Artist who combines art, tradition and technology

Greenman with his 'Mundu Muue's 'radio transmitter', part of the 'Disobedient Devices' exhibition at Nairobi National Museum on  August 21, 2021. 

Photo credit: Margaretta wa Gacheru

What you need to know:

  • Greenman shares the show with Joan Otieno of Warembo Wasanii, Moira Bushkimani of Brush tu Artists Collective and Dani Ploeger, a Dutch post-doctoral researcher from University of London.
  • All four created art forms reminiscent of devices used traditionally in ritual practices.
  • In addition, Joan, Dani, and Greenman created three short films to dramatise the way those devices were used historically.

Greenman is known among friends and fellow artists by that name only. Few people even question his true identity since it’s the only name he answers to. His parents named him Mule Mbillo.

During our rendezvous with Greenman at Nairobi National Museum where he’s part of a group exhibition entitled ‘Disobedient Devices’, he explains more about his name.  “I didn’t just want to be like the green man. I wanted to be him, and that is how I acquired the name.” He claims to have met the Greenman in a dream, where he shared so much wisdom that Mule Mbillo decided to name himself Greenman, so that he could be just like him.

Greenman shares the show with Joan Otieno of Warembo Wasanii, Moira Bushkimani of Brush tu Artists Collective and Dani Ploeger, a Dutch post-doctoral researcher from University of London. All four created art forms reminiscent of devices used traditionally in ritual practices. In addition, Joan, Dani, and Greenman created three short films to dramatise the way those devices were used historically.

‘Mundu muue’

For instance, in Reconstructive Prophesy’ Greenman takes on the role of a ‘mundu muue’ who uses his magical machine as a medium to receive divine counsel and then share it with his clients. In Joan Otieno’s ‘Medusa’s Coil’, it’s a snake that embodies powers her community traditionally revered. And in Ploeger’s the Cults’, the Dutch researcher dramatizes his interest in examining what he calls ‘the intersection between visual art and cultural studies in technology.’

The multimedia exhibition grew out of a connection Greenman made with Ploeger in 2016. “We’ve done several projects with Dani since then. Our current exhibition began with two workshops that took place in 2019,” Greenman recalls. “Those were attended by Joan and Bushkimani as well as several others.”

Among those others were several Western academics and artists who share Ploeger’s research interests. These have to do with trash and how Kenyans recycle waste into art. But more specifically, they were keen to understand how pre-colonial practices, traditions, and technologies could be reinterpreted in contemporary forms.

The challenge that the Dutchman posed to the Kenyans during the second workshop was to consider their cultural myths and traditional rituals as well as the technologies traditionally used to carry out those practices. Then let their imaginations go.

The fruits of that challenge are essentially what constitute the ‘Disobedient Devices’ exhibition. The three videos which were each scripted as science fiction by Greenman, Otieno, and Ploeger are being shown and repeated in a looped fashion, so one can watch all three in a matter of minutes once you reach the Creativity Gallery at the Museum.

The traditional technologies on display have been re-imagined and constructed’ using waste materials collected by the four exhibiting artists from the Dandora dumpsite where Joan normally scavenges all the ‘found objects’ used in her Warembo Wasanii studio in Ngomongo.

Greenman confirms that he made his traditional Akamba ‘technology’ from an old radio set that he found at the dump and then repainted using symbols he recalled from his first meeting with a mundu muue when he was a child.

“I was four years old when I went with my family to meet the mundu muue who performed a series of rituals and incantations for us. He also used his Nzevu (single stringed instrument) to create what I think was meant to be a spiritual bond between our family,” he says

That early encounter with a traditional seer never left Greenman, despite his studying mechanical engineering at Kenya Polytechnic. Instead, it led to his study of both traditional and mainstream religions and philosophies. Ultimately, that led him to translate his studies into the arts.

“I realised art was another way of tuning into Infinity,” he says. Art is also how he recreated the mundu muue’s mystical ‘radio set’ which is on display at the Exhibition.

Currently, Greenman is working with the Maasai Mbili Artists Collective.



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