, his faces a number of challenges, such as availability of quality materials. He says that most quality materials required to create his type of art can only be found in Nairobi or shipped from abroad.

“Weather conditions especially when doing murals on outside walls and the society’s attitude towards art are some of the other challenges I go through.”

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