What you need to know:
- Fortunately, Red Hill Gallery’s owner-curator Hellmuth Rossler-Musch got hold of an address and snail mailed Gor on the chance that he’d gone home in Nyanza.
- And sure enough, Hellmuth received a response from Gor who said he’s in the process of designing a studio gallery right around where he lives.
Even before the coronavirus came to Kenya and shut down most businesses and cultural events, visual artist Gor Soudan was missing in action (MIA). His disappearance from the Nairobi art scene happened after he had exhibitions at several local galleries, two at Red Hill, another at Circle Art, and he was even seen participating in an International School of Kenya (ISK) FOTA exhibition sometime after that.
Fortunately, Red Hill Gallery’s owner-curator Hellmuth Rossler-Musch got hold of an address and snail mailed Gor on the chance that he’d gone home in Nyanza.
And sure enough, Hellmuth received a response from Gor who said he’s in the process of designing a studio gallery right around where he lives. That’s good news for Nyanza but sad for Nairobians who have appreciated Gor’s inventive approach to sculpture and painting.
Gor’s early works
Fortunately, the artist left a number of his paintings and etching with Hellmuth at Red Hill where the Gallery is currently holding a Retrospective of Gor’s early works. Drawn from the ‘Bubbles and Shells’ exhibition that he had in Tokyo in 2015, the Red Hill show, which will run from the last week in April through May, serves as a snapshot of this dynamic artist’s experimental works conceived in 2014.
Throughout that year, Gor was doing art residencies first in Senegal, then in Japan. Both experiences were nurturing of his quirky imagination and culminated in that Tokyo show. Many of the mini-series contained in ‘Bubbles and Shells’ are up at Red Hill. The one important set of works that are missing are his ‘protest wire’ sculptures. That’s because they were so wildly popular that virtually every one was quickly snapped up either at the East African Art Auction or in Tokyo.
The sculptures were mainly abstract pieces fashioned out of wires which had survived the tire burnings that were part and parcel of that traumatic time in contemporary Kenyan history, the 2007-2008 post-election violence. Burning of car tires was unfortunately a common practice even before those tragic days when Kenyans were so unkind, even cruel towards one another. This was because the Chinese were buying up scrap-metals by the ton, and there are sturdy steel wires inside all of those tires.
Leave alone the poison that gets released in the open air every time a tire is burned. Poor people made quick cash selling those wires as part of what is now known as the ‘gig economy’, meaning the informal or jua kali sector.
But during PEV, burning tires became a means of protest against marauding characters who were hell-bent in doing no good to their fellow Kenyans. Gor managed to collect those scrap metal wires in order to weave them into three-dimensional forms that he entitled ‘bubbles’ during his Tokyo show.
But even without the sculptures, Red Hill’s retrospective of Gor’s works on paper convey the artist’s fertile imagination and experimental approach to both painting and etching. Abstract in character and minimalist in form, Gor often worked with pen and ink on rice paper. On several pieces he would blend his refined lines with charcoal. In others he might use acrylic paints but only at a minimum. But in each of these paintings it’s an electrified energy that Gor’s art conveys. And while he doesn’t have the sculptures in this show, one sees their influence as his inked lines seem shaped in a sculptural style. They have an almost three-dimensional feeling despite being no more than lines and dabs of color on paper.
One might ask what message is Gor aiming to convey. But since he is MIA, we cannot know. In any case, the real fascination of Gor’s art is as much about the process of creation as the final product.
For instance, he draws spherical forms which he calls ‘bubbles’ in charcoal and ink. But to brighten up the monochromatic bubbles, he etches into his paper until he restores droplets of the original pearly white undercoat. And in the few instances when he adds colour to his ink drawings, he seems to leave it to the brightly coloured paints to situate themselves obliquely on the paper. Whether he dribbles the paints onto the paper surface in a Jackson Pollack style or he consciously creates a seemingly serendipitous style, the bright hues, be it a sunny orange or a dayglo green, we can’t tell.
What’s certain is we’d like to see Gor show off his latest creations, be he in Nyanza, Nairobi, or Tokyo.